It’s no coincidence that the Dordogne is one of the most frequented holiday destinations in France. With an enticing blend of castles, caves, rivers and bucolic landscapes, this idyllic region is a microcosm of France as a whole.
A holiday in the Dordogne is sure to be memorable, trust me, I’ve experienced it first-hand.
The incredible feeling of gazing out from the ramparts of a castle, windswept hair and a dizzying drop to the valley below; delving into the history of the cavemen of Lascaux; ogling the cave houses of the troglodyte villages and tucking in to some of the most delicious food imaginable, in some of the most atmospheric restaurants on the planet.
If you’re planning a holiday here, you’re in for a treat. Below you’ll find our comprehensive guide to the Dordogne.
Our top 5
The Dordogne is bursting with fascinating historical attractions and places to visit, but if you’re looking for a quick reference guide, here are our top five must-sees.
- Chateau de Castelnaud
- Lascaux caves
- Kayaking on the Dordogne
Where is the Dordogne?
The Dordogne is a department in south-west France, set within the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, nestled between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees. It is typically known by the French as Périgord, which is the name of the former province in this area.
The section which attracts most visitors is known as Périgord Noir (Black Périgord), where most of the cliffs, castles and villages associated with the Dordogne are found. The rest of the region is broken down into Périgord Pourpre (Purple Périgord) to the Southwest, Périgord Blanc (White Périgord) to the West, and Périgord Vert (Green Périgord) to the North which encompasses more of the verdant countryside area.
Great for families
The Dordogne is an extremely family-friendly area, with so much to keep inquisitive minds active and occupied. Discover fairy-tale castles and explore prehistoric caves – things they’ve only read about in books will come alive.
To help you plan your family holiday in the Dordogne, we’ve included some family-specific information on each of the attractions below.
Chateau de Beynac
Chateau de Beynac is an awe-inspiring medieval castle, built high up into a rocky crag offering dizzying views over the Dordogne. Built in the 12th century it has had a long and interesting existence, conquered by Richard the Lionheart and playing a significant role in the Hundred Years War. Guided tours in French are included in the ticket price from April to October and audio guides are available in many languages.
Family fact file: There is parking one minute’s walk from the castle entrance. Children will love exploring this fascinating castle. It may be best to skip the French guided tour with young children, as it’s quite long.
Chateau de Castelnaud
Built on a rocky outcrop just upriver from Chateau de Beynac, Chateau de Castelnaud houses an astonishing collection of weapons and armour. While the information is mostly in French, the numerous video displays are dual language (English/French) and the views of the valley make the climbing worth it! You’ll find lots of restaurants in the beautiful village below.
Family fact file: The weapons and live demonstrations such as the blacksmith and trebuchet demos make this an exciting experience for children, and there’s so much for them to see and do as you wander around.
Chateau de Bridoire
Dating back to the 12th century, Chateau de Bridoire has been renovated and furnished, making you feel like you’re stepping back in time. Inside and outside are numerous games and activities, and there’s even a restaurant in the courtyard in July and August. Take a stroll through the Enchanted Forest labyrinth trail where your brain will be tested with puzzles and riddles to help you escape.
Family fact file: Chateau de Bridoire is a fantastic place to visit as a family. With a games room and outdoor activities such as giant chess, archery, dressing up and tasks to test your skill and strength, there’s no end of fun to be had here.
Chateau des Milandes
Famed for once being owned by the entertainer Josephine Baker, Chateau des Milandes is a beautiful castle with attractive stonework and fine Renaissance architecture. The inside is now restored in the 1930s style of Josephine Baker, including exhibitions commemorating her remarkable life. The grounds are impressive, and every day you can enjoy a bird of prey show. There is a brasserie serving traditional Périgord lunches and snacks, and a winery which can be booked for groups, seating over 100 for lunch.
Family fact file: There’s a programme of children’s workshops aimed at children over 5, these include falconry, exotic bird feeding and even fencing, but check the calendar before you go as they are not offered all year round.
