Castles, Caves And Canoes: Discovering The Dordogne

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Located in southwest France between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees mountains, the Dordogne is renowned for its majestic chateaux, outstanding gastronomy and stunning natural beauty.  Extremely well-loved by both tourists and expats, here are our top five things to see and do in the Dordogne.

The Châteaux Of The Dordogne

In a region with such a rich and fascinating history, it will come as little surprise to learn that the Dordogne is home to more than 1000 castles and chateaux. From romantic castles which could be fresh from your favourite fairytale, to impressive fortresses with their own valiant stories to tell, choosing which to visit first is no mean feat.

Château de Castelnaud simply must feature on your Dordogne itinerary. This is a stunning medieval fortress with an elaborate museum containing genuine medieval artefacts including daggers, spiked halberds, cannons and crossbows. Enjoy one of the daily demonstrations of giant trebuchets and mock battles for an authentic glimpse into the bloody past.

Château de Val is fondly referred to as the Dordogne’s answer to Cinderella’s castle. Here you can enjoy a boat trip around its stunning lake before relaxing at one of the many sunset open-air concerts.

Other historical highlights include the Château de Bridoire with its medieval style games, a popular choice for families, and Château de Montal, one of the finest Renaissance style castles in the region.

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Dordogne Chateau for sale
Wonderful opportunity to become the owner of your own majestic Dordogne chateau.

The Gardens of Marqueyssac

Located just 9km from Sarlat, the Marqueyssac Gardens are home to some truly magnificent topiary displays, making this, without doubt, one of the most famous gardens in the whole of  France.

Set in the grounds of a château of the same name, the Gardens of Marqueyssac cover an impressive 22 hectares of land and include over six kilometres of boxwood lined paths. In fact, over 150,000 boxwoods grow here, all lovingly shaped, pruned and teased into various impressive shapes and sizes.

For younger visitors, there is a park with swings and a picnic area which is perfect for a spot of relaxing amongst the stunning surroundings. During the summer months, children also have the opportunity to try their hand at rock climbing.

Whilst the Gardens at Marqueyssac are open all year, you won’t want to miss the summer evenings when the gardens are lit by candlelight and various musicians play soft, classical music. It is quite simply magical.

The Lascaux Cave

The Dordogne is home to so many caves and caverns, that the non-claustrophobic amongst you will have the opportunity to spend almost as much time underground, as overground.

The Lascaux cave is one of the most famous caves not just in France, but the whole world. Home to paintings which date back over 17,000 years, they were discovered completely by chance in 1940 by a teenager looking for his lost dog.

There are more than 1000 drawings in the Lascaux cave system, impressive in itself, but even more so when you account for the fact that they would have been painted in almost complete darkness.

The cave opened to the public at the end of the second world war but closed again in 1963 as the breath of the thousands of visitors was sadly damaging the artwork. Restoration and preservation work continues today although it is unlikely that the cave will ever reopen to the public. All is not lost though, a replica of the caves, including nearly all of its paintings, has been created just 200m from the original site and is open to the public from February through to December.

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Explore the stunning Lascaux cave in Montignac from this superb XIX century chateau for sale nearby.

Unmissable Towns Of The Dordogne

Whether you’re looking for a gentle stroll around picturesque streets, a browse in the local markets or to just sit and watch the world go by over a glass of local wine, you will be spoilt for choice here as the Dordogne is home to many of the most beautiful towns in France.

The old Roman town of Périgueux is perfectly small, full of provincial charm and a gastronomic hot spot. The local market takes place every Wednesday and Saturday and provides the opportune moment to discover some wonderful Dordogne delicacies including spider crabs, scallops, truffle, duck breast and foie gras.

Situated in the heart of the Black Perigord, medieval Sarlat-la-Canéda is perhaps the most famous town in the region and is quite simply spectacular. Geared up for tourists all year round, this is the perfect place for a relaxing stroll and is a must-see for historians and lovers of fine architecture. The maze of streets are as picturesque as they are narrow, and are dominated by Gothic and Renaissance style mansions. Be sure to visit the tourist information office near the cathedral for self-guided walking tours so you don’t miss a thing.

Jazz lovers should head to Souillac for the annual festival whilst Beynac-et-Cazenac offers some of the best views imaginable of the Dordogne River, and the sacred city of Rocamadour is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Sarlat Chateau for sale Dordogne
Elegant and impressive chateau for sale in the heart of Sarlat, Dordogne.

Take To The Water On The River Dordogne

There’s no better way to experience the magic of the Dordogne than grabbing your oars and heading out on a canoe. You’ll be able to see parts of the river that aren’t visible elsewhere whilst silently gliding past your favourite towns and significant sights.

Hiring a canoe and all the relevant equipment, including lifejackets and waterproof storage tubs, is very reasonably priced and is perfectly safe for sensible children. Pack a picnic as there are plenty of places to pull up on the river bank to enjoy a bite to eat, a paddle and a sunbathe.

If you’re worried about your fitness levels, you can be reassured that you will only ever be rowing with the flow of the river and never against it. Your canoe hire company will either drive you upstream to a starting point or alternatively, you start from the hire centre and finish at a predetermined location downstream where a minibus will arrive to drive you back to your car.

Most companies also offer a choice of distance so you can opt for either a half day (14km) or a full day (28km) on the river.

 

Further Information

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