[DORDOGNE & PERIGORD, FRANCE] — You don’t read much about Dordogne in the U.S. travel press. But the French & English know about it, almost keep it all to themselves. 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. I spent a week there several years ago and these are what I found to be the best things to do in Dordogne. Are there other places? Certainly. But this what I found in a little less than a week in an early June.

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.

Dordogne is in the interior of the Bordeaux coast where the rivers run smooth and black, the truffles grow like kids and cavemen lived in… caves… Here’s a short fun video I made of this whole region:

It’s kinda confusing because people and travel guides often refer to this as Dordogne or Périgord, or the English call it The Dordogne. But really they all mean the same place. Périgord is the older name for the region before it was renamed Dordogne, and this was the breadbasket of France, so French people tend to refer to Périgord for its culinary history. To settle the matter, the tourism board decided to just bear hug the whole issue and rebrand it, which I think is a brilliant solution:


There are dozens and dozens of amazing little villages and dreamy chateaus scattered all throughout this region, you could spend weeks here and not cover the same ground. This was just my scouting trip over a few days. I’m listing these towns, by river valley and in an order that I like them, not necessarily in a geographic order. Refer to this Google map I made to see the routes and locations.

Following The Clear, Clean Dordogne River

What I loved about most about the Dordogne is how clean the rivers are, even the main Dordogne, tens of miles downstream. Where I grew up, rivers were messy and chock-full of tree trunks and snagging branches and water moccasin snakes and spiders. Here the rivers run smooth and clear of all debris, deep dark clear water that’s as soothing as a bath, but cold as a shower. Rafting and kayaking are a big part of this whole region. Get on the water.

The river is ever-present. Silently keeping the beat no matter where you roam. Its deep black color and glints of currents always in the background, reflecting the puffy white clouds above.

You look up at the carved cliffs and realize this has been going on for thousands of years.

The Dordogne River itself runs for nearly 500 kilometres (310 mi) from near Auvergne all the way to the coast below Bourdeaux. There are several tributaries, also clean and clear and black, that contribute their part along the way, like the Vézère I describe below, which is loaded with prehistoric cave paintings and early signs for man and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

river near Martel
Dordogne river canoe

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.

Dordogne River Valley terrain map
You can see how the Dordogne River carved out its way through the soft limestone cliffs, from its upper reaches like here, all the way to the sea.

Across the A20 motorway from Dordogne is the province of Lot, upriver and even more pristine waters. That’s where this next section of the Dordogne River is exploring.


Rocamadour is the most striking looking place, buildings waterfall down the steep canyon walls. A fairy tale location, I swear children’s book illustrators must come here. This is a sacred city, on the pilgrimage route The Way of St James to Santiago de Compostele that threads through the Dordogne.

Rocamadour wide view
Rocamadour close view

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 with it when you hang out over the scary church ramparts, staring down the steep valley below.

Rocamadour ramparts
aerial view Rocamadour
valley view Rocamadour
Rocamadour ramparts over valley


Up the road from Rocamadour, the curvy road takes you to the cute village of Lacave. A beautiful little valley, carved out by the Dordogne River with the most perfect chateau on the edge of the hilltop, canoes in the water and good food to eat. The town is also famous for its huge cave.

Lacave chateau
Lacave chateau overlooking valley

The village of Lacave itself is quiet, with a couple of canoe rentals, but has an awesome little riverside cafe called La Gariotte that I just loved for its humbleness.  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. You go up, place your order and then sit on picnic tables and watch the silent river roll by, with the gorgeous chateau looming over you. Lacave also has a famous cave, so check that out if you have time.

Lacave chateau on hill

It was all so wonderful. Sitting at a picnic table eating a grilled steak, the breeze rustling the hillside of thick trees, a gorgeous chateau staring from above.

Chateau near Lacave in Lot
I like this one.

I would like to thank the baron who chose this delightful hill and built this cute little chateau. Near Lacave.

Chateau de la Treyne

Château de la Treyne 4 start hotel

It has been since high school I’ve wanted to see this exact spot. Madame Zemkuznikov’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. (But I did pay a lot of attention to the sexy Madame Zemkuznikov.)

It was this chateau — Château de la Treyne — 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 Périgord. Or Dordogne. Because of that photo. I’ve 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. Here’s a quick video clip of how cool this hotel is:

Château de la Treyne is actually a 4 star hotel now, one of the fanciest in France, which made me giddy to stay in something so memorable and cool. I tried so hard to book, but they were long bedded-up weeks on either side of my stay here. 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.

Lovely Gluges, Nestled Under the Rocks

Gluges Martel France canyon

Gluges, it’s just in view off the motorway, is a cute little town tucked under the cliffs carved by the Dordogne River, just down the road from Martel, the Black Truffle Capital. I didn’t get to visit, only a quick drive-by. This village was loved by Edith Piaff who paid for the stained glass windows in the church.

Gluges Martel France village

Get Underground in the Gouffre de Padirac

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 take you deep into the caves, with comic gondoliers. They’ve been doing this since the 1890s, they got it down.

looking into Gouffre de Padirac

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.

pathway into Gouffre de Padirac

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 force you to buy a photo, like Disney.