Chateau de Hauteforte
Once a medieval fortress, now a stunning stately home, Chateau de Hauteforte is an impressive historical site. Wander through the classically decorated rooms showcasing a rich collection of 17th and 18th century furniture and head outside where you can explore the impeccable formal French gardens and the English-style park. You can visit at night during the summer, and there is a selection of events throughout the year.
Family fact file: There are many intriguing discoveries for children, including underground chambers and passageways and a beautiful garden to explore. There is also a great programme of family activities, check before your visit.
Chateau de Biron
Chateau de Biron dates back to the 12th century and is reportedly haunted by the headless Charles de Gontaut who was executed here in 1602. You can explore the unfurnished rooms and take in the exceptional architecture and there are often exhibitions and events to enjoy. There are nocturnal gourmet markets with local produce on Thursdays from July to September – check before your visit.
Family fact file: There are lots of activities and workshops for children, mainly during school holidays.
Chateau de Bourdeilles
Chateau de Bourdeilles is made up of two castles from different periods, set in a pretty location overlooking the River Dronne. Fantastic views can be enjoyed from the octagonal keep of the 13th-century fortress, while the 16th-century Renaissance castle boasts opulent furnished rooms.
Family fact file: There are over 100 steps up the octagonal keep, which children will enjoy if they can manage the climb. Other castles in the Dordogne would be preferable for families.
Domme is an incredibly beautiful town perched high above the Dordogne River. Places of interest include the Couvent des Augustins, the Hotel du Gouverneur and, uniquely, a network of caves below the town which are entered via the square. You can wander through just under half a kilometre of galleries with fascinating rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites. A glass lift rises to a viewpoint from which you can take in the glorious valley views.
Family fact file: Children will enjoy the visit to the caves and there is a seasonal tourist train which travels past the interesting sights of the town.
Sarlat-la-Canéda, or Sarlat as it’s also known, is a medieval town packed full of exquisite architecture, rumoured to have more historic monuments than anywhere else in the world. Narrow alleyways open out onto attractive squares with golden stone buildings bathed in the warm French sun. From elegant manor houses to the 11th-century Cathédrale St-Sacerdos, the architecture is breathtaking, and housed within some of these quaint old buildings are cosy restaurants, serving up the most delectable cuisine, cooked with some of the region’s most celebrated ingredients: truffles, foie gras and pommes salardaises.
Family fact file: Sarlat is great for a family stroll and if you coincide your visit with the Saturday market, children will no doubt enjoy perusing the varied items touted by the stallholders.
Snuggled into the cliffs alongside the Dordogne River, La Roque-Gageac’s pretty stone houses with their steep tiled roofs are a photographer’s dream. Above the village is a troglodyte fort which can be reached via a network of steep paths and steps. Halfway up the village is an exotic garden, whose microclimate enables it to support palms, fig trees and bananas among many other tropical species.
Family fact file: While children may not appreciate the beauty of this historic village, they will enjoy the activities on offer. You can take a trip in one of the old cargo boats known as gabares, or explore the river under your own steam in a kayak.
Wandering around the centre of this attractive city, you can take in all of the main sights, including the 16th-century buildings of the Place de Navarre and the Maison du Patissier. The daily fruit and veg market in Place du Coderec is a colourful sight and right by the river are a collection of pretty houses. If you cross the bridge here you can look back and see the Byzantine cathedral. You can also see the remains of Roman architecture, and visit the Gallo Roman Vesunne Museum which houses what’s left of a Gallo Roman villa. Other interesting museums are the Military Museum and the Trompe l’Oeil Museum.
Family fact file: There’s a little train which travels around the medieval part of town and the Roman remains, as well as a number of museums which may be interesting for children, depending on their age. The Wednesday and Saturday markets are bustling and provide lots of things to see for inquisitive children.
The little town of Brantôme with its pretty arched bridge and narrow cobblestoned streets is a delightful stop on a tour of the area. Among its attractions are the Benedictine Abbey on the river, and the vibrant Friday market.
