2 In Outdoor Experiences/ Sites

Two Weeks In The Dordogne: Sarlat and Beynac-et-Cazenac

If you’re looking for an area of France that has a lot to offer, where you won’t be bored, consider these recommendations for spending two weeks in the Dordogne department (Nouvelle-Aquitaine region). It’s an area of France that I could easily return to because there’s great food, outdoor activities like kayaking and biking, numerous châteaux, and the area is rich with history-especially prehistoric sites.

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Two Weeks In The Dordogne Region

Where should you stay in the Dordogne?  I based myself one week in Sarlat and one week in Beynac-et-Cazenac during my 9 week trip to France. In this post I also list some things I did that I would NOT recommend so you won’t waste your time.

1. Week One: Sarlat And The Surrounding Area

Sarlat, France
Sarlat, France (J. Chung)

While the capital of the Dordogne department is Périgueux, most people think of Sarlat-la-Canéda, which is in the Black Périgord area. I would imagine it’s because of its famous, fabulous market.

Just before heading to Sarlat, I stayed in Rocamadour. On your way to Sarlat, you could do the same and visit this stunning perched village and area and then visit Gouffre de Padirac, the most amazing underground cave. It’s an easy drive on to Sarlat. I stayed in a super vacation rental located in the heart of Sarlat. While the town was busy, it wasn’t especially noisy and at night time when the tourists had left, it was dead quiet. So no complaints. 

10 Reasons To Use Sarlat As Your Base

Medieval buildings in Sarlat

1. Medieval architecture has been retained. It’s a beautiful place and very easy to walk around.

Reproduction of cave painting Lascaux IV

2. Lascaux IV: Sarlat is ideally located so you can easily visit Lascaux International Center of Art Parietal (aka Lascaux IV)— the outstanding replica of the original Lascaux prehistoric cave in 25 minutes by car. Part of your visit is a guided tour (in English) so be sure to order tickets in advance. Here’s more information about the cave in my post about prehistoric caves you should visit.

3. Sarlat’s Weekly Market: Sarlat has a large market that is held bi-weekly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It is one of the best markets in France and is crowded but you’ll realize why when you see all the local vendors. In addition to fruits and vegetables, you’ll also find truffles, walnut oil, walnut products, cheese (especially goat cheese like Rocamadour), and foie gras from local producers.

4. Stores and Restaurants: many restaurants, boutiques specializing in local products, grocery stores, and well-known retailers and hair salons, such as Franck Provost, where I got my hair cut (read about how to get your hair cut in France in this post).

5. “Fête de la Musique” festival: this excellent, annual event (also known as “World Music Day“) takes place all over France on June 21; and the one in Sarlat as excellent. A small-town feel with many, many performances by singers, bands, Every major street had a band or musical act performing, and food and drink vendors were out so there was definitely a party atmosphere (and very family-friendly).

6. Saint-Cyprien: this lovely town is nearby and it has an outstanding Sunday market located just west of Sarlat. This market had a different “feel” to it compared to Sarlat’s. Obviously smaller, but really good vendors, such as the vendor who specializes in barbecue meats.

7. Kayak on the Dordogne River: The very picturesque village of La Roque Gageac is just 16 minutes south of Sarlat and was the starting point. I rented a kayak and paddled my way along the Dordogne river, passing by famous châteaux such as Château Castelnaud and Château Beynac. Here’s what the experience was like: Kayaking On The Dordogne

8. Jardins de Marqueyssac: 15 minutes southwest of Sarlat are these beautiful gardens in Vezac. Definitely worth the visit as the gardens are unique and the views of the valley from the Belvédère de la Dordogne are outstanding.

9. Voie Verte: on the outskirts of Sarlat you can rent a bike and ride along the Voie Verte from Sarlat to Cazoules. It is totally flat and passes by some towns where you can stop for a coffee or lunch. Hopefully, the Robert Doisneau exhibit is still featured in Carlux.

10. La Petite Borie: I had an excellent meal of Cassoulet at La Petite Borie in the heart of Sarlat. This is a casserole containing white beans, meat such as pork, duck, and sausage and is very popular in the area as it is duck and foie gras territory. It was served piping hot in a ceramic dish. Mine also had cherry tomatoes and chicken. My dessert was walnut cake with Crème Anglaise and whipped cream. As walnuts are very popular in this region, I took advantage of eating lots of walnut cakes and breads. The cost for lunch (wine, cassoulet, cake) was a very reasonable 22.7 €.

2. Week Two: Beynac-et-Cazenac And The Surrounding Area

Beynac-et-Cazenac, France

For my second week in the Dordogne, I was based in Beynac-et-Cazenac, a village perched on the side of a hill overlooking the Dordogne River. While it is just 20 minutes southwest of Sarlat, the town and area are quite different. And, it was an excellent base for seeing more sites (many châteaux) further west and south.

