40 Best Sights in The Dordogne, France

Château de Biron

Fodor's choice

Stop in Biron to see its massive hilltop castle, the highlights of which include a keep, square tower, and chapel, dating from the Renaissance, and monumental staircases. In addition to the period apartments and the kitchen, with its huge stone-slab floor, there's a gigantic dungeon, complete with a collection of scarifying torture instruments. The classical buildings were completed in 1760. The Gontaut-Biron family—whose ancestors invented great typefaces centuries ago—has lived here for 14 generations. The château has been undergoing renovations on a room-by-room basis since 2013, but these interfere only minimally with the viewing. It's well worth renting an audio guide (€3) to get a detailed history, plus specifics about the architecture and decor.

Château de Losse

Fodor's choice

There are more grandiose castles in France, but few can offer a more intimate a look at how 16th-century nobles lived than the Château de Losse. Built in 1576 on the site of the family's original 11th-century stronghold, the graceful Renaissance-style structure retains the furnishings, artwork, and other authentic trappings of daily life during the Wars of Religion. The beautiful wooded grounds and extraordinary gardens—winner of the Institute de France's Art of the Garden award—overlooking the Vézère River make for a lovely stroll, and a charming café with a grassy terrace is the perfect place for a gourmet lunch. Although tours of the interior are offered only in French, a detailed text and audio guide in English is provided.

Cité Religieuse

Fodor's choice

The Basse Ville's Rue Piétonne, the main pedestrian street, is crammed with crêperies, tea salons, and hundreds of tourists, many of whom are heading heavenward by taking the Grand Escalier (staircase) or elevator (€3) from Place de la Carreta up to the Cité Religieuse, set halfway up the cliff. If you walk, pause at the landing 141 steps up to admire the fort. Once up, you can see tiny Place St-Amadour and its seven chapels: the basilica of St-Sauveur opposite the staircase; the St-Amadour crypt beneath the basilica; the chapel of Notre-Dame, with its statue of the Black Madonna, to the left; the chapels of John the Baptist, St-Blaise, and Ste-Anne to the right; and the Romanesque chapel of St-Michel built into an overhanging cliff. St-Michel's two 12th-century frescoes—depicting the Annunciation and the Visitation—have survived in superb condition.

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Grotte de Combarelles

Fodor's choice

Want an up-close look at Cro-Magnon cave drawings? Those at les Combarelles are considered among the best in the world. Although traces of pigments have been found, the colors have long since vanished, leaving the sinuous graven outlines of woolly mammoths, cave bears, lions, and astonishingly lifelike reindeer. There are well over 600 drawings all told, and seeing them is an almost mystical experience, especially since only 40 people are admitted per day. Hour-long tours are available in English at 11:15 am; guides on other tours may speak English, but it’s the luck of the draw. Just note that this is not a spot for the claustrophobic—the winding 1,000-foot-long cavern is 6½ feet tall and, at most, 3 feet wide.


Fodor's choice

Font-de-Gaume is the last French cave with polychrome paintings that remains open to the public. Though discovered in the late 1800s, it wasn't until the early 20th century that the importance of the artwork (dating back to around 17,000 BC) was recognized by archaeologists. Astonishingly graceful animal figures, many at eye level, include woolly mammoths, horses, reindeer, rhinos, and more. The cave's masterpiece is a grouping of five large superimposed bison in vivid color that was uncovered in 1966 during a routine cleaning. Like similar representations in Lascaux, the sophisticated shading techniques used for their bellies and thighs create a stunning impression of dimensionality and movement. Guided tours run every 40 minutes, but only 80 visitors are admitted each day.

Jardins de Marqueyssac

Fodor's choice

For Périgord Noir at its most enchanting, head to the heavenly heights of this hilltop garden in Vézac, just south of Beynac. Founded in 1682, its design—including a parterre of topiaries—was greatly influenced by André le Nôtre, the "green geometer" of Versailles. Shaded paths bordered by 150,000 hand-pruned boxwoods are graced with breathtaking viewpoints, rock gardens, waterfalls, and verdant glades. From the belvedere 400 feet above the river, there's an exceptional view of the Dordogne Valley. For a unique and romantic perspective, the garden stays open until midnight under candlelight each Thursday in July and August. You can drink in panoramic views from the terrace of the tea salon, from March to mid-November.

