[DORDOGNE & PERIGORD, FRANCE] — You don’t read much about Dordogne in the U.S. travel press. But the French know about it, almost keep it all to themselves. But the British found it long ago, in fact, this was one of the great battlegrounds of the Hundred Year’s War between the nobles of France and England.  Now wealthy Brits have snapped up a lot of the incredible houses and chateaus.

But I just want to give you a taste of what it looks, feels and tastes like.  I was on a random two-month drive through France, seeking out long-remembered places I’ve always seen (often in my French texts) but never had a chance to visit. Click on a pick below and you can follow along. More resources at the bottom.

We’re heading North… on the interior of the Bordeaux coast where the rivers run smooth and black, the truffles grow like kids and cavemen lived in… caves…



Let’s start in the north in the beautiful river town of Brantôme. Brantôme is a sleepy little village in Perigord. A gorgeous little town originally built on an island, surrounded on all sides by the calm rolling waters of the river Dronne — which is why it’s called Venice of the Perigord.

Brantome river mist

It has all the water of Venice, but cleaner, cheaper, fewer boats and even fewer tourists. This town is old, originally settled around an old abbey founded by Charlemagne in the way back of 769 (!). In fact, one of the four old pilgrimage routes in France that fed into to the Santiago de Compostela, the Via Lemovicensis, runs right through Brantôme, so people have been traipsing through here for thousands of years in search of food and a good place to rest their head… which is why we are here, too. It’s a great central base to stay, mostly because of a killer hotel here that I highlight in another post.

Brantôme abbey waterfall
Brantome river
Le Moulin de l'Abbaye Brantome
Le Moulin de l’Abbaye is a perfect place to stay in Brantôme. It’s built right on the river and has one of the best restaurants in the region.
Brantome bridge at sunset
Le Moulin de l'Abbaye waterfall


Rocamadour chateau zoom

Rocamadour is cool, known worldwide for its bitey goat cheese, I can’t believe I haven’t seen more snaps of this pretty cliff church before. Clinging high on a cliff like a one-year-old on the edge of the sofa — you feel like you’re One when you hang out over the scary church ramparts, staring down the steep valley below.

Rocamadour chateau ramparts
Rocamadour chateau rampart view
Rocamadour chateau cliff
Anywhere you move along this great valley, the chateau looks better and better


Lacave hilltop chateau
After you visit Rocamadour, look for the road nearby that takes your through the cute village of Lacave. A beautiful little valley, with chateaus on the hilltops, canoes in the water and food to eat.

Cutting under the motorway heading to Lacave and entering the Lot department, I ran across this little riverside cafe. La Gariotte. Not the picture-perfect French cafe, this was more like folding tables and chairs and paper napkins. But I ordered a coute de boufe and it was just amazing.

Château de la Treyne

It has been since high school I’ve wanted to see this exact spot. Madame Zemkuznekov’s High School French Class, to be exact. It was in our French text book, a prominent chapter page. I didn’t pay that much attention to the other textbook photos — of Paris newspaper stands, or the goofy cool Citroëns, or toothless farmers in their blue berets.

It was this chateau that had me daydreaming, everyday, to find out where this was and come here one day. And so that’s why I was here. In the Périgord. Or Dordogne… still a little fuzzy on which is which. Been to Paris a dozen times, the Cote d’Azur and Provence about as much. But never had a chance to come here, these lush green valleys and lazy dark rivers.

This is actually a hotel now, one of the fanciest in France, which made me giddy to stay in something so memorable and cool. Tried to book, but they were long bedded-up. But it was just as good to have a picnic across the way. Staring and chewing, silently practicing the tenses in my head.. all these years later.


Martel France
Beautiful little Martel, like the Cognac, nestled into the cliffs.

Gouffre de Padirac

Across the auto away from Dordogne is the province of Lot. Unbeknownst to me before I got there, Lot and Dordogne are known for their caves and cavemen. Here this whole time I thought it was about rivers and chateaux and truffles… Turns out, this was one of the great cradles of civilization, with cavemen eating just like that lunch I had. Meat, cooked with fire.

We all read about the cave paintings of Lascaux when we were kids, but I thought it was just one cave. Even my favorite Wim Wenders 3D movie about Lascaux made it seem it was just an isolated handprinty playdate thing long ago. Turns out, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a cave around here.

