This region of France is not as well known to Americans as Loire or Normandy. I never heard of it until we began our research into France. Périgord is the ancient name of this region dating to the Gauls. In 1790 during the Revolution the name was changed to Dordogne after the river in this region.
Three years ago we spent 2 weeks in Provence and loved it so much we wanted to explore more of France. Dordogne and it’s dramatic fortresses and river valleys sounded beautiful!
France is full of color. Driving through Brittany, Normandy, Loire, Dordogne, we saw miles of these mustard fields used as a cover crop to keep unused farmland from deteriorating and blowing away. Its not the edible mustard.
This is a more mountainous and hilly region than Burgundy. There are not as many vineyards, the cattle are brown, not white, the farmland is sometimes terra-cotta and sometimes a more grey color. The green is not as intense. There are chateaus and fortresses here, more like rugged Game of Thrones style, not fancy Loire style.
This is the home of foie gras. There are goose farms everywhere. Foie gras, goose and duck are on every menu.
Walnut groves are along the roadsides in small groves, and walnuts are on every menu and sold at every market too! The pastry made with walnuts are like a pecan pie filling but in a firmer crust
Many towns are charming in France because of the Malraux Law. André Malraux was minister of culture in 1963 and decided important monuments and neighborhoods throughout France would be preserved. Today many of Dordogne old city centers are pedestrian friendly and attractive to tourists.
Our first full day was Sunday and we went to the market in St-Cyprienne, a small charming town bustling with shoppers and people relaxing in cafes. We bought some produce and enjoyed coffee and lunch in the cafes.
Isn’t this family adorable? Do they have enough baguettes?
For lunch I chose a hot goat cheese and walnut mix encrusted in puff pastry served over a salad. Dave had a thin crust pizza. Yum!
Monday we drove to Beynac-et-Cazenac. This is a dramatic medieval fortress which had stunning views over the Dordogne valley and river.
It’s medieval town is nestled at the base of this stunning fortress and leads down to the beautiful Dordogne River. Many people take boat rides, canoe or kayak along this river to view the chateaus and fortresses.
From here we took a short drive along the river to La-Roque-Gageac. This charming little town runs right along the river and backs up against a huge steep mountain. We enjoyed a picnic here and then explored up into the town built into the mountainside. There are ancient small structures hidden in the foliage .
A beautiful boat ride along the river to view these castles would be marvelous!
We bought a jar of cassoulet au confit de canard. Cassoulet is popular all over France and is a hearty soup made of beans, meats and vegetables. This style with the duck is particular to Dordogne.
Tuesday we visited our first cave. We ordered tickets online a few days ahead to Lascaux in Montignac. But first we stopped for the local pastry that looks like a cave. It’s a large filled meringue. Montignac is a pretty town worth exploring filled with shops and cafes
This very professional museum is a complete reproduction of the prehistoric caves of Lascaux. The original Lascaux is closed because the cave paintings have deteriorated because the carbon dioxide humans exhale as they breathe have caused a fungus to grow on the paintings which destroys them. We had a guided tour in English which was worth every penny. The only way you can see this museum is a guided tour.
The tour was 3 parts. The first part the tour guide walked you through the reproduced caves complete with Cro-Magnon cave etchings and drawings which date to 18,000-10,000 years ago. Next there was a section with specific parts of the caves reproduced with more info available. The third part of the tour was a video about either the art of the cave or how the cave art possibly developed.
Here are a few drawings and a cave like space.
This grandpa loves his Yorkies and his grand daughter. They enjoyed the museum together!
We had lunch outdoors at the Lascaux Cafe, and chose very typical Dordogne foods. I had the duck breast and duck gizzard and lettuce salad with marinated sliced onions. The dressing was a mustard vinaigrette and a very minimal amount. All the lettuce salads in France are fresh whole tender leaves. It’s not chopped or preserved in bags. You cut up your own lettuce salad on your plate.
Dave ordered duck confit, which is salted and fried duck that’s then preserved in duck fat, with French fries.
For dinner tonight we heated up cassoulet and also opened a can of foie gras. Entire means it’s all goose liver, not mixed with other ingredients
Wednesday we spent a wonderful sunny day in Sarlat-de-Caneda. Many tourists hit this town understandably. It is charming in many ways and has been meticulously preserved as it’s original medieval village. It has cobblestone streets and windy paths of half-timbered buildings full of cafes and shops. There are no fortresses or chateaus here, just easy charm.
We visited on market day and found a few treasures. One of them was a jar of pesto made from a garlic like onion plant called ail des ours. Another name for it is Ramsons and it’s a wild relative of chives.
Sitting at a cafe in the main square people watching was fun
We had a typical Dordogne meal for lunch
We both had a big piece of fresh foie gras on toast with goose fillettes which is like shredded lean and fatty duck and also had a duck gizzard salad.
For our second course Dave had coq au vin which is chicken cooked in a red wine sauce
I had roasted duck thigh and potatoes fried in duck fat which was decadent and delicious!
Dessert was walnut cake and a cream sauce
Yes all this for 13.80 Euros
Thursday we started with an authentic cave tour at Grotte de Rouffignac. This was a guided tour in French only, too bad, but on a cool train ride through the mile long tunnels. It was fun to be in the tunnels of the cave. It also was incredible to see the etchings and drawings made by Cro-Magnon man and to see the later made bear scratching on the walls of the caves and the bear hibernation nests they dug into the floor of the caves. Sorry but no pics were allowed
We then went on to a nearby town of St-Leon-sur-Vezere. This was a tiny town filled with artists and workshops. We bought a vegan lunch from a couple from Long Island and Austria, called Smoovie Grignothique. We ate our lunch along the Vézere River at a picnic table.
We then drove up into the hills to see the Buddhist camp which the Dali Llama blessed. It’s considered a holy place for many reasons. We met a Buddhist monk walking and then stopped for a gorgeous view over the Dordogne Valley. Cote du Jor
Friday we spent at Castlenaud, a stunning medieval town and fortress up on a mountain top. This castle was huge and has been there since 1214. It was added on to over hundreds of years and passed from Britain to France back and forth. The displays were museum quality. Much of the castle was destroyed during the Revolution, but it’s been rebuilt to be preserved as a museum.
We had lunch on the terrace just outside the castle. Dave had a steak with peppercorn sauce, creamed potatoes and lettuce salad.
He also enjoyed walnut cake with the cream sauce.
I had a salad with tender grilled duck breast and a huge piece of foie gras, which I gave to Dave! Foie gras is goose liver, and very tender and rich. Similar to butter or a rich cheese. A tiny taste is enough for me. It’s too powerful a flavor. I also don’t approve of the geese being force fed corn with funnels. This is done to make their livers grow large and fatty. The foie gras was usually served cold. It would be more tasty if it were seared on a grill
This last day in Dordogne we stopped at the lovely mountain town of Domme. Many tourists were there even in mid April. We met a British couple who were buying a home nearby. Property in France is much less expensive than in Britain. We heard one story where a British woman was interested in a property listed at 150,000 Euros. She told the owner she really wanted to buy it but only had 40,000 Euros. The owner said he’ll take it! Unbelievable!
Fantastic expansive views of the valley and the river! Cute shops and pleasant squares with cafes which connect to windy cobblestone roads leading to the views of the valley.
Dordogne was a fantastic experience and a place you should see!
Our HomeAway rental was rural and had expansive views of the valley. We were the only renters in this tiny rural area outside of the small village of Thenon in April