A Visit to the Dordogne River Valley

Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.

by and - last updated on 4/27/2024

Travel Tile The Dordogne River Valley is studded with enchanting medieval towns and villages, each exuding a timeless charm. Sarlat-la-Canéda, Rocamadour, and Beynac-et-Cazenac are just a few examples of these well-preserved historical gems. Our "base camp" for this portion of the trip, is old-town Sarlat-la-Canéda. We drove to Sarlat-la-Canéda (from Amboise) and even though it was only a 380 kilometer drive, the route took us through rolling hills, vineyards, and quaint villages. The countryside is dotted with charming stone cottages and fields of sunflowers, offering a quintessential French countryside experience. Warning - this area is sparsely populated and cellular connectivity is minimal in certain areas. Narrow roads combined with drainage ditches that paralled the road (on both sides), create dangerous driving conditions if you are not careful.

The Loire and Dordogne rivers are two of France's most iconic waterways, each with its unique characteristics, landscapes, and historical significance. They play distinct roles in France's culture, economy, and heritage. This portion of our trip was to be a fun exploration of the Dordogne River Valley and to explore various villages, chateaux and other sites.

The Dordogne River meanders through southwestern France, offering a different kind of beauty. The Dordogne region is characterized by its dramatic limestone cliffs, deep gorges, and picturesque villages like Rocamadour and Sarlat. This area is a testament to prehistoric history, with the famous Lascaux Caves showcasing ancient cave paintings. The Dordogne River also has historical significance in trade and transport, with many of its castles and fortifications serving as strongholds during medieval conflicts.


Youtube Video Link

Our Dordogne River Valley Travel Guide 

Explore the best of the Dordogne region in France in this travel guide video - showing you some of the top sites and best things to see and do in the French Countryside. Explore the Dordogne and this southern France itinerary and Dordogne France VLOG. See some of the prettiest villages in the Dordogne region. From the medieval charm of Sarlat-la-Canéda to the breathtaking views in Rocamadour, we've covered key destinations, including Beynac, Domme, Château des Milandes, and the Dordogne River. Get practical tips and essential information for your visit. Join us as we share insights, scenes, and valuable advice including the best location for a home base and how to visit Rocamadour; one of the most stunning Chateaux in the region built into the side of limestone cliffs.

Click the image to start our Dordogne Region Travel Guide video - Tips and Scenes from Sarlat, Beynac, Domme, plus Rocamadour. Pleaase note that this video is the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC. If you enjoy our videos click here to subscribe to our Youtube Channel.

Our Dordogne Valley Basecamp   Map

The quick statistics are that Sarlat-la-Canéda is 527 kilometers south of Paris and 210 kilometers east of Bordeaux. Think of the Dordogne Region being located in the southern third of France.

To further clarify it's location; the Dordogne Valley was created by the Dordogne River. The Dordogne River flows west from the mountains of Auvergne 500 kilometres (310 mi) through the Limousin and Périgord regions before flowing into the Gironde, its common estuary with the Garonne, at the Bec d'Ambès ("Ambès beak"), north of the city of Bordeaux. Our base camp in Sarlat-la-Canéda, was 10 kilometers from Dordogne River. All of the sites that we visited while in Sarlat, were close to Sarlat, for example, Rocamadour is 44 kilometers from Sarlat and Château de Beynac was only 12 kilometers via the D-57 route. Click the above map icon to view a Google Map of the Sarlat area.

There is some confusion as to the Périgord and Dordogne Regions - the Périgord and the Dordogne department are synonymous and designate the same territory. The Perigord Noir (Black Perigord) is the most visited region of the Dordogne, and includes Beynac, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, La Roque Gageac, Sarlat and Domme.

Dordogne Itinerary: As you will see on this page, we chose to "base-camp" in Sarlat and drive to various destinations. As Rocamadour is the farthest from Sarlat, you should consider that as a full day-trip because you will be traversing narrow country roads. Château de Beynac, Château des Milandes and Domme are all within 10 kilometers from each other and you could perhaps do all three in one day, but we would recommend that you take at least two days to see these interesting locations. Sarlat is at least a one day exploration all by itself, which means you would need a minimum of four days to see these destinations.

Dordogne Castles: (AKA Dordogne Chateaux) The Dordogne Region is said to contain 1001 castles, however it is estimated that there are just over 10,000 châteaux in France which means that the Dordogne Region has 10% of the total. What we saw in the Loire Valley region were mostly large palaces, but in the Dordogne Region most of what we saw were primarily Fortresses.

Dordogne Travel: The French road system is very good in this area, however all of the roads we drove on would be considered "country roads" in the United States. All were in good condition, but frequent hills, some steep, many curves and sometimes single lane bridges, requires you to remain alert while driving.