La Villa Cahors Malbec

Fodor's choice

For an introduction to Cahors wine, this is the place. Though Cahors may not be as familiar as Bordeaux or Bourgogne, the local appellation is well-known and loved in France. Made from the inky black Malbec grape, this is a robust wine, bold and full-bodied and perfect for pairing with the local delicacies: walnuts, truffles, Rocamadour cheese, and foie gras. Adjacent to the Cahors tourist office, La Villa Cahors and chic Malbec Lounge provide visitors the opportunity to explore, taste, and learn about the local wines in an ever-changing series of tastings, courses, and evening events.

Lascaux Cave

Fodor's choice

In 1940, four schoolchildren looking for their dog discovered hundreds of wall paintings in this cave just south of Montignac; the paintings of horses, cows, black bulls, and unicorns were determined to be thousands of years old, making the cave famous and attracting throngs of visitors to the site. Over time, the original Lascaux cave paintings began to deteriorate due to the carbon dioxide exhaled by thousands of visitors. To make the mysterious paintings accessible to the general public, the French authorities spent 12 years perfecting a facsimile, duplicating every aspect of two of its main caverns to create Lascaux II. In 2017, Lascaux IV, the most complete replica to date, opened within a sophisticated new complex—the International Center for Cave Art—that incorporates the latest technologies, including virtual reality, 3D cinema, and digital tablets, for a totally immersive experience. Painted in black, purple, red, and yellow, the powerful images of stags, bison, and oxen are brought to life by the curve of the stone walls under flickering "torchlight," and even the precise humidity and muffled sound. Unlike other caves marked with authentic prehistoric art, Lascaux IV is completely geared toward visitors and literally takes you back in time from the point of view of the original discoverers, archaeologists, and prehistorians. There are several ticketing options, which can include the Parc du Thot, Le Grand Roc Cave, and the Laugerie-Basse Rock, or Lascaux IV. This is one of the most visited sites in the Dordogne and in summer tickets are at a premium.

Tickets sell out quickly, especially in summer; so reserve tickets online up to a day before your visit or at the center on the day of your visit, and arrive early.

Pont Valentré

Fodor's choice

The town's finest sight is this 14th-century bridge, its three elegant towers constituting a spellbinding feat of medieval engineering.

Abbaye Bénédictine

Possibly founded by Charlemagne in the 8th century, Abbaye Bénédictine has none of its original buildings left, but its bell tower has been hanging on since the 11th century (the secret of its success is that it's attached to the cliff rather than the abbey, and thus it withstood waves of invaders). Fifth-century hermits carved out much of the abbey, and some rooms have astonishing 16th-century sculpted reliefs of the Last Judgment. Also here is a small museum devoted to the 19th-century painter Fernand-Desmoulin. At night the abbey is romantically floodlighted.

Cathédrale St-Étienne

The fortresslike cathedral is in Byzantine style, and its cloisters connect to the courtyard of the archdeaconry, awash with Renaissance decoration and thronged with townsfolk who come to view art exhibits.

Cahors, 46000, France

Cathédrale St-Front

Périgueux's history reaches back more than 2,000 years, yet the community is best known for this odd-looking church, which was associated with the routes to Santiago de Compostela. Finished in 1173 and fancifully restored in the 19th century, Cathédrale St-Front seems like it might be on loan from Istanbul, given its shallow-scale domes and the elongated conical cupolas sprouting from the rooflike baby minarets. You may be struck by similarities between it and the Byzantine-style Sacré-Coeur in Paris; that's no coincidence—architect Paul Abadie (1812–84) had a hand in the design of both. After a mandatory visit to the cathedral, you can make for the cluster of tiny pedestrian-only streets that run through the heart of Périgueux.

Périgueux, 24000, France

Cathédrale St-Sacerdos

The elaborate turreted tower of the Cathédrale St-Sacerdos, begun in the 12th century, is the oldest part of the building and, along with the choir, all that remains of the original Romanesque structure.

