People have been attracted to the Dordogne region, also known as the Périgord, for thousands of years. Evidence of human occupation from the Palaeolithic age can be seen especially along the beautiful valley of the river Vézere.
Since then many have come to stay at least for a while. Gauls, Romans, Franks, English, French and finally the English (again) along with the Dutch have settled happily. No doubt the climate, fertile land, abundant water and a relaxed, healthy way of life (underwritten by fabulous food and wine) all contribute.
These factors also draw visitors from around the world. Today the area is one the most well-known and visited parts of France.
The Dordogne is much, much more than the beautiful département located in the Aquitaine Région. It is also a magnificent river which has its source in the central highlands of the Massif Centrale.
This meandering giant then traverses Limousin and Quercy before flowing through the Dordogne département and onto the Gironde.
The Dordogne, formerly known as the Périgord prior to the French Revolution, consists of four distinct conveniently colour-coded parts. The Périgord Noir or Black Périgord, the Périgord Pourpre or Purple Périgord, the Périgord Vert or Green Périgord and Périgord Blanc or White Périgord.
Each has many charms but the most visited is the Périgord Noir with its world famous prehistoric cave paintings and castles as well as many fascinating towns. Check out Sarlat with its fabulous Market and beautiful villages like St Geniès and St Amand de Coly.
===> See the RELATED links below to explore local itineraries.
The Quercy (mostly modern Lot) lies to the south east of the Périgord and has a completely different character to its neighbour. South of the Lot River Quercy Blanc falls outside the scope of the guide.
Where the Périgord is heavily wooded and fertile, large parts the Haut Quercy are made up of causses, wonderful limetone plateaux just made for exploring on foot, cycle, horseback or, for the less energetic, by car. There are fabulous attractions too — from the incredible Rocamadour to the capital Cahors with its impressive and unique Pont Valentré to the amazing underground lake at the Gouffre de Padirac.
Before turning into the sleepy meandering giant which most visitors expect, the mighty river passes through some fantastic gorges. This the Upper Dordogne Valley which is actually in the Corrèze department, part of the Limousin Region. Look out for the aptly named Beaulieu sur Dordogne famed for the production of the most delicious strawberries I have ever tasted!
See the Dordogne Valley in all its glory here.
Don’t forget to click on the yellow bar above for Dordogne details about when to go; what it costs; transportation; informative background reading that digs deeper into Dordogne culture, cuisine, recommended reading, movies set in the Dordogne and a photo montage of images.
To book a suitable hotel or other accommodation in the Dordogne, in or near Sarlat, you can use the map below, which shows current prices for hotels and apartments. If you wish to book further afield, then just enlarge the map (+/-) to see more properties or, if you have somewhere particular in mind, enter your preferred town/village in the ‘Where are you going?’ box.
The best times to go are are late Spring, Summer and early Autumn when everything is open and all the services are available. During the Winter many restaurants and some attractions close so you need to do your research
You need at least one week to even the scratch the surface of the Dordogne and Quercy – there are so many things to do and see that I would recommend two or three weeks to really get a feel for the place.
High season in the Dordogne is from mid-July to mid-August although the two weeks either side will still be quite busy. Low season is May-June and September-October.
Generally the climate in the Dordogne is very pleasant although it can, and does, get very hot in July and August and can also be quite cold in the late Autumn, Winter and early Spring.
Local Events include:
Mid-January – Truffle Festival -Sarlat
Early March – Fest d’Oie (Goose Festival) Sarlat
2nd Sunday May – Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne Strawberry Festival
French Holidays include:
January 1st New Year’s Day
Good Friday and Easter Monday
May 1st or the first Monday in May
May 14th Ascension Day (not UK, Spain, Italy)
May Whit Monday – last Monday of month (not Greece, Ireland, Italy or Spain)
July 14th Bastille Day
August 15th Assumption Day (not UK, Netherlands, Scandinavia, parts of Germany)
December 25th: Christmas Day
December 26th: Boxing Day
France is located in the Central European Time (CET)
Daylight Saving Time (DST) happens in the Spring (last Sunday in March at 1AM) when clocks are advanced one hour. In the Autumn (last Sunday in October at 1AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time to give more daylight in the morning.