A Brief History of Sarlat-la-Canéda 

Sarlat's origins are believed to lie with the Gallo-Romans, but it truly flourished under the Carolingian Empire (late 8th-9th centuries). King Pepin the Short and Charlemagne played a key role. During their reign, Benedictine monks established a large abbey in Sarlat, which became a center of power and prosperity.

This abbey's influence fueled the town's growth. Sarlat became a bustling marketplace, attracting traders and artisans. The construction of magnificent buildings like the Cathedral (dedicated to Saint Sacerdos) further solidified its importance.

The Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) disrupted Sarlat's progress, but unlike many French towns, it largely escaped major destruction. This fortunate twist of fate preserved its medieval character. Half-timbered houses, narrow cobblestone streets, and imposing manor houses – all remain remarkably intact, making Sarlat a captivating window into 14th century France.

Modernization largely bypassed Sarlat, further contributing to its exceptional state of preservation. Today, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a testament to its architectural heritage and historical significance.

Exploring Sarlat-la-Canéda 

Our drive here from our third Loire Valley basecamp in Amboise, France took us through some picturesque French countryside, and provided frequent scenes of rolling hills, quaint villages, and lush greenery along the way. Because our Amboise basecamp was several miles east of the city of Amboise, we wound up driving south on the D-31 to the D-9 until we could get onto the A-20 at Châteauroux. An unorthodox route we admit, but we saw some beautiful agricultural areas of France that we would not have otherwise seen.

We selected Sarlat-la-Canéda as our "Dordogne Valley Base Camp" due to it's proximity to a number of destinations that we planned to visit. Plus we rented a beautiful VRBO apartment on the third floor of a building in the heart of the "old town" - and - the apartment came with indoor secure parking (located several blocks from the apartment, but very secure).

Sarlat-la-Canéda, often simply referred to as Sarlat, is a captivating medieval town situated in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. Renowned for its exceptionally well-preserved architecture, Sarlat is like a step back in time (it is considered as one of France's best examples of a 14th century town), offering visitors a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the area.

The town's golden sandstone buildings, winding cobblestone streets, and charming squares transport visitors to the heart of the Middle Ages. Sarlat's stunning architecture includes numerous well-preserved Renaissance and Gothic buildings, as well as an impressive cathedral.

Sarlat is famous for its bustling markets, where you can sample the region's exquisite gastronomy, including truffles, foie gras, and walnut products. The market square, Place de la Liberté (located adjacent to our VRBO rental unit), is the vibrant center of these culinary delights.

 
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.

Stepping into the heart of Sarlat-la-Canéda's old town is like stepping back in time. But fear not, history buffs and shopaholics alike can rejoice! The winding, cobbled streets are lined with a treasure trove of shops waiting to be discovered.

The crown jewel is undoubtedly the covered market housed within the walls of the old Sainte-Marie church. Here, the air hums with the chatter of vendors and the intoxicating aromas of local delicacies. Freshly baked bread mingles with the fragrance of truffles and foie gras, while colorful displays of regional cheeses and cured meats tempt every taste bud. Be sure to sample some walnut oil, a Dordogne specialty, or pick up a jar of sweet chestnut honey.

Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Sarlat-la-Canéda Coat of Arms
Sarlat-la-Canéda Coat of ArmsImage is the property of Heraldry of the World

We have been refering to Sarlat as a "village", but most documentation you will find will say "town". With a current population of 8,788 (2020), I would tend to think that "village" is appropriate.

Beyond its architectural and culinary treasures, Sarlat is an ideal base for exploring the picturesque Dordogne region, known for its stunning landscapes, prehistoric caves, and historic castles. It is easy to escape to the surrounding countryside and enjoy the fresh air and stunning scenery. Hike or bike through the rolling hills and vineyards, explore the Dordogne River by canoe, or go hot air ballooning for breathtaking aerial views.

Sarlat-la-Canéda - Apartment Rental 

Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.
Dive into Dordogne Valley France! Medieval villages, prehistoric caves, & stunning scenery await. Kayak down rivers, explore castles, & savor delicious food & wine. Perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and families.

Because our VRBO Sarlat-la-Canéda rental was so clean & modern, and because the people who owned it were so amazingly nice to us, we thought that we would show you a few images of their beautiful apartment and give you the VRBO link. We would highly recommend that if you are ever in the Sarlat area and need a nice apartment to stay in, that you should take a look at this unit. (No, we get no money or anything else from the owners or VRBO, we just thought that this was a really nice apartment at a nice rental price)

When you consider that this apartment is right in the heart of old town, and that it comes with a secure indoor parking spot, and the apartment is very modern with new appliances including air conditioning - then you will realize that it would be difficult to find anything that would be better in Sarlat!

