Few places say quintessential France quite like the Dordogne Valley
. This land of crumbling châteaux, prehistoric caves and immaculately manicured gardens is unsurprisingly popular with visitors, and yet it somehow manages to retain an enchanting natural harmony, with the pace of life mirroring the gentle meanderings of the area’s eponymous river.
Its story began some 50,000 years ago, when prehistoric man first found shelter in the caves of Cougnac. You can still visit this incomprehensibly ancient site today, but there are many other spectacular underground caverns equally worthy of your attention – such as those at Rouffignac, where mammoths and woolly rhinos live on in the work of the Palaeolithic artists, and the walls are studded with depressions left by hibernating bears.
Fast forward several thousand years to ‘middle Dordogne’ and discover a valley of 1,000 castles. From the imposing cliff-top fortress of Beynac to the splendid Renaissance confection of Château des Milandes, all are different and have their own intriguing tale to tell. Some are accompanied by remarkable cultivated gardens, such as those at Marqueyssac – a dynamic swirl of boxed hedges and promenades.
And while there can be no arguing with the country’s gastronomic credentials as a whole, you dine particularly well in this sunny south-western corner of France. The symbiotic relationship between the people and the land means that terroir
really is king here, with the menus full of local produce such as duck and black truffles and the markets vibrant and extensive.
So, what is the best way to see the fabulously beautiful Dordogne? Well, it’s up to you! Wandering through the honey-coloured bastide
towns and forested slopes on foot really enables you to get under the skin of this lovely area, but with so much to see and do, a two- or four-wheeled exploration is just as delightful…