The Dordogne has attracted wave after wave of Brits, attracted by a slower-paced life amidst rolling countryside dotted with gorgeous châteaux, plus amazing, if often very rich, food (this is foie gras and truffle country).
The English ruled this area – which is known to the French as Périgord and is part of the Aquitaine region – on and off for centuries, and it’s still a favourite location among expats and second-homers as well as for family holidays. This means it’s easy to get a British newspaper at the local shop but not the place to come if you get irritated at bumping into your compatriots while on holiday.
|Flying Time||2 hours|
|Carbon Footprint||2.5 tonnes CO2|
Take to the water. Paddle and swim in the Dordogne itself, especially at Limeuil, where there is shallow water and river-beaches, and canoe on it. There are also many regional lakes and smaller plans d’eau with beaches and watersports, including Villefranche-de-Lonchat, St-Paul-de-Serre, Grojélac, La Jemaye, Lanquais, Montpon and Parcoul.
From Beynac (which has an interesting château with amazing views from its clifftop perch), take a trip along the river in a traditional gabarre, seeing other lovely castles en route. Back at Beynac, at the foot of the castle, the Parc Archéologique is a reconstructed village showcasing the daily life of peasants and metal-workers from the Neolithic to the Gallic period.
Learn all about prehistoric times in this fascinating region, dubbed the ‘birthplace of art’ because it contains some of the world’s oldest cave paintings. The most famous caves, Lascaux near Montignac, are closed to the public since it was discovered that carbon monoxide emitted by visitors was damaging the 16,000-year-old paintings. However, you can see reproductions of two of the cave halls at the nearby Lascaux II, and further reproductions in Le Thot – Espace Cro-Magnon at Thonac. Most paintings are of interest to kids because they feature animals – horses, bulls, stags, bisons and more.
Other caves worth singling out are the Gouffre de Proumeyssac, dubbed the Crystal Cathedral for its crystal-spiked walls, which you can view in conjunction with a lighting show accompanied by music. For an extra fee you can be lowered into the cave in a barrel, which used to be the only means of access! Then there’s the Grotte de Bara-Bahau, first inhabited by bears and later adorned by Stone Age dwellers with etchings of bears and other animals, hand-prints and undecipherable signs.
For a lighthearted take on the region’s history, head for the Prehisto Parc just north of Les Eyzies in the Vézère valley, where the kids (and you) can play at being prehistoric amidst schlocky life-size scenes featuring waxwork Neanderthal and Cro Magnon hunters, mammoths and so on. There’s also the Dinosaur Park, with more schlocky models amidst the trees, a treetop adventure course, and a museum of fossils and minerals.
Head for the town of Le Bugue, where there is more history to be had at Le Village du Bournat, a reconstruction of a 1900 village with costumed actors displaying old crafts, plus a working farm and kids’ rides. Le Bugue is also home to Les Sangliers de Mortemart, a boar farm with free guided tours and product tastings, the Aquarium du Périgord Noir, the Ferme de Jacquou, with sheep, goats and other endangered farm animals plus free games and rides, and the Terre des Oiseaux bird-park.
Wander around one of the region’s lovely bastides – fortified towns built in the 13th and 14th centuries, typically with a central market square lined by arcaded passageways, now home to pretty cafés and specialist shops. One of the finest examples is Monpazier, used as a location in many historical films. In summer it hosts a cycle race, a medieval festival and lots of markets, including some devoted to local mushrooms.
Explore the region on horseback – the Ferme Equestre la Haute Yerle offers trekking, children’s riding and farm-stays that make for memorable family holidays, but there are many other centres signposted throughout the region, or ask at a tourist office for a recommendation.
Swing through the treetops on a forest adventure course, of which there are several: L’Appel de la Forêt at Thenon, the Airparc Périgord at St-Vincent-de-Cosse, and the Indian Forest Perigord at Carsac near Sarlat.
Splash out at Aqua Park Juniorland, with pools, giant slides and all manner of watery fun.
Duck and goose are the highlight of Dordogne cuisine, whether sliced on top of a salad, turned into foie gras or served as a confit (cooked for a long time in their own fat). But the child-friendly staples of steak haché (beef patty), omelettes, croque-monsieur, frites and so on are easy to come by, and many places offer a menu enfant for around €7.50–10, making eating out on family holidays a doddle.By Rhonda Carrier
Summer is the obvious time, with sunshine almost guaranteed, but that is also when it gets busiest, with up to 2,000 canoeists on the Dordogne at any one time. In spring and autumn the climate is milder but the main attractions are also quieter, making it ideal for family holidays.
Low-cost airlines serve the tiny airport at Bergerac, with flights from London taking less than 90mins. You could also easily fly into Bordeaux in the wider Aquitaine region of which the Dordogne is a part.
Alternatively, take the TGV train from Paris to either Libourne or Bordeaux (about 3hrs), then pick up a hire-car.
From the ferry port of Caen in Normandy, it’s about a 7hr drive to Bergerac, which you could easy break at Poitiers in the Poitou Charentes.
Food and drink, particularly wine, are still relatively good value in France as a whole – especially for those on self-catering family holidays who can shop at the wonderful markets found all over the Dordogne.
The Dordogne has some quaint inns, characterful hotels and sumptuous châteaux perfect for family holidays. But for flexibility, space and reasons of economy, families are better off self-catering, whether in a humble gîte, a swanky villa with a pool or on a campsite. See also our feature Self-catering in France.
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