Family fact file: Canoeing on the river is one of the best ways to admire this pretty town, and something the whole family will enjoy.
Monpazier is a bastide town set around a central square from which pretty streets of medieval buildings stretch out. Explore the main square which is overlooked by beautiful stone houses and a wooden hall, under which is an open arcade. Make sure you coincide your visit with a meal time, as there are several fine restaurants to choose from.
Family fact file: There’s not too much here to keep children amused, but they may entertain a quick stop on an otherwise action-packed day out!
Another town on the edge of the Dordogne river, Bergerac is quite large, with attractive medieval streets and several old squares. Of course, Bergerac is also heralded as a fantastic wine region, whose history can be discovered in the Maison des Vins Museum.
Family fact file: Within Bergerac and close by there are several great attractions for families. Bowling, a water park and go-karting are all available nearby, and Lac de Pombonne is a lovely lake for a swim over the summer months.
Top Dordogne Attractions
All of the following attractions are suitable for families, depending on the age and capabilities of your children. Due to the Dordogne’s geology, most of them are caves, but they’re all worth a visit!
The Lascaux Caves which are open to tourists are actually a magnificent replica of the original, which have been closed to the public to protect them for posterity. However, far from being a tacky tourist attraction, the replica is an exact representation, exhibiting copies of the cave paintings which were painstakingly recreated by 34 artists. Besides the fascinating history which can be learnt from this attraction, the fact it is a man-made replica is astonishing.
Gouffre de Padirac
France’s premier underground site, the Gouffre de Padirac, plunges 75 metres below a limestone plateau. At the very bottom, 103 metres underground, the Padirac River runs more than 40km through a galleried channel. You can take a boat down more than 1km of the galleries, witnessing sights such as a 60m stalactite, a series of natural dams and the huge domed hall standing 94 metres high.
Gouffre de Proumeyssac
The cave of Proumeyssac is known as the ‘Cathedral of Crystal’, so-called because of its vast size and walls lined with dazzling crystal formations. View the cave on a 45-minute tour and enjoy a music and light show, or alternatively descend into it in a ’basket’ with a rotating floor.
Canoeing on the Dordogne
There are numerous beautiful views to be enjoyed while gliding peacefully along in a canoe or kayak on the River Dordogne. Float past the chateaux of Beynac and Castelnaud, bob through the village of Roque Gageac and stop for a picnic on one of the river beaches or scenic spots on the bank. There are lots of canoe hire companies to choose from and they’ll be able to advise on where to go in the time you’ve got.
Font-de-Gaume near les Eyzies is a cave featuring many prehistoric paintings of bison, horses and mammoths. Narrow tunnels lead deep underground, winding past rock formations and stalagmites and stalactites opening into galleries where you can view the cave paintings. There are only 52 admissions per day, plus 26 advanced bookings, so plan your visit carefully.
Grotte de Rouffignac
The Grotte de Rouffignac contains many engravings, cave paintings and drawings with a total of over 9 km of underground tunnels. Visitors alight an electric train for an hour tour, but again, visitor numbers are controlled to preserve the prehistoric artwork, so book ahead or turn up early.
Les Jardins de Marqueyssac
These spectacular gardens of curvaceous, sculpted boxwood hedges are not only exceedingly attractive in their own right, but also offer exceptional views of the Dordogne valley from the Belvedere, a 192-metre-high balcony. The main joy here is walking the meandering paths which form three circuits. During the summer months, you can watch a woodturner working with the boxwood, and there are several other workshops and events throughout the year. There’s also a tree top walk, two play areas, a maze and a specific trail for children.
Perfect for a group holiday
The Dordogne has all the ingredients for a group holiday. From fun experiences such as kayaking on the river, to fascinating attractions and sleepy towns, visitors young and old will enjoy the varied delights on offer. Base your stay in one of our stunning large villas in the Dordogne and enjoy spending time together in this relaxing and beautiful part of the world.