Your Week in the Dordogne
A European Experiences week has an ideal balance of structure and flexibility, activities with the group and time on your own. Because our groups are small and we use two vehicles, we sometimes split into two groups or take a few group members on a spontaneous late afternoon excursion. We may also adjust our plans based on weather, the interests of the group members, and unexpected opportunities. If there’s a special festival in a nearby village during your week, we’ll likely rearrange things to be there.
We’ll describe a “typical” week in the Dordogne, but be aware that every Périgord Experience week is somewhat unique! Your week might be organized differently, and experiences may be added or not included. And this sample itinerary doesn’t include some special stops we’d like to surprise you with when we’re together.
We meet the group at the train station in busy Brive-la-Gaillarde, the largest town in this area. It’s a 45 minute drive to our village of Montignac, and you’ll enjoy the scenery as you anticipate our arrival. Soon we’ll pull up to the small and friendly hotel on the Vézère River that will be our home for the week.
You’ll have time to settle in at the hotel, and then we’ll head out for a walking tour around Montignac. That evening we’ll enjoy a welcome aperitif and dinner at our hotel. Over dinner we’ll get to know each other and discuss our plans for the week.
On our first full day we’ll begin to experience the culture, history and beauty of the Périgord Noir. We’ll drive through the countryside and stop at the picturesque village of Tamniès, perched on a hillside and filled with flowers. Then we’ll head for St. Geniès, a larger village—also extremely picturesque—with a very good weekly market. Many of the sellers feature local products such as fruits and vegetables, walnuts, walnut wine, and foie gras. You’ll find plenty to look at and maybe to buy—or you may just enjoy exploring the village. Many houses have the traditional stone roofs called “lauzes.” Meanwhile, we’ll be busy filling our basket with supplies for a picnic lunch.
We’ll picnic on the grounds of Eyrignac, a garden and manor house dating to the 17th century. The property has been in the same family for over 500 years (22 generations) and has been lovingly restored by the current owner and his father. After our lunch, we’ll visit the garden. You’ll explore at your leisure, enjoying the variety of one of the most beautiful gardens in France.
On our way back to Montignac we’ll visit a little-known chateau in the countryside. The chateau is private, but we’ll stroll the grounds on a public footpath, passing right by the door.
Dinner tonight is at a special restaurant not far from Montignac, built around an old mill.
We’ll begin our Dordogne River at the village of La Roque-Gageac, another of “the most beautiful villages in France.” The village is tucked between a large cliff and the Dordogne. You’ll have two options to explore the river. You can paddle your own canoe (two, three or four-person options) down the river from La Roque-Gageac to St. Vincent de Cosse, a journey of about nine kilometers (5.6 miles), passing five castles along the way. Or you can join a larger group for a one-hour narrated cruise on a “gabarre,” a traditional type of riverboat/barge used to transport products in this region in the past. If you opt for the gabarre, you’ll have more time to explore the charming village of La Roque-Gageac, including its tropical garden on the hillside.
After a casual lunch at a café in La Roque-Gageac we’ll visit the impressive Chateau de Beynac, just a few minutes away on the Dordogne River. (The village of Beynac, which tumbles down the hill below the chateau, is another “most beautiful village in France.”) The chateau was first constructed in the 12th century and was controlled by the French during the Hundred Years War in the 14th and 15th century. It has been beautifully restored by its current owner and offers spectacular views of the river valley.
On our way back to Montignac, we’ll visit the quiet village of St. Amand-de-Coly, designated one of the most beautiful villages in France and known for its fortified 12th century church.
Dinner tonight is on your own, a chance to explore Montignac and enjoy one of its restaurants or cafes.
We’ll head in another direction today. Our first stop is the Chateau de Hautefort, one of the most elaborate castles in the region with a history of over 1000 years. Restored many times over the year, the chateau is surrounded by formal landscaped gardens.
We’ll then spend several hours beautiful town of Terrasson on the Vézère River. We’ll visit a walnut mill to learn about the production of walnut oil, one of the famous products of this region. Lunch today is at a garden-inspired restaurant, the creation of a talented woman chef. After lunch we’ll enjoy a guided tour of Les Jardins de l’Imaginaire, a unique garden set on a hillside above Terrasson. This visit will definitely stir your imagination.
Dinner tonight is at a charming “ferme-auberge” (farm inn) in the Vézère Valley, specializing in duck and other regional dishes.
We’ll stay closer to home today, beginning at the morning market in Montignac. This is a busy and vibrant market, selling to locals and tourists, with everything from clothes to food to jewelry to kitchen utensils. You’ll have time to enjoy the market and village on your own… or to sleep a bit later and relax at our hotel.
After the market we’ll drive up in the hills above Montignac to the tiny and very pretty village of Fanlac, a special place in the countryside well off the tourist route. You’ll enjoy exploring the tiny streets, perhaps visiting the leather artisan. We’ll have lunch together at the small village restaurant featuring home-cooked specialties and a very warm welcome.
After lunch we’ll visit Chateau de Losse, a beautiful medieval castle on the Vézère River that dates back to the 16th century. Our group will have a private tour of the chateau and also have time to explore the lovely gardens.
Dinner tonight is on your own at one of the many cafes and restaurants in Montignac.
The Vézère Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site with over 147 prehistoric sites and 25 decorated caves. Mankind has lived in this valley for over 100,000 years! Today we’ll focus on understanding the extensive history of this area and visiting a few of the more significant prehistoric sites.
We’ll first visit Castel-Merle, a unique prehistoric site in a small valley outside the village of Sergeac where nomadic tribes in several rock shelters. Our group will enjoy a private introduction and tour with the owner, including the opportunity to experience first-hand how these prehistoric people hunted reindeer.
Next, we’ll visit La Madeleine, a site that has been inhabited for 17,000 years. The prehistoric rock shelter is protected and not accessible, but we’ll visit the troglodyte medieval village half-way up the cliff and also see the site of the medieval castle ruins above the village.
Lunch today is in the village of St. Leon-sur-Vézère, yet another of the “most beautiful villages in France.” After our lunch at a restaurant on the river, you’ll have time to wander on your own before we continue our prehistory explorations.
After lunch we’ll visit the famous Lascaux II cave outside Montignac, a very accurate reproduction of the original painted caves discovered by four teenage boys in 1940. (The original has been closed almost 50 years to protect against carbon dioxide damage.) Many people consider this the highlight of the week.
Tonight’s dinner is special! We’ll dine at an elegant countryside hotel with a noted gastronomic restaurant. The food is exceptional and beautifully presented, enhanced by the setting of a 13th century mill and the stream that meanders through the grounds.
All too soon it’s our last full day—and it will be a great one! We’ll spend much of the day in the beautiful medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, a town of 10,000 people about 30 minutes from Montignac. Our group will have a private walking tour of the restored medieval center. Then you’ll have time on your own to shop, explore, and have lunch. There’s great shopping in Sarlat and many options for lunch.
We’ll end our day in the Dordogne River valley at the lovely Chateau des Milandes, first built in 1489. From 1940-1968 it was the home of the famous American entertainer Josephine Baker and her large family of children adopted from around the world. Today the chateau is furnished in the style of this period and includes interesting exhibits about her life. Many of our group members also enjoy the birds of prey show.
Our farewell dinner tonight is at our hotel. After a week here, it’s a place that feels like home.
Day Eight (Saturday)
We’ll have an early breakfast together and then begin our drive back to Brive-la-Gaillarde. From Brive you can travel by train to Paris, Toulouse or Bordeaux. We know you’ll take with you memories of a wonderful week!