Dordogne Valley of France
Geography, Châteaux, and Cuisine in the Dordogne River Valley
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. Note of 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.
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.
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.
Because our VRBO 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!
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".
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!
Click here to view a Google Images set for this shop.
Les Saveurs du Portugal
We had 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.
Rocamadour had been one of our destination targets since the very first planning sessions, as it represents one of the more unusual sites we'd ever seen or read about. The drive from Sarlat to Rocamadour is via country roads/back roads that are narrow with lots of curves. The distance was only 51 kilometers however the roads were challenging to the point where it took 1.5 hours to arrive.
Rocamadour, often referred to as a "Vertical Village," is a breathtaking medieval town perched precariously on the side of a sheer limestone cliff in southwestern France. This unique and enchanting destination is a place of profound religious significance and natural beauty.
At the heart of Rocamadour is the Sanctuary of Rocamadour, a complex of religious buildings that have drawn pilgrims for centuries. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and houses the revered Black Madonna statue. Pilgrims climb the Grand Escalier, a steep flight of 216 steps, as an act of penance, seeking solace, and hoping for miracles.
The town's architecture is a remarkable sight, with its ancient buildings seemingly stacked on top of each other along the cliffside. The charming medieval streets are lined with shops selling local handicrafts, goat cheese, and other regional specialties.
Rocamadour's unique blend of spirituality, history, and natural grandeur makes it an unforgettable destination for travelers seeking a profound and visually stunning experience in the heart of France.
Château de Beynac is located approximately 25 kilometers south of Sarlat, and as this Chateau was used as a film set for the movie "The Last Duel", we were eager to visit and explore.
Château de Beynac is a captivating medieval fortress perched dramatically on a limestone cliff (more than 150 meters tall) overlooking the Dordogne River in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of southwestern France. This imposing castle, which dates back to the 12th century, is one of the most iconic and well-preserved examples of medieval military architecture in the country.
Beynac's strategic location and impressive defensive features, including a formidable outer wall and a steep approach, made it a key stronghold during the Hundred Years' War between England and France. Its well-preserved interior offers visitors a fascinating journey through time, with furnished rooms, medieval weaponry, and historical exhibits that provide insight into the castle's rich history.
The panoramic views from the castle's ramparts are absolutely breathtaking, offering a glimpse of the picturesque Dordogne Valley and the neighboring Château de Castelnaud. The castle's captivating ambiance, history, and stunning surroundings make it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and anyone seeking to immerse themselves in the medieval heritage of France.
Château de Beynac Parking
Parking is very limited in the village of Beynac, and there are several lots as you proceed up the Route de Château. If you were to park at either of those parking lots (both are Payamt types), you would still have quite a hike to get to the Château entrance. We did some research and found that if we continued to the top of the Route de Château and then turned right and followed it as it descended back towards the Chateau, it leads to a parking lot immediately behind the Château de Beynac entrance (On the map, that lot is titled as "Parking Bus Château de Beynac").
Obviously you have to get there very early (the Château opens at 10AM) because that parking lot fills up very quickly. We parked at 9:30AM, paid our Payamt fee, strolled over to the Château entrance and purchased our entrance tickets when they opened a few minutes later.
Domme is 12.7 kilometers from our rental in Sarlat-la-Canéda, straight south on the D-46. This area has a number of places we plan to visit; Domme, Château de Beynac and Château des Milandes - all which are located within 12 kilometers of each other.
Domme, located in the picturesque Dordogne region of southwestern France, is a charming village that exudes medieval charm and historical significance. Perched atop a steep hill, it offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, making it a popular destination for tourists seeking both beauty and history.
The village itself is a testament to France's rich heritage, with its well-preserved cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses, and a central square bustling with cafes and shops. Dominating the scene is the imposing Sainte-Marie Church, a stunning example of Gothic architecture. As you wander through the winding streets, you'll discover hidden gems like the ancient ramparts, fortified gates, and the eerie Grotte de Domme, a natural cave system with a fascinating history.
Domme also played a pivotal role during the Hundred Years' War, serving as a strategic stronghold. Its history is showcased in the Domme Museum, which houses artifacts and exhibits that bring the past to life.
Domme has been selected as one of the "Most beautiful villages in the Dordogne Valley France". Click here to read more about Domme and other Dordogne Villages
Visiting Château des Milandes was easy, because we had just departed Château de Beynac on the north side of the Dordogne River, a 9.7 kilometer drive - and - Milande is on the south side of the river. (use the "map" link above to view these locations).
This Château was made famous because it was purchased by Josephine Baker in 1947, and was originally built by François de Caumont around 1489, it was, until 1535, the main house of the lords of Caumont, who preferred to live in this manor house instead of the large, uncomfortable medieval castle of Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle (4.2 kilometers east - you will drive right next to it after you cross the bridge over the Dordogne River).
The castle's architecture is a blend of Renaissance and Gothic styles. The main façade is decorated with intricate carvings, including the Caumont coat of arms. The castle is surrounded by a moat and a beautiful park.
In 1940, Josephine Baker rented the Château des Milandes, and she purchased it in 1947. Baker lived in the castle with her husband, Jo Bouillon, and their adopted children from all over the world. Baker also used the castle to host parties and events, and she even built a small zoo on the property.
With its rich history, stunning architecture, and association with a cultural icon, Château des Milandes stands as a testament to the charm and allure of the Dordogne region, drawing visitors from around the world to immerse themselves in its unique blend of history and artistry.
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.
We discovered that we could have parked there, rented a canoe and paddled either to Domme or Beynac where they provide a landing spot for you to return your canoe and take a ride back to your car on their bus. If we had done better research, we probably would have gone paddling!
Canoës Loisirs is a leading provider of canoe and kayak rentals on the Dordogne River. They offer a variety of canoe trips to suit all levels of experience, from beginner to expert. You can choose from a half-day trip to a multi-day adventure, with the option to stay in campgrounds or hotels along the way. In addition to their canoe & kayak rentals, they offer horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, caving as well as providing equipment to business groups/group outings.
One of the most popular canoe trips offered by them is the Vitrac-Beynac descent. This 10-mile trip takes you past some of the most iconic castles in the Dordogne Valley, including the Château de Beynac, the Château de Castelnaud, and the Château des Milandes. You will also pass through the charming villages of Beynac-et-Cazenac and La Roque-Gageac.
- Discovering the Dordogne Valley on 'The Crazy Tourist' Site
- Google Search Results list for "accommodations in Dordogne"
- Things to do in the Dordogne on 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
Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are Affiliate Links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, that we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. So we would appreciate any click throughs, if you are inclined.
Note: All images on this page are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.
To review any of our content, make suggestions and/or comments, please click the "Info" menu button at the top of this page. You will find our "Contact Us" link on that drop-down menu.