Day 1 of a 4-Day Tour of the Dordogne
Day 1: Brive-la-Gaillarde
This 3-night, 4-day tour of one part of the fabulous Dordogne Valley starts in Brive-la-Gaillarde in the Limousin, a good central point for all Dordogne sightseeing.
Hiring a Car
If you need a car for a longer journey than this 4-day tour, try the Renault Buyback Eurodrive Scheme.
From Paris: From Paris take the train or drive to Périgueux.
Périgueux to Brive is a 50 miles (80 km) drive and takes around an hour.
Why visit Brive?
Brive is a pleasant town, with an old center around the main place du Général-de-Gaulle. The 16th-century Musée Labenche, located in a 16th-century house with a formal garden is one of those delightful museums showing the history of the town from pre-history onwards. But its great claim to fame is as the only museum in France with a collection of spectacular tapestries from England, produced at Mortlake on the Thames in the 17th century by Flemish workers. 26 bis bd Jules Ferry. More information on the website.
Make sure you visit the Denoix distillery for a tour of this venerable institution. It’s a wonderful old-fashioned distillery using the original 19th-century equipment. Founded in 1839, Denoix is still run by the same family who transform the humble green walnut into liqueurs by mixing the extracted liquid with Armagnac, Cognac and sugar spirit. It’s all done by hand and produces 70,000 bottles a year with tastes that run from Fennel to Cherry. The bottles have beautifully designed labels and make great, and unusual, gifts. 9 bvd du Maréchal Lyautey, tel.: 00 33 (0)5 74 34 27. More information on their website.
Where to Stay in Brive
Brive is well served with hotels, but I recommend L’Hotel de Quercy (8 Bis Quai Tourny, 0033 (0)5 55 74 09 26), a good value modern hotel with brightly colored rooms looking over the market place and conveniently located opposite the tourist office.
- Read guest reviews, compare prices and book L'Hotel de Quercy on TripAdvisor.
Where to Eat in Brive
Chez Francis (61 Avenue de Paris, tel. 00 33 (0)5 55 74 41 72), is a welcoming, bustling bistro with odd objects dotted around and signatures and notes scribbled on the walls from famous writers (and some not so famous) who 0come to the famous book fair Foire du Livre in the autumn. Order the likes of foie gras for a starter and veal with fresh mushrooms and Marsala juice for mains. Menus are 18 and 27 euros.
Also recommended is La Crémaillère (53 av de Paris, tel. 00 33 (0)5 74 32 47), a family-run restaurant known for regional cooking. Dine off foie gras (of course), or creamy mushroom egg with asparagus followed by magret de canard or a rumpsteak. Menus from 19 to 39 euros.
Day 2 of a 4-Day Tour of the Dordogne
Day 2: The Most Beautiful Villages of France
The Dordogne river valley is known for its beautiful villages so start with two of them by driving south to Turenne in the Corrèze.
Today Turenne is a quiet sleepy village with a population of 150 that swells in the summer months with holiday makers. Walk the winding steep streets where the splendid mellow stone houses attest to the town’s major role as the capital of the Viscounts of Turenne, with 50,000 inhabitants in the 17th century. The local dignitaries were as practical as they were rich; check out the most impressive house in the main square where the holes in the walls housed the pigeons whose droppings could be used—and sold—as fertilizer.
You walk past small houses with slate roofs up to what is left of the original castle. Despite the 100 Years War between the French and the English in the 14th century, famine and pestilence, Turenne remained blissfully peaceful. Protestant and Catholic in turn, Turenne remained intact until 1738 when Louis XVI bought the Turenne viscountcy and destroyed the castle, apart from the two towers which the Viscount insisted on keeping. Today you can visit one of the towers and the surrounding gardens. But it’s the fantastic panorama that is the main attraction, giving an eagle eye’s view over the countryside spread out below. It's open Apr-June 10am-noon and 2pm-6pm; July, Aug 10am-7pm, all year Sundays 2pm-5pm. Entrance 4.80 euros.
If you fall in love with this charming hilltop village, reserve at La Maison des Chanoines (rue Joseph Rouveyrol, tel.: 00 33 (0)5 55 85 93 43). Rooms (from 65 to 85 euros) are lovely and the restaurant is charming, but you must book in advance.
- Read guest reviews for La Maison des Chanoines on TripAdvisor.
Drive on to...