Pl. du Peyrou, Sarlat-la-Canéda, 24200, France

Château de Beynac

Perched above a sheer cliff face beside an abrupt bend in the Dordogne River, the muscular 13th-century Château de Beynac has unforgettable views from its battlements. Thanks to its camera-ready qualities, it frequently doubles as a film set. During the Hundred Years' War, this castle often faced off with forces massed directly across the way at the fort of Castelnaud.

Chateau de Bridoire

Having survived the 14th-century Hundred Years' War, this turreted white-stone castle was rebuilt in the 15th century and served as a Catholic stronghold during the Wars of Religion. Now called "the castle of 100 games," the fairy-tale-worthy château was entirely restored in 2011 and is just as famous for its lovely period interiors as its program of fun activities for adults and kids, both indoors and out, including calligraphy, crossbow, archery, chess, grass skis, and more. Various paths take you through a superb labyrinth (open July and August only), across lovely woods and streams to troglodyte caves and picturesque ruins. There's also a program of events such as medieval jousts. The château is located about 4 km (2½ miles) from Montbazzillac and 12 km (7½ miles) from Bergerac. The castle also offers audio guides and guided tours in English.

Château de Castelnaud

With a fabulous mountaintop setting, the now-ruined castle of Castelnaud, containing a large collection of medieval arms, is just upstream from Beynac across the Dordogne. Make sure to give yourself at least an hour to visit. In summer the castle comes to life with demonstrations, reenactments, and opportunities to try out some of the medieval weapons yourself.

Château de Hautefort

The silhouette of the Château de Hautefort bristles with high roofs, domes, chimneys, and cupolas. The square-line Renaissance left wing clashes with the muscular, round towers of the right wing, and the only surviving section of the original medieval castle—the gateway and drawbridge—plays referee in the middle. Adorning the inside are 17th-century furniture and tapestries.

Château de Monbazillac

The storybook corner towers of the beautifully proportioned, 16th-century, gray-stone château pay tribute to the fortress tradition of the late Middle Ages, but the large windows and sloping roofs reveal the emerging Renaissance influence. The spiffed-up 17th-century interiors are a pleasure to peruse. The château also serves as the regional wine cooperative to introduce vintages produced in the area, including the sweet Monbazillac. To that end, an exhibition space features immersive audiovisual displays and a unique setup that takes you through three "universes": a history of Protestantism in the area and its impact on the wine trade; a space for contemporary art exhibitions; and an area for kids ages 6–12 on the theme of viticulture (you're in France, after all). The château also hosts thematic wine tastings, some featuring meet-and-greets with the winemakers, where you can learn about wine-making techniques or just relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Afterward, you can buy a tempting range of wines at the cellar boutique.

Château des Milandes

Five kilometers (3 miles) from Castelnaud, the turreted Château des Milandes was built around 1489 in Renaissance style, and has lovely terraces and gardens. It was once owned by the American-born cabaret star of Roaring '20s Paris, Josephine Baker, and it was here that she housed her "rainbow family"—a large group of adopted children from many countries. An on-site museum is devoted to her memory. Falconry displays (April–October) are another attraction. From here D53 (via Belvès) leads southwest to Monpazier.

Beynac-et-Cazenac, 24220, France
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €13.50, Closed mid-Nov.–late Mar.

Cloître des Récollets

This former convent is now in the wine business, and its stone-and-brick buildings, dating from the 12th to the 15th century, include galleries, a large vaulted cellar, and a cloister where the Maison des Vins (Wine Center) provides information on—and samples of—local vintages of sweet whites and fruity young reds.

1 rue des Récollets, Bergerac, 24100, France
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €7, Closed Jan.

Domaine de Neuvic

With France as the world's fourth-largest producer of caviar—much of it from sturgeon raised in the rivers of the Dordogne—you'll be assured when a menu says "local caviar" it truly is. At this 50-acre estate, visitors are shown how caviar is produced, from the breeding ponds to harvesting, before tasting the homegrown delicacy. Neuvic offers "initiation" visits along with masterclasses (all booked in advance online) or you can just stop in between Monday and Saturday for a visit of the domaine. The on-site boutique sells all of the various caviars along with a host of other local delicacies. There's also a gourmet restaurant and a chic boutique hotel in the 19th-century Tudor-style chateau if you're looking for the full caviar experience. The domaine is almost equidistant (about 30 km/19 miles) between Perigeux and Bergerac.

