Discover charming villages, romantic castles and fortified towns dating from the 12th century, scattered amid lush green landscape and bisected with deep river gorges and overhanging cliffs that are riddled with fissures and caves.
What to do and see in the Dordogne
Explore caves – especially around Les Eyzies in the Vézère Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – that are home to some of the most stunning examples of prehistoric art to be found anywhere in the world. Admire France's oldest cave art (about 20,000 years old) in the Font de Gaume and Grotte du Pech-Merle.
Elsewhere, discover memorials to wartime Resistance fighters – including the ruined village of Oradour-sur-Glane, destroyed by a Waffen-SS Panzer Division in 1944.
Top attractions to visit in the Dordogne, include:
Grotte de Pech-Merle
Explore one of France’s most beautiful caves, home to spectacular stalactites and stalagmites and vast chambers filled with pre-historic drawings. Examine amazing drawings of charging bison, tusked mammoths and galloping horses.
Walk past the 20,000-year-old skeleton of a cave hyena and see the footprints of an adolescent child that have been preserved in a muddy pool. Check out the museum for entertaining charts, objects, skulls and a film depicting the cave’s history.
Note: It’s best to book ahead as only 700 people are allowed access to the cave each day.
Located on the hillside above the village of Cabrerets near Cahors in the Lot Valley.
Grotte de Font-de-Gaume
Squeeze through a narrow twisting passage into a tunnel-like cave displaying more than 200 examples of prehistoric polychrome cave art, including the spectacular sharp frieze of five bison as well as overlays of reindeer and mammoths.
Evidence that includes stocks of artists’ materials, shows that the cave was probably first settled by Stone Age people during the last Ice Age – about 25,000 BC – when the Dordogne region was home to roaming bison, reindeer and mammoths.
Note: Only 200 people are allowed to visit the cave each day. Book ahead (at least a month in summer) or arrive early to secure one of the 50 tickets given out daily. Located near Sarlat.
Grotte des Combarelles
See engravings from the Magdalenian period (about 12,000 years ago), many of which are superimposed one upon another and include horses, reindeer, lions, mammoths and stylised human figures. Note: As with Font-de-Gaume, prebooking is essential, especially in peak season. Located near Sarlat.
Grotte de Lascaux and Lascaux II
Examine some of France’s most impressive prehistoric cave art at Lascaux in the Dordogne. First discovered by four boys in 1940, the Lascaux cave contains some of the finest examples of prehistoric art in existence, executed by Stone Age artists some 17,000 years ago.
While closed to the public since 1963 to prevent deterioration, the drawings of bison, bulls, boars and horses have been realistically re-created, using similar pigments available to Cro-Magnon man, on limestone walls at Lascaux II.
Note: Get there early to secure tickets for the guided tour. Located near Montignac, 30km north of Sarlat and 38km west of Brive-la-Gaillarde.
Chateau de Castelnaud
Built in the 12th century, this castle was an important stronghold during the Hundred Years War, the 16th century Wars of Religion and the Albigensian Crusade, when it was the setting of many grim battles before falling into disuse and ruin.
Today you can wander through the restored château and in the museum of medieval warfare examine reconstructions of siege engines, mangonneaux and trebuchets.
Listed as a Monument Historique by the French Ministry of Culture, the castle, with beautiful views overlooking the village below and across the picturesque Dordogne valley, is the most visited castle in the south-west of France. The nearest large towns are Perigueux and Bergerac.
Stroll across this remarkable bridge, built in the 14th century as a defensive bridge. Admire its three towers, each containing large arched gateways from the banks of the River Lot. Located in the town of Cahors, formerly a Roman town.
Pay your respects to the 642 inhabitants of this village who were murdered by a German Waffen-SS company on 10 June 1944. The site of the massacre now stands as a memorial to the dead and includes items recovered from the burned-out buildings.
Choose from a selection of hotels in the Dordogne villages of Bergerac, Cahors, Brive-la-Gallarde and Perigueux, which are well placed to visit the region's major attractions.