Destinations We Visited from Sarlat-la-Canéda 

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Rocamadour, France

Rocamadour, France, located within the dramatic cliffs of the Alzou Canyon in the Midi-Pyrénées region, is an amazing sight to behold. This medieval village seems almost suspended in time, with its ancient stone buildings clinging precariously to the 400 foot sheer rock face. A place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, Rocamadour is renowned for its religious significance, housing the revered Black Madonna statue in the Chapelle Notre-Dame. Visitors are drawn not only by its spiritual allure but also by its breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Winding cobblestone streets lead past charming shops, inviting cafes, and historic landmarks like the 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic Basilica of St. Sauveur. Whether for its religious heritage, architectural marvels, or natural splendor, Rocamadour captivates the hearts of all who wander its hallowed grounds.


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Château de Beynac, France

This formidable fortress, perched majestically near the village of Beynac-et-Cazenac, offers visitors a glimpse into centuries of history and intrigue. Stepping through its ancient gates, one is transported to a world of knights, sieges, and noble families. Inside, the castle reveals its secrets through well-preserved chambers, including the impressive Great Hall with its vaulted ceilings and the atmospheric dungeon. Ascending the spiral staircase rewards adventurers with panoramic views of the lush French countryside and the meandering river below.


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Domme, France

Domme is a postcard-perfect medieval village perched high above the Dordogne River. With its golden stone houses, charming cobblestone streets, and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, Domme exudes an irresistible charm. The town's history is palpable as you wander through its narrow alleys, passing by historic landmarks such as the Porte des Tours, a remnant of the old fortified walls. The central square, Place de la Halle, invites visitors to linger over a café au lait while soaking in the ambiance. Don't miss the breathtaking vista from the belvedere, offering sweeping vistas of the river valley below.


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Château des Milandes, France

Visiting Château des Milandes in France is a journey through the opulent world of the Renaissance era and the captivating life of Josephine Baker. Located in the picturesque Dordogne Valley, this elegant castle boasts stunning architecture, sprawling gardens, and a rich amount of history. Once the home of the legendary American-born entertainer, Josephine Baker, the château offers a fascinating glimpse into her extraordinary life through exhibitions and performances. Stroll through the meticulously manicured gardens, where peacocks strut amidst vibrant blooms, or explore the lavish interior rooms adorned with period furnishings and artwork. The castle's allure extends beyond its walls, with breathtaking views of the rolling French countryside from its terraces.


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Canoës Loisirs, France

This was a place on the Dordogne River (village of Vitrac) that we found as we drove south on the D-46 from Sarlat to Domme - drove around a corner and there it was - it looked so inviting & cool so we stopped to take some pictures and find out what it was all about. We parked in their large parking lot and then hiked about the facilities which were clean and well equipped with an eatery as well.

Other Things to see or do near Sarlat-la-Canéda 

There is a wide range of things in the Sarlat vicinity that are worth seeing & enjoying. We'll give you some ideas below, and then you should plan on doing some research;

More Info for Sarlat-la-Canéda 

Before I complete this part of our blog, I have to point out that we had the good fortune to visit three really good restaurants while in Sarlat-la-Canéda. Everyone's perspectives may differ, so click here if you want to read what "the Fork Website" thinks the 10 Best Restaurants in Sarlat-la-Canéda are. Or click here to view a Google Search Results list for "restaurants in Sarlat-la-Canéda".

Maison Massoulier

We had their petit dejeuner just about every morning we were in Sarlat; fresh squeezed Orange Juice, excellent coffee and all of the pastries were very fresh. It was only a short walk from our VRBO rental in old town (restaurant is at 32 Rue de la République), but well worth every step!

Tara Di Piu Ice Cream

This shop was next door to our VRBO rental in Sarlat, and their ice cream was very good! The quality of the ice cream here guaranteed customers, so you had to exercise patience.

Les Saveurs du Portugal

We had just spent a very busy morning exploring various areas south of Sarlat, and by the time we drove back to Sarlat, we were starved. We stopped here because we had driven past it several times, and being hungry, we decided to give it a try. Wow, to say we enjoyed the food would not be a "strong enough" endorsement.

 Image Credits 
  • The image for Maison Massoulier is their property from their Facebook Page .
  • The image for Tara Di Piu is the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC.
  • The image for Les Saveurs du Portugal is their property from their website .
  • All other images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC.
  • Discovering the Dordogne Valley on 'The Crazy Tourist' Site
  • Google Search Results list for "accommodations in Dordogne"
  • From Sarlat-la-Canéda: Dordogne Valley Half-Day Private Tour from the "Get Your Guide" site
  • Just Traveling Thru European Travel Tips
  • Just Traveling Thru Travel Planning Tips
  • All of our Dordogne Valley Images
  • Visit our Youtube Channel
  • Wikipedia Article for Dordogne Valley
  • Google Image Gallery for Sarlat
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The first column below ("All Trip Destinations") lists all of our major trip destinations (for this trip) and the next four columns list each of our trip "basecamps" and then a list of what we explored from that basecamp. Each destination name is linked to it's page - so all you need to do is click that name.

 

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