I had a vacation rental on the side of the town overlooking the Dordogne river. The views were spectacular, especially in the early morning when the hot air balloons would pass by.

The town of Beynac-et-Cazenac is also much smaller and quieter than Sarlat so it was a nice contrast. There was a very small grocery store (more like a convenience store), a few restaurants, and a few stores. Most of my shopping was done in other towns. The star attraction is Château de Beynac with excellent views from above.

8 Reasons Use Beynac-et-Cazenac As Your Base

  1. Château de Beynac: it’s a trek up the steep incline to the château but it’s definitely worth the views. The interior is beautifully restored and interesting, especially for children who can see all the medieval weaponry.

2. Château de Castelnaud: this is an exceptionally large castle that has excellent medieval displays

3. Château des Milandes: this château surprised me. I would say there are three attractions here: the gardens, the château where entertainer Josephine Baker lived, and the falconry show.

4. Domme: this is definitely a village worth visiting. It has the distinction of being designated one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. I loved the views of the Dordogne valley.

5. Limeuil: the highlight in this village (which is also one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France) are the Jardins Panoramiques de Limeuil. High above the Dordogne Valley, once again you get great views.

6. La Roque Gageac: this village is a “must-see”. It is located along the Dordogne river and it’s nice to walk along the various paths on different levels of the village. It’s another Les Plus Beaux Village de France”.

7. Hot Air Balloon Ride Through The Dordogne: I highly recommend you take a hot air balloon ride. I saw many hot air balloons flying by my Airbnb each morning and my nighttime flight was serene. We passed by many châteaux (ones listed previously) and you won’t get views like these anywhere else! Check out my post to see what it was like.

8. Prehistoric Caves: the Dordogne is filled with numerous prehistoric caves. While Lascaux IV is a replica, there are a number of original, preserved caves that you can visit, but the numbers are limited and most often you cannot take photographs. As you can understand, they want to be sure the paintings done 50,000 years ago are protected. In this post that I wrote, there are so many different types of caves and with only a week or two you obviously can’t see them all, so I’ve provided my recommendations for which ones are the best. One piece of advice: if you want to visit Font-de-Gaume, be sure to get there early to line up for tickets! There are rock shelters like La Roque St-Christophe, prehistoric caves with polychromatic paintings like Font-de-Gaume, and caves with etchings of animals on the walls like Les Combarelles.

3. Three Activities I Wouldn’t Do Again

During my two weeks in the Dordogne, I have to admit that most of what I saw or visited was outstanding; however, there were a few that I would pass on:

  1. Walking Route: at the Sarlat tourist office there were inexpensive maps (2.5 € ) you could purchase which would provide walking routes in the area. I did the “Vallée de l’Énéa” route that basically circled Sarlat. For the most part you were above the town; however, I found it uninspiring. The “randonnée” (hike) took me about 2 hours and in my notes, I wrote that it was a 6km route, but “felt like 15 km!” There were lots of hills—up and down— and some nice views of Sarlat but overall, not that exciting.
  2. Le Moulin du Trel: at the Sarlat market I purchased a small container of walnut oil. So I thought I might visit the farm where it is produced, Le Moulin du Trel. This 12th century windmill had belonged to the Lords of Château de Beynac and had been restored in 2017.  Admission to visit the mill is free; however, there isn’t really anyone to give a “tour”. As I visited on a Saturday, walnut oil also wasn’t being produced. So if you’re interested in seeing things in action, be sure go on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays. They are open daily except Sundays 10-12 and 2-6 pm.
  3. Tremolat: I had read that it’s worth the drive to Le Cingle de Tremolat. There are signposts about the limestone cliffs and describing how difficult it was to sail up and down the Dordogne river. The views of the Dordogne were OK but not as good as some other places. It wasn’t worth the trip.

The Dordogne department has so much to offer that it is an area I would not hesitate to visit again. More caves, more markets, more activities to do, and certainly more dining experiences to have.

Any additional recommendations you might have?

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  • Reply
    Annie Gauthier
    January 18, 2022 at 10:34 am

    I really enjoyed reading these tips. I’d love to take my family (hubby & 3 kids) to the Dordogne area in the next few years. Friends of ours have a gite there (not sure what town or village). Your posts help to inspire a vision of what our time there could look like.

    • Reply
      January 18, 2022 at 12:08 pm

      Thank you for your kind comments. There’s nothing quite like staying with friends (I did it during my first trip to France)….especially in the Dordogne. I hope you get there sooner than later!

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