The Perfect 4 to 5-Day Dordogne Road Trip Itinerary


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The Dordogne Valley is one of the best locations in France for a family holiday, with many quaint villages to visit, prehistoric caves to explore and, of course, the Dordogne River to kayak down and cool off in. 4 to 5 days in Dordogne is perfect to follow the river and visit the must-see destinations in the region, and our Dordogne road trip itinerary will take you through the most logical route to see and experience as much as possible.

If you don’t have a car, don’t worry! You can always rent a canoe or kayak and have a great getaway in the Dordogne.

How Many Days in Dordogne?

The Dordogne Valley stretches further than just the Dordogne region, so you might end up spending more time in the area than you anticipate.

What’s more, there are no big cities in the area for a city break or weekend away, so if you’re wondering how many days to spend in Dordogne for your holiday, consider that to see most of the sights you’ll spend a couple of hours each day on the road, so you’ll want to spend at least 3 days in Dordogne, although ideally around a week.

One of the best-known and most popular activities in the Dordogne is kayaking down the Dordogne River, and you can rent boats of different sizes from many locations along the river, from half a day up to a week, and make use of the free bus rides taking you back to your original location.

So, to make the most of the area and enjoy at least a day on the river, you’ll need to spend 3 days in Dordogne, but if you want to see more of what the area has to offer, from the cliffside town of Rocamadour to the underground rivers of Padirac, 4 days in Dordogne is best.

However, since the Dordogne is a warm, slow-paced, rural location, to fully enjoy the activities as well as get a feel for the culture and enjoy some downtime with a pastis in one hand and a book in the other, you should try to spend 5 days in Dordogne or more.

You can base yourself in a central location such as Gourdon and take short trips each day to minimise moving around a lot, or you can follow our Dordogne road trip itinerary along the Dordogne River and camp or rent properties in each location to minimise your time on the road.

Sarlat la Caneda in Dordogne
Sarlat la Caneda in Dordogne

Getting To & Around Dordogne

The Dordogne is not the easiest location to reach with public transport, so you’re best off driving there if you’re comfortable taking long journeys in the car.

The biggest airport near the region is Bordeaux Airport, so if you’re coming from a faraway location, your best option may be to fly to Bordeaux, rent a car and drive to the Dordogne. You can browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices for car hire.

However, you can also fly from some destination to Bergerac, the most central and one of the largest towns in the Dordogne, or to Brive-Souillac Airport which is closer to the stops on our route, but a much smaller airport.

There are trains and buses traversing the region, however, the timetables aren’t particularly convenient for tourists, especially for the smaller villages, so having to rely on public transport may disrupt your enjoyment of the area.

The roads are in very good condition though, so you can easily cycle through the Dordogne or drive through and enjoy a 5-day Dordogne road trip, moving around at your own pace.

Within each village, you’ll find you won’t need public transport as each destination is easily walkable, although if you want to save your legs or whizz around a village and rush to the next stop on your Dordogne itinerary, there’s a petit train (a small tourist train with an audio guide) in most places.

Medieval Old Town of Carennac
Medieval Old Town of Carennac

4 to 5 Days in Dordogne Itinerary

The 300-mile Dordogne River provides the valley with lush vegetation and great biodiversity for you to enjoy as you travel through the area.

But the Dordogne Valley is also home to some of France’s most spectacular prehistoric sites and 21 winners of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France” award, so there’s plenty to get stuck into in 4 to 5 days in Dordogne.

Day 1 – Collonges-la-Rouge to Bretenoux

Our itinerary to visit the Dordogne Valley will take you on a circular route, assuming you start your journey in Brive-Souillac Airport where you can rent a car for the duration of your trip. However, you can also begin in Bergerac or Bordeaux and join the loop from whichever location is most convenient.

Collonges-la-Rouge

The first stop on your road trip, just 25 minutes driving from Brive-Souillac Airport, is the incredible town of Collonges-la-Rouge.

French speakers will have an idea from the name, this town is made of largely red sandstone and limestone thanks to the region’s high iron oxide content, and boasts an extraordinary number of châteaux and flamboyant gothic buildings, giving it the nickname, the town of 25 towers.

You can walk around the streets and wonder at the colourful mediaeval buildings, including the Château de Vassinhac which is now a very authentic and unique guesthouse, but still open to visitors during the day, and the Mermaid House, now a small museum, named after the mermaid statue in the doorway.

The village may be small but you can still find a number of authentic French restaurants and bistros, for a morning coffee or midday lunch before heading on to your next stop.