This place is chalk-full of caves, carved out by wind and water from the chalky cliffs. The Gouffre de Padirac is a great yawn in the earth plunging 103m (330ft) down to a vast underground river system and tunnels that run 40km. You can take a Jules Verne-like elevator down and then boats deep into the caves, with comic gondoliers. They’ve been doing this since the 1890s, they got it Down.

Gouffre de Padirac elevator

Getting down to the cave entrance is almost as good as being inside the caves at Padirac. It really was pretty cool, you take an elevator deep into the earth, then ride a boat on a river way underground. Ducking to get through some tunnels, opening up into huge caverns the size of Gare du Nord in the next.

I came hoping for some cool pictures of the caves and boats traveling on a river underground. “Attention! Monsieur! Monsieur! Ttttt-tttt-tttt!” I got yelled at in three languages for taking a flash-less, silent shutter picture inside. “For the preservation.” When really, it was just so they could sell you a photo like Disney.

Gouffre de Padirac chasm


Saint-Leon-sur-Vézère is a cute little quiet town tucked in a very peaceful bend in the Vézère River. If you haven’t spent much in France, there’s an awesome designation called Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages). Whenever you see that sign off the road, slam on the brakes and pull over because there’s a 99.3% certainty it’s gonna be good.

Saint-Leon is one of those… and that’s exactly how I found it. I think my skid marks are still in the middle of the road. It’s in Mint Condition, mostly pedestrian, a few hundred residents, great houses and flowered streets. No t-shirt shops or anything unsightly. And that’s why people stop here, just to take a stroll around, grab a lunch and watch the river go by.

Saint-Leon-Sur-Vézère bridge
This is the view from your picnic in Saint-Leon-Sur-Vézère.
With swimmer and boaters riding by.
Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe

If you’re in Saint-Leon-Sur-Vézère stop at this delightful little picnic shack, right along the wet moving sidewalk of the Vézère. Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe. In fact, plan your whole day around having lunch here. It’s like being in your own French period movie.

It’s self-service, grab your mess and find a picnic table in the sun and wait for something to happen. Or nothing to happen…

Saint-Leon-Sur-Vézère chairs river
Saint-Leon-Sur-Vézère field
La Vézère river boaters

Where I group up, rivers were always tree-snagged, full of bugs and spider webs, muddy water and water moccasins. But all throughout this area I was amazed at how clean and clear every river was. You can boat, kayak, swim, tube all over the place.

Explore the Prehistoric Caves of the Dordogne

The Dordogne has over 50 (!) UNESCO World Heritage Sites all throughout the region. This was the cradle of European civilization, with prehistoric cave dwellings, cave paintings and troglodyte settlements tucked into the chalky hills. Some or elegant. Some are crass “caveman” style tourist attractions. Some are just natural caves. Just head up the river valleys and you see all kinds of crazy mind-blowing dwellings.

La Roque Saint-Christophe
La Roque Saint-Christophe
Dordogne village
I don’t remember the name of this perfect little village but you should go here.
Montignac building
Montignac is cool to bump around and find somewhere to eat at the end of your daily tour.
A perfect Old Town

More Information on the Dorgogne

Valle Vézère Map
On the Michelin map, all this area really seems easy to get to, but actually, because of the hills and valley and rivers and two lane road, it does take a lot of time to get somewhere that seems somewhere close. If you base out of Brantôme, plane on an hour to get where you want south of the auto way. But staying at Le Moulin de l’Abbaye is worth all the time.

Here is the website for Le Moulin de l’Abbaye. And here’s a post I did about the remarkable Gorge du Verdon in Provence. And here’s a post I made about an amazing hotel and restaurant in Gascony.

Here are some resource articles. A great snap on Dordogne in Conde Nast Traveller, the UK edition.A perfect overview of the Dordogne in the NYTimes.  A great survey on the Dordogne from the always awesome Scott Dunn webpage. A great Pinterest page with pics better than mine. And a great compendium survey of the Dordogne thanks to Travel & Leisure. A great T&L article on the epicurean gems in the Dordogne. Another good article from T&L on the Dordogne.

Last visited June 2015. 

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow Us on Instagram @youshouldgohere