Gouffre de Padirac map
If you look closely, you can see how this cave is laid out. It’s basically all one level. Once you’re inside, boats take your through a vast underground river, lit to show off the magic of the earth’s bowels. I wish I had pictures, but I refused to buy them. It is cool, though and I highly recommend it.

Exploring the Prehistoric Vézère Valley

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 are elegant. Some are crass “caveman” style tourist attractions, with big obnoxious dinosaur and caveman statues out front, hawking you to come in. There are parts where you think you might be in the middle of Nebraska, not gorgeous France. But some are just natural caves.

Just head up the river valleys and you see all kinds of crazy mind-blowing dwellings. So many caveman things going on, including the world famous Lascaux caves and its imitations.

Vezere river

The Vézère twists and carves its 211km way from the Massif Central until it runs into the Dordogne River near Le Bugue, just to the left of the above pic. This valley is known as “Valley of Mankind” for all the prehistoric Early Manhood going on around here. Did you ever see the fantastic Werner Herzog movie about the cave paintings? It was filmed around these parts. It’s fantastic.


Saint-Leon-sur-Vézère is a cute little quiet town tucked in a very peaceful bend in the Vézère River (pronounced Vay-zehr). 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.

river and bridge Saint-Leon-sur-Vezere

This was one of my favorite experiences in all of France. And the most unplanned. Sitting there having the most gorgeous takeway lunch on a picnic table, willows weeping beside me. A beautiful village behind, and the luscious, slow-moving Vézère River gracefully passing by, singsong French chatter from other smiling diners down the banks. Silent canoes glide by, a kayaker guiding a silent swimmer.

I can die now.

Vézère River swimmer

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.

Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe dining along river

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

dining next to river Saint-Leon-sur-Vezere
table marker Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe
God, I love France.
Saint-Leon-sur-Vezere village
beautiful field Saint-Leon-sur-Vezere

La Roque Saint-Christophe

When you park your car in the lot and start walking up the dirt path to La Roque Saint-Christophe, you look up to the chalky limestone cliff and notice a small slit in the giant rock face. Like someone had flossed a chunk out. Then you realize there are little people people walking around in that little slit.

driving up to La Roque Saint-Christophe
walkway down La Roque Saint-Christophe

Man, or his Neanderthal predecessors, have been living in this protected have for over 50,000 years. I repeat, 50,000 years! The Neanderthals passed it along to the Cro-Magnon Family and then for centuries later through the Renaissance, each adding their own redecorating style.

The cliff face is a kilometer long, the vital river nearby. They used to lug up water and other goods on ancient wheeled lifts.

boaters below La Roque Saint-Christophe
What’s cool about this whole area is you don’t have to do it all by car. Because most of the prehistoric settlements were on, or because of, the river you can even visit them by kayak or canoe.

Abri de la Madeleine

The Abri de la Madeleine was a surprise. It’s very uncrowded and felt a little homemade, but I liked that compared to the slick and overcrowded other prehistoric sites. People were living here 17,000 years ago and the medieval looking chapel is from the 16th century. Gorgeous little walk-up and even better views over the silent Dordogne River, watching canoeists floating by. They even found this famous bison sculpture here, carved from a rock over 20,000 years ago. That’s a long time.

entrance to Abri de la Madeleine
pathway into Abri de la Madeleine
best view Abri de la Madeleine
cliffside Abri de la Madeleine

I loved this carved cross and arrow shooting position built into the rock wall.

Other Cool Places Along the Vézère

Eglise Saint Felix
Eglise Saint Felix
La Maison Forte de Reignac
La Maison Forte de Reignac. I didn’t get to go in here, but hear it is good. It was originally caveman-style, but a lord in the 14th century built the fortified chateau into the deep recesses of the rocks for protection. This website is great and shows the rooms inside, restored with period furniture.
Grotte du grand Roc
Grotte du Grand Roc
Montignac street
Montignac is cool to bump around and find somewhere to eat at the end of your daily tour.
A perfect Old Medieval Town. It’s spotless and the home of the Lascaux cave attractions just outside of town.

Brantôme — A Great Base to Explore Dordogne

Brantôme is a sleepy little village in Périgord. A gorgeous little town on a u-turn bend of the river, 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 Périgord. This would be a great fort.

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 I was here, too.

It’s a great central base to stay, mostly because of a killer hotel here that I highlight in another post. It really is one of the cutest list villages in France, I loved it. Walking into town in the morning to pick up the International Herald Tribune and a cafe au lait and sit by the river.

Brantôme best base in Perigord
mist on river Brantôme
best hotel in Brantome Le Moulin de l'Abbaye

— Last visited June 2015. Post dramatically updated June 2024 —

More Information on the Dordogne

I’ve created a special Dordogne Google Map to follow along on the above mentioned places. Here are some travel times for all the places I’ve covered above:

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’s a fantastic page about each of the towns in Dordogne from the See Dordogne tourism website. And here is the excellent Visit Dordogne website, which lists the top things to do in Dordogne. And I really like this Guide de Dordogne. I was just in Dordogne for a few days, so only got to see a sliver of it and mostly a drive-by and stumble-upon sites that I didn’t have any time to preplan for. For a great guide on the Dordogne, check out BonTraveler, Jessica has a completely different set of places she visited that will open your eyes. Here’s is Rick Steve’s Dordogne forum.

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’s a map of the Way of St James that cuts through Dordogne.

Way of St James Dordogne

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.

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