Collonges-la-Rouge
Collonges-la-Rouge

Tours de Merle

The furthest point East on our Dordogne road trip, and a stop we simply couldn’t ignore, is Tours de Merle. Named after the impressive castle that was built on a hilltop jutting out of the gorge between the 12th and 15th centuries, Tours de Merle was once a thriving feudal village and is now a historic town that welcomes visitors from all over the world.

Visit the historic houses, the ruined castle and the village museum to discover the long history of the small town either on a self-guided tour, or book a guided tour to enhance your experience. Then jump back in the car and take the D13 for around an hour Southwest to Bretenoux.

Castelnau-Bretenoux Castle

Finish the first day of your trip to the Dordogne at the magnificent Castelnau-Bretenoux Castle; the 12th-century castle stood strong through the feudal disputes of the Middle Ages, with towers, residences and gates added to the structure to resist attacks from all sides.

After changing hands, the castle then became a luxurious home in the 16th century, before being damaged in the French Revolution and suffering further from a devastating fire in the 1850s.

Today, the castle is owned and managed by the state, at the behest of its last owner, French opera singer Jean Mouliérat, who asked for its decoration to remain the same after he spent the end of his life repairing and restoring the impressive building.

You can see the splendid castle standing out on the landscape as you approach as well as see the impressive interior for a modest fee.

For your first night in the Dordogne, you can head back to the nearby town of Bretenoux to find a small collection of restaurants and just drive along the riverside to find some lovely campsites – some of which have gites, bungalows and tents to rent in case you didn’t bring your own.

The Dordogne Valley is one of the best places in France to go star-gazing due to the few cities and minimal light pollution, so before you head to bed, make sure to take a look and get a panoramic view of the night sky and count the shooting stars.

Castelnau-Bretenoux Castle
Castelnau-Bretenoux Castle

Day 2 – Caves and Medieval Villages

Your second day in the Dordogne takes place in the northern Lot department, exploring the mighty caves and gorgeous villages of the Dordogne River.

Carennac

A short drive along the Dordogne River will take you to the charming medieval town of Carennac – another of France’s Most Beautiful Villages. This small village will take you on a journey back through time as its medieval origins are proudly still on display through its old stone houses and religious buildings.

As you walk around the village after your morning coffee and croissant, stop by the 12th-century Saint-Pierre church with its ornate entrance, peaceful cloister and legendary sculpture “Entombment”.

You can also see the impressive Château des Doyens overlooking the Dordogne River, which now houses the Museum of Art and History of the Dordogne Valley, so you can learn a little about the area while you’re there.

Next, drive for 10 to 15 minutes South to see one of France’s top attractions.

Carennac Old Town
Carennac Old Town

Gouffre de Padirac

Le Gouffre de Padirac, or Padirac Cave, is a 103-metre-deep cave in Padirac that you can visit and take a boat ride on the underground river!

Either by stairs or taking the lift, you can descend into the cave and marvel at the enormous stalactites that reach down from the cave ceilings as you pass through the different chambers on the river, reaching the extraordinary Salle du Grand Dôme, named such because of its whopping 94 metre-tall ceiling!

The cave itself is around 13°C, so make sure you bring a jacket with you even if you’re in the height of summer, and it’s a good idea to book in advance in July and August to ensure you get the chance to see this wondrous place.

Drive on for another 20 to 25 minutes to reach one of the Dordogne’s most famous towns.

Rocamadour

Any Dordogne itinerary that missed out Rocamadour would be amiss, however, if you’re limited on time and have only 3 days in Dordogne, you should leave a whole day to spend in Rocamadour as there’s plenty to see and do.

This cliffside town is iconic to the Dordogne Valley and a hotspot for tourists and pilgrims alike due to its unique layout and fantastic vistas. Walk or take the Petit Train around the town and stop by the religious complex known as la Cité Sainte de Rocamadour, with its chapel built onto the rocky cliff edge and providing the destination for many pilgrimages for over a thousand years.

The Chapelle Notre Dame has a 12th-century black Madonna statue which pilgrims pray to in search of miracles, and non-believers and historians still find themselves in awe of the incredible artwork.

Behind the chapel lies Rocamadour Castle, built to protect the pilgrim site in the 1300s and in good shape today, ready to welcome tourists to discover the history of the village and enjoy a spectacular panorama for a small fee.

As you walk around the town, you may notice some large birds of prey flying above; head to the Rocher des Aigles for an up-close look at the bird displays, or simply position yourself high up in the village to see all kinds of eagles, vultures, owls, macaws and many more bird species take flight.

If you haven’t had your fix of ancient history yet, head over to Rocamadour’s Grotte des Merveilles, a 22,000-year-old cave filled with stalactites and original palaeolithic paintings of equine animals in amazing condition.

