Dordogne (Périgord)

In 3 words: Quintessential French countryside.
For your first visit plan for at least 5 full days. Anything less will likely mean leaving too many quaint villages and points of interest off your itinerary.
Distances between major destinations do not exceed half an hour of driving, and many are closer. You absolutely need a car to explore the area.
Worthy destinations: SarlatlaCanéda; Périgueux; Brantôme; Beynac-et-Cazenac; Castelnaud-de-Chapelle; La Roque-Gageac; Domme; Monpazier; Limeiul; Belvès; Jardins de Marqueyssac; Château des Milandes; Decorated caves of the Vézère Valley.
Left for another visit: Bergerac and surrounding area.
Last visit: May 2018.

La Roque-Gageac
Périgord is a historic French province nowadays more frequently identified as the Dordogne Department. It is the land of picturesque villages and foie gras, one of the quintessential French landscapes where life flows unhurriedly and both simple pleasures and grand castles are within easy reach.


Unmissable on any Dordogne itinerary, Sarlat-la-Canéda ♥♥♥ is a beautiful town, mixing local yellow-brick architecture with occasional colombage. It is among the largest population centers in the department, but the historic center of town is pretty compact and walkable. Cathédrale Saint-Sacerdos ♥ is worth a look. There is a delightful small covered market ♥ in the old St-Mary church at the edge of the main town square, and also many restaurants, galleries, intriguing passages, shops, and buildings. Every house of note is marked with its brief history, so you can have an impromptu guided tour of the town all by yourself.

We did not visit potentially interesting Manoir de Gisson, which provides insight into the life of local nobility.

Places to Eat

Le Bistro ♥♥ is in front of the cathedral. Food and service are much better than what can be expected for such a touristy type of location. Prix-fixe menu (€24.90, one of several options) offers staples such as foie gras, snail cassoulet (in cheese), and duck parmentiere. Collective efficient service. Our damage: €78 for two, with wine and aperitifs. Last visit: 2018.

Le Tourny ♥ is a block away from the cathedral, and therefore less busy. On Monday night, two people waited on the entire room without a hitch, although the space was filled no more than 25%. The prix-fixe of €16 includes a cheese course in addition to the standard three courses (there are other menu options). Food may be short of exceptional, but a very good choice nonetheless. Damage: €53 for two, with wine. Last visit: 2018.


Périgueux ♥♥ is the largest town in Dordogne, the prefecture of the department. Its historic center nonetheless is compact enough. Mostly pedestrian core has plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops. Architecture is not as quaint, but very attractive in many instances, with an occasional mix of styles.

Cathedral St-Front ♥♥♥ is exquisite from the outside, with its jumble of domes and spires. Interior is mostly plain, with a few ornate features and stained glass. Chandeliers steal the show. Huge wooden altarpiece is not lighted when there are no services, so not that easy to admire. Cloisters are worth the entry fee of €1.50 only if you have never seen any cloisters before.

There is nice information on the history of the precincts surrounding the cathedral available on information stands on the main street running up from the river (text in French and English). Some old architectural artifacts remain.

There are a couple of comparatively renowned museums in Périgueux, starting with Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum, but we were not planning on museum-going while in town.

Places to Eat

Restaurant La Ferme Saint-Louis ♥♥♥ on the eponymous square is simply excellent, one of the best meals we’ve had on our travels. Large a la carte menu; only one fixe-prix option at €28, with just two choices for each course. Everything we ordered was very tasty, accompanied by a very friendly service. The square itself may have more ambience in high season but still provided plenty of people-watching scope. Our damage: €99 for two, with wine and aperitifs. Last visit: 2018.


Beynac-et-Cazenac ♥♥♥ has a dramatic look from the distance, climbing up the riverbank mountain to the crown of the castle. The waterfront is relatively sleepy, but gorgeous corners abound all up the mountain. Beynac Castle ♥♥ is very much worth both the effort to climb to and the nominal entry fee (€3). The guided tours of the castle are reputedly delightful, but most are in French; browse the castle on your own and look out from the terraces.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

Waterfront villages run cruises on the river and offer canoe rentals, but we did not take advantage of those offerings at Beynac.

Places to Eat

Restaurants at the waterfront and lower reaches of the village were mostly full for lunch on Sunday in the shoulder season – it makes sense to reserve in advance. The restaurant at the Hotel de Château ♥ had tables, and we had a very good prix-fixe meal (€22, among other options) for the total damage of €64 for two people, with wine. The restaurant is the lowest-ranked in Beynac on TripAdvisor; the others must be simply amazing based on our experience here. Last visit: 2018.

Lodging (and another place to eat)

Hotel de Domain de Monrecour ♥♥♥ is not in Beynac, but in Saint-Vincent-de-Cosse, a couple of kilometers away. The grounds are gorgeous, with views to several castles in the area. Terrace at the castle is simply amazing, and offers bar sevice. The are rooms in the main mansion and in the surrounding cottages. We stayed in the latter, on the second floor (which may be challending for some). The room was spacious, modern, and with historic charm in the form of exposed beams. The breakfast is excellent: hot food, cold cuts, fruits, pastry, drinks, etc., at €11 per person.

