The Dordogne region had never really registered on my radar until my last visit to the south of France. I knew that there was an area tucked under the Loire Valley, east of Bordeaux, and just above the Pyrenees Mountains, but I had never really given it much thought. After spending a week touring around, I am now ready to advocate. This is one of the most under-rated family destinations in the world. Get ready to break away from the expensive, formulaic, “big box” family vacations, and immerse yourself in the wonderful history, culture, and landscape of the Dordogne Region.
Here are five reasons why you should visit the Dordogne region on your next visit to France!
- The Cave Drawings
Dating back at least 17,000 years, the cave drawings in Font du Guame have been classified as the earliest example of fine art. Unlike the prolific caves of Lascaux, the drawings at Font du Guame are still open to the public. It is an extraordinary experience to enter into the caves and inspect the drawings up close. The contours of the caves were used by the artists to portray 3D renderings of animals. In the picture above, the artist used the calcified limestone as the horse’s leg, making it just as much a sculpture as a painting.
There are many restrictions to be aware of. The government is working to close the caves to the public, to preserve the integrity of the drawings. Currently, only fifty people are allowed in the cave per day. What does this mean?
You have two options: one is that you have to reserve a spot on a privately guided tour. http://archaeology-travel.com/bespoke-cave-art-tours-france/
The second option is to arrive at the ticket gate at Font du Guame NO LATER than 8:00am, to cue for a spot on one of their tours for that day. They only accept 50 people, so if there is a long line, you will not be granted access. The ticket office opens at 9am, so there is a wait involved. I recommend dressing warm and bringing a coffee and snack to tide you over.
2. There’s so much to do!
It’s unlikely that you could run out of things to do that are fun for the whole family. Visit La Roque Saint-Christoph, a prehistoric rock shelter and fort that was used by the cave men and the Roman armies. This fort is built right into the cliff and there are examples of the weapons and defense tactics that were used by its inhabitants.
This fortification along with other troglodyte caves and settlements can also be observed from the river. There are excellent canoe/ kayak tours that drop you off at the top of at the head of the Vezere River and let you paddle down stream taking in all of the fascinating archeological sites along the way. It’s also fun to hop out and swim in the currents on a hot day. There is a great place to rent a canoe in the town of Eyzes. http://walkingdordogne.com/canoeing-the-dordogne-and-vezere-river/
There’s also a dinosaur theme park, beehive huts, the National Prehistoric Museum in Eyzies de Tayac, and horseback riding… it’s endless!
3. The Castles
So your little Disney Princess wants a castle does she? Well, France had got Disney beat in this department. There are castles everywhere! Some hanging off of cliffs, some carved into cliffs, everywhere you turn there are castles abound! There are spooky castles that have been left in ruin after murderous family feuds, there are Roman Castles built over top of more ancient castles (literally castles on top of castles), and there are the castles straight out of fairy tales with lush gardens etc… Stop into places like Bergerac, Bantome, Montignac, Beynac-et-Cazenac, Monpazier, La Roque-Gagnac, Vitrac and Hautefort. Each and all of these chateaus tell a story.
4. The food and wine
This section has enough material to fill an encyclopedia. Wine expert, Astra Marchi says of the wines: “The grapevines love the calcareous limestone soils from ancient marine deposits in the Dordogne. Limestone soils enhance the flavour and structure of wine.” But, I’ll say this: At Disney World, you will pay $100 for the same 4 euro bottle of wine from this region. So it could almost be argued that taking this into account, the trip actually pays for itself, right? I probably don’t have to speak too much about the glorious wines from this area. Their reputations extend far beyond this blog, but their price point is so good that you’ll consider buying an extra bottle or two to take home with you (or, if you are like me, start with that intention then cave in and drink it until it’s gone.)
There is a micro-climate in the Dordogne region that makes it a very unique place for growing. Interestingly, there are also many healers in the area that are attracted to the energy fields here. The crops and fruit trees flourish and there are also fantastic opportunities to forage for truffles and mushrooms. Duck is also a specialty. Smoked duck breast and foie gras can be found in most local markets. I was crafty one evening and fried my foraged mushrooms in the duck fat from the locally-sourced smoked duck breast. Seriously, why not though?
5. The authenticity
Step away from the crowds, the line-ups, the coca-cola sponsored jargon, and explore the real world. For the money you spend on a vacation, wouldn’t you want some substance? I mean, we already know what Cinderella will be wearing, and that a creep in a Mickey Mouse suite will hug-on your kids to the point that it’s uncomfortable for everyone… but will your kids be able to see something that may never again be viewed by the public? Or, walk around a castle that actual princesses lived in? Try a new food? Ask interesting questions about our history? I don’t mean to sound like Ayn Rand here, but in short; you will not be disappointed!