Village of Rocamadour
Village of Rocamadour

Lacave Caves

Although you can happily spend a whole day in Rocamadour, you can’t come to this part of the Dordogne Valley without taking a quick trip to the caves of Lacave. You’ll also end your day closer to the campsites on the banks of the Dordogne River.

Clearly named after its top attraction, Lacave has an enormous cave that is well worth a visit. Either on foot (bring comfortable, closed-toe shoes) or with the small electric train, you can take an hour and 20 minute-guided tour of around 1 km or the 4 km long tunnels running underground and learn of the 150 million years of history that created this amazing maze of caves.

Like all caves in France, flash photography is prohibited, but you can take non-flash photos to remember the amazing caves.

Day 3 – Adventuring on the Dordogne River

You can’t visit the Dordogne without taking a boat out along the river. Head to Souillac (or anywhere on the Dordogne River) and rent a kayak or canoe for the whole day or just a morning or afternoon, and spend the rest of your day in the town of Souillac.

Canoeing or Kayaking

The banks of the Dordogne River are beautifully green and dotted with glorious châteaux and mediaeval villages that make boat trips down the river some of the most idyllic.

Whichever company you start at, you’ll be taken via a free shuttle bus down the river where you can then start your journey back and arrive back at the boat rental company. This can be booked in advance here.

The river is mostly flat and calm, with small islands causing the current to flow faster, but no rapids or dangerous areas, making it a perfect place for first-time kayakers or families to enjoy a day out. There are also many small beaches where you can stop and enjoy a picnic or pick up a Croque Monsieur at a small riverside cafeteria before continuing your journey.

Along the journey you’ll be able to spot herons and kingfishers, and if you’re lucky, some salmon and eels migrating upstream.

Souillac

If you’ve been out for the day on your kayak, Souillac is the perfect place to return to as it’s a pleasant small town with many restaurants and campsites.

Souillac also has an impressive 1,000-year-old abbey worth visiting as you amble around the small town looking for somewhere to eat, such as Le Quercy de Souillac, a small French restaurant serving fresh local produce for a reasonable price.

However, Souillac also offers more to visitors than you may imagine, with its large market on Friday and Sunday mornings from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm, drawing locals and visitors from many nearby villages, as well as its yearly jazz festival.

Souillac en Jazz lasts for a few days in the middle of July each year and sees a range of jazz artists play open-air concerts in the town, which you can buy tickets for online, or be lucky enough to overhear as you sit in a nearby brasserie.

Abbey in Souillac
Abbey in Souillac

Day 4 – Discovering Dordogne Towns

As you reach the border of the Dordogne department and enter 4 days in Dordogne, you’ll discover the small towns that make the Dordogne Valley so famous.

Gourdon

The Dordogne Valley is home to many historic towns, and none shows off its identity more proudly than Gourdon. With beautiful mediaeval stone houses with wooden doors in winding pathways, as you walk the city streets you can’t help but feel as though the town has looked the same for the past 500 years – and you wouldn’t be wrong.

At the beginning of August, you’ll come across a fantastic mediaeval festival taking place in the town, with many locals donning old-fashioned garb to bring the streets alive as they would have been hundreds of years ago.

These festivals also bring arts and crafts stalls as well as other local and traditional products for sale for visitors to peruse, not to mention the battles that take place in the squares, displaying traditional weaponry and fighting techniques to onlookers.

The historic town of Gourdon, or Bastide, surrounds a church on the hilltop and has its original city planning that defended the town from attack through the 12th to 15th centuries, so you can walk up the winding streets to the church to obtain amazing views over the town and surrounding area.

Gourdon’s market also takes place each Saturday morning from 7.30 am to 12.30 pm, so you can grab some fresh fruits, cheeses (try the local Rocamadour cheese for a real treat) and breads for a picnic, or just admire the local handicrafts.

Domme

A 25-minute drive through the countryside will take you back to the Dordogne River where you can find the beautiful town of Domme. Founded in the 13th century, Domme is another bastide town, formed due to its strategic location on a hilltop, with the Dordogne River to the North for protection.

It’s a perfect town to wander around on foot, or experience from the Petit Train accompanied by an audio guide, as the pale-stone buildings create a wonderful aesthetic, especially with the classic French hanging baskets filled with small flowers to brighten up the bridges, streets and windows.

You can enter the town through the ancient town gates, La Porte des Tours, which served as a prison during the Hundred Years’ War which ravaged many towns in the Dordogne area during the 14th and 15th centuries.