The onsite restaurant ♥♥ is very popular, with many people coming from elsewhere just for dinner. Great menu, fantastic food, very good and efficient service. Prix-fixe at €32 (one of the optioins), with major staples of foie gras and traditional meat dishes; fancy desserts. Our damage: €80 for two, with a bottle of wine. Last visit: 2018.

Jardins de Marqueyssac

Marqueyssac Gardens ♥♥♥ are located in Vezac, high above Dordogne. The grounds cover 54 acres of sculpted and wild gardens, with numerous walking trails and several points of interest. The castle adds a couple of furnished rooms, but is not the highlight of the visit. Vistas over “the Valley of 5 châteaux” are among the best in the area. The gardens can sustain a half-day trip easily, but plan for no less than two hours. Entertainment for children includes a couple of playgrounds, a treehouse, and a suspended mesh walk. Definitely wear covered shoes, as the trails are unpaved. If you also plan to visit Château Castelnaud, a combo ticket is offered at a small discount.

La Roque-Gageac

La Roque-Gageac ♥♥♥ may be the most picturesque of all Dordogne villages. It is strung along the waterfront, with stairs accessing a couple of upper levels on the hill. Above the village are some ancient rock dwellings and the ruins of a medieval fort (not accessible, but apparently planned to be restored and opened for access). Notre-Dame church is among a quick-look highlights. There is also a small botanical garden that we did not go to, having arrived here from Marqueyssac gardens.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

Waterfront villages run cruises on the river and offer canoe rentals, but we did not take advantage of those offerings at La Roque-Gageac.


Castelnaud-la-Chapelle ♥♥ is very similar to Beynac in topography, although probably a bit less picturesque. Château de Castelnaud ♥♥ is definitely worth the effort to climb to; it is a warfare and arms museum, with many interesting exhibits and several multimedia displays, where presentations alternate in French and English.

There is also Musee de Noix (“walnuts” in English) in the vicinity that we did not stop by.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

Although a few kilometers away from Castelnaud proper, Château des Milandes ♥♥♥ is within its postal code boundaries. The 15th century castle gained additional prominence in the mid-20th century, when an American entertainer Josephine Baker lived there. The gorgeous formal gardens with pools and cascades are very impressive, and the castle is interesting in its own right, vastly remodeled by its illustrous occupant. The audio-guide is very detailed, and probably a tad bit overly focused on the biography of Ms Baker, who shaped the castle and the surrounding community. Twice a day on the grounds there is a very entertaining Birds of Prey show, plus other activities related to the birds that are kept on the castle grounds. There is a children playground on the lower level of the park, and a good café.

Château grounds also offer a dedicated picnic area. We had food with us, bought some wine along the way, and had a quiet and pleasant lunch.


Domme ♥♥ is a typical hill village, occasionally called “Acropolis of Périgord” due to its elevated topography. It is slightly bigger than places like Beynac or Limeiul, but most of its side streets are short on outstanding features, not too lively, and have cars parked all over them. The main commercial street and two squares at each end of it are the picturesque portion of Domme. The church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption ♥ hosts an exposition of priestly clothes. The edge-of-the-village esplanade offers expansive views over the valley. Also a very pretty library and a few other nice buildings on the main squares; sections of fortifications and gates also remain.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.


Monpazier ♥♥♥ is our favorite village in Dordogne. A gorgeous and colorful bastide (fortified village), with shops, galleries, and flowers everywhere. On the large main square, there are several picturesque buildings and the covered marketplace. Simple but imposing village church of Saint-Dominique ♥. A possible interesting attraction – especially for those with kids – is the Bastideum, an interactive interpretive center that we did not go to.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.


Belvès ♥♥ is another hilltop village, bigger in size than most and the most medieval in impression. The historic core is pretty walkable, focusing on the main square with the covered marketplace. There are a couple of minor points of interest (such as troglodyte caves) that we did not visit. The main commercial street was just coming to life when we walked through in the late morning, and is probably pretty lively in the afternoon. Practically on every corner, there are plaques with historical information in French and English.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.


Limeuil ♥♥ sits at the juncture of rivers Dordogne and Vézère, running up the hill not unlike Beynac. The most picturesque view of the village is from the bridge over Dordogne. Nice garden by the mairie just above the river bank; picnic areas on the banks as well. Uphill streets have several pretty corners, and a few galleries. At the very top of Limeuil are Panoramic Gardens ♥♥ with a number of botanic displays and great views over the two river valleys.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

Places to Eat

Not exactly a restaurant recommendation, since we planned on having a short picnic in Limeuil. We had wine and fruits with us, but wanted to get bread. The local boulangerie was closed, but next to it stood a kiosk selling fresh baguettes. We bought one, and the meal was complete.


Brantôme ♥♥♥ is a very atmospheric village, sitting mostly on a compact island surrounded by two branches of river Dronne. Its highlights are an imposing town hall, and an old abbey ♥ with an exquisite, built into the rock, and likely the oldest in France belfry. Architecture here is post-medieval, but very colorful. A couple of pedestrian streets are full of shops and galleries.