Eco-Musée de la Noix

If you're nuts about nuts, Sarlat is your town—the Périgord is the second-biggest producer of walnuts in France, and those from the Sarladais region are prized. The nuts are sold in the markets in October and November and walnut wood (often preferred here to oak) is used to make beautiful furniture. Visit the Eco-Musée de la Noix, just south of Sarlat in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, to learn more.

La Ferme de Vielcroze, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, 24250, France
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €5, Closed Nov.–Mar.

Église Saint-Dominique

This austerely beautiful medieval church dates back to 1284 and the founding of Monpazier, but it was extensively rebuilt in 1450. A new bell, still in use today, was added in 1476. The gorgeous Gothic-style wooden choir stalls were added in 1506.

Pl. des Cornières, Monpazier, 24540, France

Farmers' Markets

A farmers' market is open daily on Place du Coderc from 8 am to 12:30 pm; on Wednesday and Saturday bigger versions spill over the square to the front of the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). If you love your gras (fat) as much as the locals do, you'll also want to witness one of the many marchés au gras that run on Wednesday and Saturday, November through March. The Saturday morning marché aux truffes (truffle market)—held December through February on Place St-Louis—is tempting, too.

Grotte de Domme

Beneath the fortified city lies the largest natural cave in the Périgord Noir. There are no wall drawings, but the 500-yard-long illuminated galleries are lined with impressive stalactites. The view of the countryside upon exiting the dark cave is stellar. Bison and rhinoceros bones have been discovered in the cave, and you can see them just as they were found.

Grotte du Grand-Roc

Amid the dimness of the Grotte du Grand-Roc you can view weirdly shaped crystalline stalactites and stalagmites. At the nearby Abri Préhistorique de Laugerie, you can visit caves that were once home to prehistoric humans.

Av. de Laugerie, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, 24620, France
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €8.60, Closed Jan.

Grotte du Pech Merle

Discovered in 1922, the Grotte du Pech Merle displays 4,000 square feet of prehistoric drawings and carvings. Particularly known for its peculiar polka-dot horses, impressions of the human hand, and footprints, this is the most impressive "real" Cro-Magnon cave that is open to the public in France. The admission charge includes a 20-minute film, an hour-long tour, and a visit to the adjacent museum. Tickets are at a premium, with a daily limit of 700 visitors, so for peak summer days book at least one week in advance. If you like cycling, it’s lovely to arrive by bike from St-Cirq-Lapopie.

St-Cirq-Lapopie, 46330, France
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €15, Closed Nov.–mid-Feb.

Hôtel de Ville

The town is split into four levels joined by steep steps. The lowest level is occupied by the village of Rocamadour itself, and mainly accessed through the centuries-old Porte du Figuier (Fig Tree Gate). Past this portal, the Cité Médiévale, also known as the Basse Ville, though in parts grotesquely touristy, is full of beautifully restored structures, such as the 15th-century Hôtel de Ville, near the Porte Salmon, which houses the tourist office and an excellent collection of tapestries. If you enter from the top of the town, the Château and vertiginous Ramparts (€2, coins only) offer tremendous views well loved by bird-watchers for the many birds of prey that circle the cliffs. The picturesque ruins of 14th-century Hospitalet St. Jean, with vestiges dating as far back as the 11th century, also offer wonderful views.

Rue de la Couronnerie, Rocamadour, 46500, France
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €2

Jardin des Enfers

The sloping garden behind the cathedral, the Jardin des Enfers, contains a strange, conical tower known as the Lanterne des Morts (Lantern of the Dead), which was occasionally used as a funeral chapel.

Pl. du Peyrou, Sarlat-la-Canéda, 24520, France

La Madeleine

As you head north from Les Eyzies-de-Tayac toward Lascaux, stop off near the village of Tursac to discover the mysterious "lost village" of La Madeleine, found hidden in the Valley of Vézère at the foot of a ruined castle. The site was abandoned in the 1920s, but it has a picturesque, eye-catching cliff-face chapel that was constructed during the Middle Ages as well as an interesting history. Geologists and anthropologists will especially enjoy learning about the village's backstory, including the prehistoric settlement that was here. Download a guide about the site or take a guided tour—call ahead for English tours. There also are weekly summer workshops for children.