If you’re going during the off season then you will need to pack warm clothing especially for the evenings although it can be pleasantly warm during the day. In winter you’ll need a warm coat as it can be very cold indeed. During July and August expect it to be warm or even very hot – some sunscreen and a hat would make good companions.
Don’t forget a travel adaptor – France uses the familiar 2 Pin plugs & sockets.
France and in particular the Dordogne and Quercy area is not expensive – expect to pay much the same as, or even less, than you would elsewhere and certainly much less than in Switzerland for example. Admission to sites of interest is often surprisingly cheap and eating out, while not exactly inexpensive, is normally very reasonably priced.
Of course the traveller will find that large cities can be a little pricey especially for eating out but, if you are prepared to shop around a little, you will find something to suit your pocket.
What you can expect is value for money wherever you go. For food shopping try the local outdoor market, held daily in the big cities and weekly in small towns and villages. These are not necessarily cheaper than the shops but the produce is guaranteed to be local and fresh.
For really low prices on a whole range of goods try the local Hypermarché. These are huge retail outlets, usually to be found on the outskirts of town, which sell everything from food to clothes. Hypermarchés to look out for are Carrefour, Leclerc, Auchan, Intermarché Hyper and Géant Casino.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in €.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15- €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person
Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double
Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double
€=> €5- €10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => €10 – €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €50 per person
€€€ => Tickets €50 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings. European operators such as easyJet, Ryanair, Air France-KLM, Jet2, British Airways, flybe and Lufthansa offer an extensive range of routes in Europe.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities, Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transport, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about €8/£6 a month; rentals are about €8-13.50/£6-10 per hour; fuel and insurance are included.
Ride-sharing companies, such as Uber, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
All the major car rental companies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz and Europcar operate throughout Europe. It is not normally possible to rent in the UK and take the vehicle to mainland Europe or vice versa.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) Europe goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical — Travellers within Europe from European Union member states should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card which entitles them to healthcare on the same terms as citizens from the country they are visiting. This is a reciprocal agreement which means for example that EEA visitors to the UK will receive free care in NHS hospitals in the same way that UK residents do. Some countries e.g. France make a charge known as a patient contribution for GP visits or stays in hospital for both their own citizens and visitors from the EEA. Even so, travellers are well advised to have additional medical insurance to cover for example the cost of repatriation, mountain rescue in ski resorts and other emergencies.
For travellers from outside the European Union the cost of health services in Europe, while not as high as in the US for example, can be relatively expensive for the uninsured. For this reason it is essential to consider purchasing medical insurance. If you have a Health Care Plan back home it may cover you for most situations which arise abroad but you need to check this out and in any case additional medical travel insurance will cover you for private health care or other expenses.
Some countries outside the European Union have a reciprocal agreement for healthcare with certain European countries. For example Switzerland has an agreement with all European Union countries and Australia has agreements with the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and others. It pays to check before leaving home.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travellers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip is expensive it’s essential and even if it isn’t it’s certainly a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Your English or other European language skills are also crucial because insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
In Europe the largest insurers are Allianz, Axa and Zurich but there are many smaller providers such as insureandgo and Direct Line.
Pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition or charge an additional premium related to the condition. Some companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The main currency of Europe is the Euro which is currently used in 25 countries a few of which are not even EU members. Some countries within the European Union have retained their original currency including the UK (Pound), Denmark (Kroner) and Poland (Zloty). Most non-EU countries such as Switzerland (Swiss Franc) and Turkey (Lira) continue to use their own currency. All are decimalised and have 100 ‘pennies’ in each main unit.
Euros come in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes. They vary in size, from 120mm x 62mm (€5) to 160mm x 82mm (500), and colour, so it is easy to differentiate between them. All feature European architecture throughout the ages. (Smaller businesses may not accept the larger notes, so plan to have €20s or smaller notes in hand)
There are eight denominations of euro coin: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent plus a €1 and €2 coin. All have a common side and a national side. Remember to spend all coins before you leave – they can’t be exchanged!
Many travellers like to have a small amount of local currency when they arrive in a country but this is becoming less and less important as ATMs and Bureaux de Change appear everywhere especially in transport terminals.
If you get money from an ATM machine abroad you will usually incur charges (typically 1.5 or 2% per transaction)
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Europe.
Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you donât do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card, which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
The good news for travellers in Europe is that you don’t need to get stressed about tipping – you don’t have to do it and when you do it really should reflect good or excellent service rather than be something you are expected to do. On the whole workers in tourism are reasonably well paid and don’t depend upon tips to make up their wages. In some cases over-tipping can be embarrassing for all concerned.
Many restaurants include a ‘service’ charge in the price so check and, if it isn’t mentioned, then a tip of between 5 – 10% is quite enough. Even where it is included but you feel that you’ve had really excellent service then the same amount is adequate but ensure that your server receives this by handing it directly to them.
Other methods are to add a euro/pound for each member of the party or round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 euros.
In the UK many restaurants add an ‘optional’ amount to the bill when you are paying with plastic, but in many cases the servers don’t receive any of this and it simply becomes an extra profit for the owner. The server won’t mind if you decline to do this!
With taxis, just round up to the next euro or pound for a short journey or, for a long ride, to the nearest ten. Again 10% is the maximum you should consider unless of course the driver carries your bags into the hotel or airport when a little more will be appreciated.
You may wish to give the porter a euro for each bag he carries but, while it will be appreciated, it is not normally expected. Similarly you may wish to leave a small tip for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have been particularly helpful, but this is completely up to you.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between €10 and €40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, insect repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery, super/hypermarkets and pharmacies will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
France is blessed with an excellent transport infrastructure and getting to the Dordogne couldn’t be easier!
AIR: The main international airport is at Bordeaux but there are regional airports at Limoges, Brive and Bergerac which are served by flights from Paris and elsewhere. For cheap car rental from a completely independent car hire company based at Bergerac Airport try Buggs Car Hire.
SEA: If you have your own yacht there is no shortage of ports to anchor in but for the majority of us there is a great selection of ferries crossing the English Channel (La Manche) to Dover, Caen and Dunquerque all linked to the Dordogne by Autoroute.
TRAIN: French Railways are amongst the best in Europe and the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) will propel you to Bordeaux from Paris or Lille at 270kph/170mph.
CAR: The French Autoroute system is the best in Europe and while it can be relatively expensive (Paris – Bordeaux is €54.80 while Paris – Brive is only €19.40) it is quick and safe, provided you avoid peak travelling times.
MOTORHOME HIRE: From their base south of Paris, France Motorhome Hire provide immaculate, reliable and carefully maintained motorhomes and campervans for English speaking visitors wishing to explore France & Europe.
Finally, an easy way to plan your journey from your home to your final destination in the Dordogne by any means of transport is to use the excellent rome2rio website.
Rural bus services in France, as in many countries, are quite poor. Trains connect the main centres but by far the best way of getting around is by car. If you want to remain local then France is a bike friendly country and the Dordogne-Quercy region is relatively flat.
The main transport hubs are Brive-la-Gaillarde, Bergerac and Périgueux. There is an airport at Bergerac and one near Brive (Brive-Souillac). Limoges in the nearby Limousin also has an airport. Brive can be reached by rail from Paris.The main car-rental companies operate from these hubs.
The Dordogne, part of the recently created Nouvelle Aquitaine Région, and Quercy, part of Midi-Pyrénées, are adjoining territories in the fabled South West of France with three main things in common: the mighty Dordogne River, amazingly sophisticated cuisine and beautiful, varied scenery which includes beautiful rolling countryside, imposing medieval castles and some of the prettiest villages in France!
The French tend to be quite formal, much more so than the English or other Europeans. It is not polite to use anyone’s first or given name unless invited to do so or to indulge in cheek kissing (faire la bise) unless the person you are meeting initiates the process.
Always say ‘Bonjour’ when meeting someone or entering a shop and don’t forget ‘au Revoir’ when you leave. ‘S’il vous plait’ and ‘Merci’ are both essential phrases. If you’ve never spoken French before you may feel a little awkward at first but it is essential if you want to get along with folks and get the most out of your visit.
You may find that the person you are speaking to wants to practice their English – I’ve often found myself in the bizarre situation of endeavoring to speak to someone in French who insists on speaking to me in English! Nowadays I indulge them as there will be plenty who don’t speak English and on the whole they will respect your efforts.
Although things have improved in recent years, the politeness you find on the street or in shops does not always extend to the road. Always make sure drivers are stopping before you step out onto a crossing and don’t assume that a driver flashing his/her lights at you wants you to proceed! However, if you’re driving and see an oncoming driver flashing their lights then he/she is probably warning you that ‘Les Flics’ (Gendarmes) are waiting down the road to check your speed!
