Visiting the Dordogne for the first time is an experience few forget. This enchanting region of France seems to exist purely for those who enjoy the simple things in life - walking, eating, history and stunning landscapes.
Situated in the south-west of Aquitaine, it boasts some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, a rich cultural heritage, stunning architecture, exquisite food, picturesque villages and the mighty Dordogne River.
If you're in the the village of Rocamadour on Whit Sunday (27 May) you'll be lucky enough to take part in the annual Cheese Festival, which celebrates the ‘Cabecou de Rocamadour’ AOC goats’ cheese. The town is filled with cheese stalls, cheese and wine tastings, barbecues, music, and the grand finale – a cheese competition. The day begins with a service in the town’s famous cliff-top church at which the goats are blessed before they lead a procession (right) through the narrow winding streets.
Every May for the past 21 years, the village of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne has held its annual Strawberry Festival. La Fête de la Fraise is celebrated by the whole village, which is taken over by a huge strawberry market, music, fairground rides, art exhibition and boat trips along the Dordogne.
The big finale is the arrival of the ‘King of Strawberry Tarts’ made by the local bakers, which is cut up and dished out to everyone for free. It is 8m in diameter (right) and contains over 700kg of fruit!
The last Sunday in September is dedicated to the Walnut Walk, or Randonoix. This is a group walk where you meander through 28 kilometres of walnut groves, learning about walnut production tastinng various walnut-related products. But beware - the talks are conducted in French so you'll need a good grasp of the language to understand what's going on!
Must see sites
Château de Castelnaud
This is the most popular Chateau in southern France, with views across miles of rolling countryside. It boasts a long and interesting history, having changed hands between the English and the French an incredible nine times over the centuries. Standing high over the Dordogne Valley, this medieval fortress was erected in the thirteenth century to face its rival, the Château de Beynac.
Today it houses a much-visited museum of medieval warfare, featuring reconstructions of siege engines, mangonneaux, and trebuchets. The castle also features several pieces of furniture from the period as well as reconstructions of war machines, such as siege catapults, in actual size on the grounds outside.
Gouffre de Padirac
Shaped over time by billions of water drops, the Gouffre de Padirac is a place where legends and natural paradise meet. Situated along the Dordogne valley, in the crossroads of Quercy and Perigord Black, the enormous chasm is about 99 metres around the rim.
Descend 103 metres by lift (or by foot if you're feeling brave!) and take an eerie underground boat journey along the spectacular tunnels, passing through various underground caverns full of extraordinary rock formations.
See the ‘Grande Pendeloque’ (Grand Pendant) which is a giant, 60-metre stalactite and then head by foot to the great ‘Lac des Gours’ (Crater Lake). You can even take a look at Satan's footprint, left when he was trying to evade Saint Martin!
Caves of Lascaux
The caves of Lascaux were discovered in the 1940s by a couple of schoolboys inquisitively scrambling around the Dordogne countryside and are estimated to be more than 17,300 years old.
The maze of caves contain some of the best-known Paleothlic cave paintings in the world, and were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1971. The main cave is called the Hall of the Bulls, boasting huge cave paintings of prehistoric bulls, some more than 5 metres long.
These colourful, almost cartoonlike drawings also include herds of deer and horses, and the occasional stick figures of men with spears. They have become one of the Dordogne’s top tourist sites, attracting almost 300,000 visitors each year.
Being named after the great Dordogne River that runs through it, the Dordogne is home to some of the most remarkable rivers in France. And this makes it a fisherman’s paradise.
The mighty River Dordogne is home to grayling, pike, salmon, sea trout, shad and zander, but fishing for salmon and sea trout is prohibited. Fish for grayling from the towns of Argentat to Beaulieu where the river is at its cleanest. There's a hydroelectric barrage at Lalinde which slows the river down, making it a good spot for wading.
The 211 kilometre Verzere is a tributary of the River Dordogne, popular for trout. It flows through abundant woodlands, meadows and hillsides. The beauty of the scenery might keep you calm when you get impatient with the fish, as a bed of peat and granite produces more 'nervous' fish than fat ones!
Remember to get a fishing permit for any river in the Dordogne.
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Take a look at our Flavours of the Dordogne to tempt your tastebuds.