The Dordogne has long been a favourite part of South West France for families on holiday, groups or even those travelling independently as there is something for everyone in this wonderful region.
Breathtaking countryside, awe-inspiring historical locations, spectacular chateaux and some of the finest cuisine you’ll find anywhere in the world.
The region is dominated by three great rivers, the Dordogne, the Lot and the Tarn that make their way from the Massif Central out to the Atlantic. The Dordogne River has carved out some beautiful valleys which are rich and fertile, ideal for the regions famous wines and lush greenery. It has also created some remarkable cave networks that contain some astonishing ancient artworks, the most famous of these at Lascaux which has been called the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art.
There are some wonderful towns and villages dotted across the region- nestling in hillsides and hidden away in pockets of picturesque countryside and with a history that dates back to a thousand years you can see why this regions is so popular and talked about.
The Dordogne offers a temperate climate with warm spring weather to hot summers with some amazing thunderstorms at times. Temperatures in the summer are around 30 – 35 degrees Celsius with September and October around 23 – 27 degrees Celsius. Spring is delightful and a good time to visit if you want to cycle, go for long walks or sightsee. Summers consist of long sunny days that are ideal for swimming and canoeing. Autumn sees some wonderful colours with warm weather and un-crowded towns and villages.
Getting to the Dordogne is easy as its boasts 4 airports – Brive, Limoges, Bergerac and Bordeaux, each of them serviced by low budget airlines and all accessible to any part of this region.
It has to be said the beauty of the Dordogne is there is so much to do and see for families and none of these are expensive. Whilst the children love to swim in the pool there are some places that should be visited that both adults and children will enjoy. For those looking for a more relaxing day out, visiting some of the renowned gardens of the Dordogne is suggested.
In an area blessed with beautiful rivers, there is a wealth of choice available for a pleasant trip in a canoe. Choose between the river Dordogne and the river Vézère – the latter is smaller and less dramatic but has the advantage of being a lot quieter. There are several companies offering canoeing and it’s a good idea to check first what they have to offer. You should consider the distance between the start and finish points. During the summer months when the river is slow flowing you may expect to comfortably canoe 2 km per hour with a little longer if it’s children who are canoeing. A good place to start is from Vitrac (south of Sarlat) which is near the Dordogne river. Firstly you can canoe past many of the best sights of the Dordogne (La Roque Gageac, Domme, Castlenaud, Marquessac) and secondly you have the possibility to stop halfway at Castelnaud for lunch where you will find facilities, a supermarket where you could buy your lunch and even a restaurant if you want something more formal. It takes about 4.5 hours to complete this course comfortably (starting at Le Soleil Plage, finishing at Bezenac) but the sights are wonderful as well as a good family day out and fun.
Cycling along quiet, winding, rural roads, while taking in the spectacular countryside can be just one of the many delights of being on holiday in the Dordogne. An hour can easily pass without sight of any other vehicles, making this a relatively safe option for a family activity. The Dordogne area is no exception with lots of opportunities for cycling on the back roads and stopping by one of the many quaint villages to a cold drink and a picnic. Cycles can be hired easily and inexpensive unless you decide to take your own.
A fun day for the children is a visit to Insectopia which is near Souillac and Rocamadour. Inside you will find an interactive museum of insects and nature with mix of live insects from leaf eating ants to praying mantids and interactive computer screens with info on insects and camouflage and general fun. While creepy crawlies may be a ‘boy thing’ there is plenty for girls as well – they will especially enjoy the butterflies in the free-flight area. All visitors will find the ‘edible insects’ interesting, particularly the chocolate-coated ants!
A trip to the Dordogne should include a visit to the famous Dordogne caves with the most famous being the Lascaux caves, situated near Montignac, north of Sarlat and open from April to November. These show caves feature paintings claimed to be 17000 years old. A fascinating and unique place – perfect if you are interested in historical attractions and take a pullover – it is only 13deg C in the caves. The Caves of Padirac (near Rocamadour) and the La Grotte du Grand Roc near Les Eyzies are also worth a visit. The caves boast some unusual triangular crystallised rock formations as well as the more usual stalagmites and stalactites.