Cooking to die for in the Périgord
The cuisine of the Périgord region is one of the main reasons for visiting the area. Along with the Burgundy region it probably offers some of the best food in all of France.
The ingredients used to produce such a high standard are absolutely key, from the finest fresh fruit and vegetables to delicacies such as truffles , foie- gras and the various confits, which all help to ensure the quality. A typical dish of the region would be something like confit d’oie aux pommes sarladaises accompanied by a fresh salad. Is this healthy eating? Have a look at the entry on the French Paradox and this may assuage your conscience!
A delicate regional speciality
Foie-gras literally means ‘fat liver’ and is a delicacy made from the livers of ducks or geese which have been specially fattened.
This is achieved by force feeding the birds with corn, a practice known as gavage, which many believe to be cruel. Foie-gras was formerly known as ‘Strasbourg Pie’ in English since most of the production took place there. Foie-gras can be obtained whole, in mousse form or is sometimes presented as a paté. The Musée de Foie Gras at Thiviers is an excellent place to learn more about this product.
The flavour of foie-gras is rich and delicate and it can be found in most restaurants in the area often as an accompaniment to steak or other food items. It can also be bought canned from delicatessens and market stalls throughout the Dordogne area.
The French Paradox or why the French live longer!
The French Paradox refers to the apparent fact that the French, in particular those who live in the South West, seem to be able to consume large quantities of fatty foods while at the same time remaining healthier than many people living in Northern Europe and North America.
In the Dordogne and surrounding areas people have a diet rich in animal fats derived from locally produced foie gras and the use of goose fat generally in the cuisine of the region. It has been observed that in the neighbouring Gers where the diet is much the same, that people live longer on average than in the rest of Europe.
It has been suggested that the explanation for this is that the locals also drink large quantities of red wine, much of which is produced in the areas around Bergerac , Cahors or in the neighbouring Bordeaux region. This more than counters the effects of high fat consumption due its positive effect on the heart.
Whatever the reason, this notion nevertheless provides a great excuse to consume at least some of the local produce whilst in the region and you never know it might just work for you too!
NB ‘Périgordian’ is the term used today to describe the distinctive architecture and the cuisine of the region.
The culture and history of the Périgord is very much linked to the ancient Oc language used in earlier times by the people of southern France and the dialect of the area reflects this even now.
However, the main language spoken in the South West France is French and is used by everyone. While some locals speak English, this is not normally the case, especially in the more rural areas. It pays to assume that the people you come across don’t speak English so begin any conversation in French, if only out of politeness. Often it is resented if you assume people speak English – if they do they will usually switch over when they realise where you’re from and if they don’t, well it can be hard work!
As always when travelling it is a good idea to know at least the basics i.e. the words for good day (bonjour), good evening (bon soir), goodbye (au revoir), thank you (merci), and please (s’il vous plait). Using these will get you a long way especially when you accompany them with monsieur or madame!
The language of Oc
The Oc language is the old language of southern France, Catalonia, Monaco and parts of Liguria and Piedmont in Italy. It has several dialects including Provençal and Catalan.
Derived from Vulgar Latin, Oc is the southern French word for ‘yes’, hence the term Languedoc for the southern French Region. Interestingly, the modern French word for ‘yes’ is Oui and the French language used to be referred to as the ‘Langue d’Oui ‘ although originally it was spoken only in Northern France. During the Middle Ages the Northern French gradually took control of the south and the ‘Langue d’Oui’ became the official tongue of the whole country.
During 19th century Oc re-established itself thanks mainly to the poet Fréderic Mistral and something of a revival took place. Throughout the south you will notice several dual language street signs and occasionally some graffiti defacing those which are not dual language!
Several Movies have been shot at least partially in the Dordogne. Here are a few:
Bed & Breakfast (2006)
The Butcher (1970)
The Duellists (1977)
Ever After 1998)
Eye of the Devil (1966)
The Daughter of D’Artagnan (1994)
For the Itineraries in the Dordogne itself it is useful to have a copy of the splendid Michelin Departmental Map 329 to hand. If you plan to do the trip through the Dordogne Valley and the Haut Quercy then you will require Map 337.