It’s a short 7 km (4 mile) drive east to Collonges-la-Rouge, where the red sandstone houses and turreted grand mansions housed the nobles and dignitaries of the neighboring court of the Turenne Viscounts.
The narrow streets of what was once a village of 2,000 inhabitants yield plenty of treasures like Le Couteau de Correze, a small shop where you can see a local artisan producing handcrafted knives in the traditional style. A little further into the heart of the village you'll come to an old walnut mill with its original equipment used to crush the walnuts for liqueurs. There's an 18th-century market place outside the church built by Protestants but paid for by the money they charged the locals for baking their bread in the brick oven. Look up as you enter the 12th-century church to the the bear wrestling with a man and symbolizing control over man’s baser instincts. Inside there are two chapels where catholics and protestants celebrated their own particular services side by side with a kind of no-man’s land in between. The chapel to the left, built at the time of the Counter-Reformation has an ornate altar with all the symbols the Protestants abhorred: a Temple of Soloman, carved tools that made and nailed Christ to the Cross and more. It was a pretty effective permanent insult. Outside on one wall there’s a 19th century sign with an upside down star; elsewhere a mermaid, la Sirene, symbolizes the cult of courtly love.
Go a little further and you get to a splendid house given by the town to the local merchants as payment in an age when it was a sin to handle money (though there were always people willing to trade). Like many place in Collanges, you see delightful symbols with significance; one of the ornate chimneys here is topped with a phallus representing fertility.
The French organisation Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (the most beautiful villages of France) was started here in 1981 by the then Mayor.
Read more about the Most Beautiful Villages of France and pick your own
A good place to stay is La Maison Jeanne (Le Bourg) a bed and breakfast in a house with its own 15th-century staircase tower. It has a lovely garden and meals on request.
Drive to Beaulieu
From Collonges take the D38 south east to join the D940 to Beaulieu, a medieval town on the banks of the Dordogne. Its must-see site is the Romanesque sculpture on the porch of the St-Pierre church. Christ sits at the center surrounded by angels and apostles. The dead are depicting raising the lids of their coffins; underneath monsters crunch the heads of the damned.
The market square has 17th- and 18th-century half-timbered buildings and if you want to see what life was like in the Renaissance, visit La Maison Renaissance (Place de la Bridolle, 00 33 (0)5 55 91 49 66) in the town center. It’s an odd place with rooms furnished in the right style and figures dressed in period costume that look faintly sinister. But it’s fun and a great place for families.
And finally take a walk along the river, crossing an iron bridge for a great view of the town.
Have lunch in the pretty dining room of Le Beaulieu, 4 place du Champ de Mars, 00 33 (0)5 55 91 01 34; which also has good value, spacious rooms if you want to stay here.
- Read guest reviews, compare prices and book Le Beaulieu on TripAdvisor.
Marvels of the Region
From Beaulieu drive south west to one of the marvels of the region. The Gouffre de Padirac is a sinkhole where you descend 100 meters where an underground river and a vast long tunnel takes you into a strange world. It’s an extraordinary site to visit, one of Europe’s most interesting and odd geological sites.
The Sacred Site of Rocamadour
Continue south west to Rocamadour, one of Europe’s great sacred sites. A place of pilgrimage for centuries, the small village stands dramatically on a spur of rock, its castle dominating the town with the famous chapels below. Rocamadour was one of the major stopping places on the pilgrim route from Le Puy-en-Velay to Compostela in Spain, attracting hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who came to see the Black Madonna and pray for miracles from Saint-Amadour.
Rocamadour is a good place to stay, either at the Best Western Hotel Beau Site which has a good restaurant overlooking the valley, or Les Veilles Tours.
Day 3 of a 4-Day Dordogne Tour
Day 3: Take to the River, Visit a Garden and Weapons of War
- A Dordogne Boat Trip
From Rocamadour it’s a short distance to La Roque-Gageac, another of those picture-perfect villages beside the Dordogne river. Here you can hop onto a small old boat and take a peaceful trip up the river with an audio guide in English. In the 18th century the river was used for traffic, making the little villages on the banks pretty prosperous before the railways took over and the river traffic declined. The tour lasts 55 minutes and takes a round trip of 6.5 kms (4.6 miles). It runs from April 1 to November 1 and goes every day between 10am and 6pm. You pay cash on board; adults are 9 euros each, children under 13 years are 7 euros. Information on Les Gabares Norbert.