There are grottoes at the abbey and the cruise boats for hire at Brantôme that we did not take advantage of.

The population of Brantôme is just above the threshold that would allow it to claim membership in the Prettiest Villages in France association, but it is definitely among the prettiest places in Dordogne.


Saint-Jean-de-Côle ♥♥ is very picturesque, headlined by a medieval bridge over La Côle river, and a uniquely designed church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste ♥♥. The imposing chateau in front of the church is open to public only by prior appointment and that only during a couple of months in the summer, but adds to the atmosphere a lot.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.


Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère ♥ is a small village that feels even smaller because of its “huddled together” nature. Quite picturesque, with the eponymous Romanesque church ♥ as the centerpiece. Peaceful riverside path and a couple of interesting artisan shops (ivory products, laser etching) complete the main attractions.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

Places to Eat

We had lunch at Le dejeuner sur l’Herbe ♥ on the river edge. Order at the counter, then pick a table and wait to be called when your order is ready. You can sit at one of the tables, or get a blanket (from the stand at the café entrance) and have an impromptu picnic right by the water. On offer are a large selection of tartines, plus soups, charcuterie, etc. Portions are pretty generous; peaceful ambiance is unbeatable. Our damage: €35 for two, with wine. Last visit: 2018.


Saint-Amand-de-Coly ♥ is dominated by the eponymous abbey church, which is austere and barely decorated inside. It has been heavily renovated in the last couple of centuries and is surrounded by the ruins of the 12th-century abbey. A few picturesque corners on the two main streets of the village, but not too much to linger around.

The village is a member of the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.


This hilltop village is pretty and sleepy. We were here for a very specific point of interest, the abbey church of St-Avit-Sénieur ♥, which is part of the World Heritage-recognized French route of Santiago de Compostela. The church lacks restoration inside, most of the frescoes are barely discernible. The exterior is grand, especially when seen on the approach to the village from below.

Close to the church and the old hospital there are tons of information stands with historic narrative both in French and English.


Cadouin ♥ is picturesque and comparatively vibrant, with several restaurants and nice galleries around the main square. The abbey ♥, part of the Compostela French route World Heritage site, is the main highlight of town; the church is not outstanding on its own merits, but the cloisters are rather nice (free entry to the church, €8 for the cloisters).


Places to Eat

Auberge La Ferme de Brusquand ♥♥♥ is not easy to get to, so no one comes here by chance: the village of Marquay is not exactly a destination in itself, and the farm is located well outside its core. On a mid-week rainy night, only 16 customers came for dinner (of which eight were in the same party). Proprietors are very friendly. There is no a la carte menu, only three different prix-fixe options with varying choices. We took both the cheapest (€18) and the most expensive (€26) options. Great traditional meal, some distance from gourmet, but excellent and delicious. The more expensive option had an additional goat cheese course. The bill did not show the aperitifs we ordered, and when I pointed it out, we were issued a new bill where they were market offert (“complimentary”). Our damage: €62 for two, with wine.

Decorated caves of the Vézère Valley

A number of prehistoric art discoveries gave the Vézère Valley a claim to being “the cradle of European civiliation”. Over a dozen of sites comprise a World Heritage property; they are not managed centrally and all have distinct access policies, but it is possible to visit a few of them in a single day.

Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, unfortunately, requires an effort that I did not properly expend. It does not sell tickets in advance and only allows 50 or so people in through the day, for preservation reasons. You need to join the line no later than 8:30am to have a chance to get tickets for later in the day. I came too late to have a chance.

Abri de Cap Blanc ♥♥♥, conversely, is much easier to get in; we were the first in line for the 10am opening at about 9:50. There is a small but informative museum, and the access to the actual rock shelter with prehistoric sculptural reliefs is at 45-minute intervals with a guide. The sculptures are simply incredible. The tour is in French only, but non-French-speakers are offered a well-made information sheet in English or other languages.

At Grotte de Rouffignac ♥♥ you find fantastic engravings and drawings in a deep dark cave. Every 20 minutes or so, an electric train takes groups of 40-50 people around the cave with commentary in French (but when there are many English speakers, the guide will switch to English occasionally). You can also get a companion electronic device with guide texts in several languages. The train takes several stops for in-depth viewing, and you get off it once for closer exploration.

Lascaux IV ♥♥♥ is a newish interpretive center focused on the most famous of all of the Vézère caves. It is a large attraction, with several components, starting with a guided tour through the replica of the original caves. You then proceed to the “Studio” where a number of interactive exhibits allow closer look at the cave paintings. There is also a series of movie presentations (all in French), plus a gallery of modern art purportedly inspired by the cave paintings. The tour groups depart every few minutes; only a couple of times a day the tour can be taken in English. The information given during the tour is not too illuminating (although the guide will point out some of the more obscure elements of the paintings). The paintings themselves are brilliant, almost raising the question as to whether the replicas are embellished. This is one sight where advanced ticket purchase can be made online, which is recommended in high season.

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