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The Dordogne France delivers rolling countryside, medieval villages clinging to clifftops, sweeping vistas and the Dordogne River just waiting to be explored by canoe or flat bottomed boat. Visiting the Dordogne in France is a journey along winding, narrow country roads through groves of walnut trees, where the cuisine is deluxe, the vibe is laid back and suddenly you realize you have stepped back in time to another world.
I visited the Dordogne region in springtime with my daughter and the perfume of flowering roses, the delicate sight of orange and red poppies blowing in the gentle warm breeze and the towering walnut trees have created a lasting memory that I associate with pure joy and the Dordogne Valley in May.
If you love wine, walnuts, medieval towns, stunning views, tiny country roads, prehistoric caves and canoe rides, you will be in heaven in the Dordogne France.
9 Best Towns In Dordogne France
1. Best Towns In The Dordogne Valley: Bergerac
Planning a trip to the Dordogne Valley in France? Bergerac is a great place to start. Easily accessible by car, train and the airport, Bergerac with the sparkling Dordogne River, the historic centre full of half-timbered houses and the statues of Cyrano de Bergerac make this town in the Dordogne region well worth a stop.
Swing by Place de Pélissière to see Cyrano. Does his name sound familiar? The character, who indeed was a real person, from Edmond Rostand’s famous play never actually came to Bergerac but he is a famous figure here!
The Bergerac region, well-known for its wines, make it the perfect place to go wine tasting or, visit a nearby château with vineyard tours, such as Château de Monbazillac.
Getting To Bergerac, Dordogne Valley:
Bergerac, in the Dordogne Valley, has an airport and train station which makes it very accessible. There are plenty of car rentals available at Bergerac airport.
Accommodation: Where to stay in Bergerac
2. Dordogne France: Explore Beynac-Et-Cazenac
Don’t miss this best town in the Dordogne Valley!
Beynac-et-Cazenac brims with tranquil French charm. Nestled between the imposing cliff and the Dordogne River, its ancient, honey-coloured buildings line the steep cobbled streets. The church of Ste. Marie balances on one peak of the limestone bluff while the Château de Beynac is perched on another.
The Château is a reminder of the historical importance of the Dordogne in France. The Château de Beynac majestically oversees Beynac-et-Cazenac. Its existence is a reminder of the Hundred Years War between France and England when the French occupied this castle and the British were across the river at Castelnaud.
Accommodation: Where to stay in Beynac-et-Cazenac
3. Best Places To Visit In The Dordogne: Carennac
Cross the tiny footbridge to enter the beautiful village of Carennac. Note the jumble of houses centred around the 11th-century Romanesque church. The Church of Saint Pierre de Carennac and its ornately carved tympanum are worth visiting along with the château. Wander through the tranquil streets of Carennac and enjoy the peace and quiet by the Dordogne River. Take your time. The Dordogne in France demands that you slow down and savour the moment.
4. Dordogne France: Visit Carsac
Carsac, in the Dordogne Valley, is a short drive along a tree-lined road from Sarlat-La-Canéda. I’m not so sure that the few houses scattered about truly make up a village in the Dordogne region but the Romanesque Église de Carsac (Church of Carsac) sits in a field calling you to pay a visit.
There’s not a soul around and the white stone arches of the interior lead you straight to the altar.
5. Best Towns In Dordogne France: Domme
One of my favourite places to visit in Dordogne France was Domme. Enter the walled town of Domme through its fortified gate and nod your head in accordance with its designation as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. The scent of roses, the clank of pétanque balls, tiny cobbled streets lined with ancient homes and expansive views over the lush Dordogne Valley make this picturesque village a worthwhile stop.
No wonder Domme was a fortified town. Perched on this hill no one could approach unsuspectingly. Visit Domme and it appears to the casual visitor that life in the Dordogne in France has remained unchanged for centuries.
Accommodation: Where to stay in Domme
6. Visiting La Dordogne France: Rocamadour
Famous pilgrimage sites in France are not uncommon. Mont-Saint-Michel which rises from the sea is an iconic pilgrimage destination. Conques, smaller in size, draws pilgrims from all over the world. Rocamadour, carved into a limestone cliff, has been a destination for the faithful for eight centuries.
Although technically in the Lot region of France, Rocamadour sits on the eastern edge of the Dordogne Valley. Many travellers include a stop at Rocamadour when exploring the Dordogne in France.
Wander down the main street of Rocamadour lined with tourist shops and restaurants. I wonder what was there 800 years ago? Climb the 216 steps leading up to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Rocamadour, a church with seven chapels. Would you kneel on each step as the pilgrims did and say a rosary? Visit the various chapels but don’t miss the Chappelle de Notre-Dame where a statue of the Black Virgin, carved from walnut stands.
Take your time at Rocamadour. You never know what will happen in such a mystical and religious haven. Perhaps, as when we visited, in the silence of the church, a man will arrive and sing Ave Maria at the top of his voice and hold you spellbound for a while.
Marvel at the views over the Alzou Valley, the ingenuity of the people that built this pilgrimage site perched on a cliff and the millions of pilgrims that have walked from every corner of Europe to this sanctuary.
Accommodation: Where to stay in Rocamadour
7. Best Towns In The Dordogne Valley: La Roque-Gageac
Tucked between a huge cliff that protects it from the north wind, and the Dordogne River, it is no surprise that La Roque-Gageac is one of France’s “Les Plus Beaux Villages.” The buildings built of warm, yellow stone stretch out along the Dordogne River and climb their way up the cliffside.
La Roque-Gageac is truly one of the best towns to visit in the Dordogne. Imagine the cave dwellers that lived here in the 10th century looking across the Dordogne Valley. I wonder if the view is much different today.
Take a boat ride down the Dordogne River and imagine the flat bottomed wooden boats called “les gabarres” that used to take barrels of wine and other goods down the river to Bordeaux.
Accommodation: Where to stay in La Roque-Gageac
8. The Dordogne Valley: Saint-Émilion
Two hours west of Sarlat-La-Canéda is the most beautiful town of St-Émilion. St-Émilion is also the perfect day trip (or half-day trip) from Bordeaux.
Perched on a hilltop, St-Émilion charms with its yellow stone buildings, tiny cobbled streets and sweeping views over the valley. Be sure to try the local red wine that has been made in St-Émilion for over 1800 years.
Market Day: Sunday
Accommodation: Where to stay in Saint-Emilion
9. Best Towns In The Dordogne Valley: Sarlat-La-Canéda
When I was housesitting near La Réole, France, I asked my neighbour where he would recommend I visit. Without a second’s hesitation, he answered, “Sarlat.” It was just a little too far to leave the dog alone so Sarlat had to wait. The following year I arrived in Sarlat, with my daughter, and knew immediately why this town in Dordogne France had come so highly recommended by a local.
Sarlat-La-Canéda has enough ancient buildings with enticing façades and decorative details to captivate the curious traveller. The salamander is Sarlat’s mascot so keep an eye open for its appearance! Sarlat is full of narrow cobbled pedestrian-only laneways, delightful cafés and is lit in the evening by gas lamps. Sarlat-La-Canéda also has one of the most famous markets in all of France. I agree! It ranks right up there with my favourite market in Aix-en-Provence.
Sarlat-La-Canéda is the perfect town in the Dordogne Valley to use as a base while visiting the Dordogne in France.
Market: Wednesdays and Saturdays (leave yourself plenty of time to browse and shop)
Accommodation: Where to stay in Sarlat-La-Canéda.