- The Hanging Gardens of Marqueyssac
With the sun shining and the birds singing, hopefully, make your way to the Hanging Gardens of Marqueyssac which stand on a ridge of rock above the Dordogne river. Wonderful topiary box hedges, paths snaking along the rock revealing exotic trees, panoramic views and places for children to play help make this the most visited garden in the south west of France. They have a good restaurant for lunch.
- Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and Weapons of War
The Rossillon family who restored the gardens at Marqueyssac also restored the next castle on the itinerary which stands opposite. Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is a true fortress, seemingly impregnable and in the 12th century in the hands of Bernard de Casnac. Unfortunately he was a Cathar, a heretic in catholic eyes, the object of revenge and conquest by Simon de Montfort in 1214. After this the chateau ricocheted between the French and the English in true100 Years War fashion. By 1442 in English hands, the French King ordered a siege which was nicely diverted by the offer of 400 ecus to the captain in charge. He sensibly capitulated, the English left the castle and in 1453 the long war ended in French victory.
The Roussillon family bought the chateau in 1966 after hearing that the English wanted it. Their son, Kléber Rossillon took over and in 1985 created the Museum of Medieval Warfare. It's a great place to look at suits of armour, swords and other ghastly means of killing your fellow man, walk the high walls where archers once stood guard and see how the medieval machines, the trebuchets and mangonels worked. If you’re here in July and August watch two actors creating a show around the training of soldiers. There are guided tours in English.
Chateau de Castelnaud
Tel.: 00 33 (0)5 53 31 30 00
Open Feb, March, and Oct to Nov 11 10am-6pm
April, May, June, September 10am-7pm
July, Aug 9am-8pm
Nov 12 to end Jan 2pm-5pm
Admission: Adult 8.60 euros, 10 to 17 years 4.30 euros, under 10s free
Check the website for details of other tariffs and guided tours.
- Josephine Baker and her Castle
Now for something completely different. The black American singer, dancer and actress Josephine Baker arrived in the region in 1937 and fell in love with the Chateau des Milandes. It’s a lovely place which has been transformed into a museum of her life, well worth a visit.
- Charming Sarlat-la-Canéda
A 20-minute drive will take you to Sarlat-la-Canéda, one of the region’s most beautiful towns. It’s a good place to stay and eat and there’s plenty to see and do in this lively Dordogne place.
Read guest reviews, check prices and book a hotel in Sarlat-la-Canéda on Trip Advisor
Day 4 of a 4-Day Tour of the Dordogne
Day 4: Shop at Sarlat Market and visit Lascaux II
- Linger in Sarlat
A morning in Sarlat is time well spent and you’ll be tempted to linger here particularly on a Wednesday or Saturday morning when the market is in full swing, buzzing with people from the surroundings towns and villages.
If you’re going back to Brive-la-Gaillarde airport, leave Sarlat-la-Caneda and stop en route at Martel, a medieval village in pale stone with a place des Consuls surrounded by an 18th-century market hall, amedieval tower and Gothic house begun in 1280.
Have a good, last lunch at Saveurs des Halles, rue Sans-Lys, tel. 00 33 (0)5 65 37 35 66, in a stone built house, showcases local dishes and has menus from 25 to 49 euros.
Visit Lascaux II
If you have more time, have lunch in Sarlat then make for one of the Dordogne’s most famous sites. Lascaux in the Vézère valley near Montignac village is the site of a cave complex which is estimated to be around 17,000 years old. The remarkable prehistoric Paleolithic cave paintings on the walls of the caves consist mainly of images of large animals. The cave was discovered in 1940 and opened to the public. But the ensuing damage caused by visitors and humidity led to their closure in 1963. Lascaux II is a replica of two of the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery. Opened in 1983 to visitors, it's one of France's great sights.
Lascaux IV opened in 2017 and it's spectacular. So try to visit one of the greatest prehistoric art galleries in the world.
From here, it's a short 45-minute drive back to Brive-la-Gaillarde.
More to do in the Dordogne Region
The Dordogne is one of the most popular areas of France, particularly for British and Dutch visitors and many of them have second homes here. You can either do the region on its own and it does make a great vacation. Or do a tour of the west coast of France which takes in the Dordogne. One great advantage of the tour is that there are some super hotels to try like the delightful Le Vieux Logis and the very splendid Chateau de la Treyne which features in my Top Chateau Hotels of France.