Prisoners of the Knights Templar engraved strange symbols and markings into these walls which you can still see today; pick up a brochure from the Tourist Office to see how they’ve interpreted the symbols.

Domme is also famous for its walking trails that take you around the clifftop for stunning views over the river and countryside as well as a peaceful exploration of the local flora and fauna.

Head to Place des Halles, the old marketplace to find a restaurant for lunch before heading off to the nearby town of La Roque-Gageac – or if you still have time, learn about the traditional way of life in Domme and the Périgord area in the Oustal du Périgord Museum, located in the central square, near the entrance to Domme’s caves.

La Roque-Gageac

Just 10 minutes driving from Domme is one of the most picturesque villages on the Dordogne River: La Roque-Gageac. This small village sits on the riverside, backed by an enormous rock, giving the village a wonderful aesthetic. It’s a great place to explore on foot and find small traditional shops selling local handicrafts and produce such as walnuts, goat’s cheeses and foie gras.

Built into the cliffside is an old fort, the remains of which you can admire from below or visit via a long set of stairs, while set a little back from the riverside is the marvellous Château de la Malartrie, a 19th-century mansion built in the Renaissance style.

Explore the incredible exotic gardens of the village, complete with palm trees, bamboo and banana trees, creating a tropical jungle atmosphere in this small mediaeval village.

If you’re in La Roque-Gageac for lunch or dinner, look no further for restaurants than Fat Pig; this local restaurant showcases the best of the local produce for a reasonable price (especially with the set menus), with fantastic views from the large terrace overlooking the Dordogne River. If you want one special night on your trip to Dordogne, it should be here.

La Roque Gageac
La Roque-Gageac

The Marqueyssac Gardens

Just a 5-minute drive from La Roque-Gageac is the final stop on day 4 of your Dordogne itinerary, the splendid gardens and château of Marqueyssac.

With 6 km of paths leading through the ornately designed and curiously shaped gardens, the Jardins de Marqueyssac are a peaceful adventure for most, although can be an exciting one for others with many activities to take part in on offer in the gardens too.

From getting-to-know-nature workshops to corn mazes, there’s plenty to do for people of all ages, not to mention the Candlelit Nights every Thursday from 7 pm to midnight in July and August.

On these Candlelit Nights, visitors can wander the gardens, lit up by 2000 candles leading visitors through the gardens to the nearby waterfall with views back over the Dordogne and La Roque-Gageac.

Not only does the candlelight create playful shadows and intriguing shapes in the gardens, but there are four musical performances to be found at various locations around the gardens, as well as candle-making workshops for the children, and fairies on stilts wandering around the gardens.

Tickets are only available online, so make sure you get yours in advance; if you’re visiting the Dordogne in Summer, be sure to check out this magical setting.

Marqueyssac Gardens
Marqueyssac Gardens

Day 5 – Sarlat to Lascaux

As you arrive at your final day in the Dordogne, you can’t miss out on the small yet mighty village of Sarlat, nor the most incredible prehistoric site in France.

Sarlat-la-Canéda

Like many villages in the Dordogne, Sarlat-la-Canéda, also known simply as Sarlat, is a small mediaeval village that proudly displays its heritage from street to street, making it a wonderful place to discover on foot.

But unlike the others, Sarlat actually has the highest number of historical buildings in one area than anywhere in France! Plus, thanks to the village being restored in the 1960s, you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time.

You’ll be forgiven for bursting into song as you walk the streets surrounded by old stone buildings, as Sarlat has been the setting of many mediaeval films, including the 1982 French adaptation of Les Misérables!

The one curio that stands out against the mediaeval backdrop of the town, however, is the unbelievably large black doors that welcome you into Sarlat’s legendary St Mary’s Church, which now holds the food hall.

You can explore the local gastronomy through numerous food festivals in Sarlat in Spring and Autumn, although through Summer the streets are filled with theatrical and cultural displays to entice visitors.

Wednesday mornings and all-day Saturday you can find Sarlat’s market, offering the region’s best honey, chestnuts, mushrooms, truffles, duck and foie gras – just some of the Dordogne’s specialities. It is possible to arrange a gourmet tour here.

Lascaux 4

Head North for 20 minutes on the D704 to reach one of Dordogne’s (and France’s) most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the prehistoric caves of Lascaux!

Although visitors have been unable to visit the original cave discovered by four school boys and their dog in the 1940s since 1963 due to fears of the cave paintings deteriorating, historians, artists and archaeologists expertly recreated the caves and their paintings using the same materials and techniques as the original, thus Lascaux 4 was born.

There is no indication that you’re visiting a replica – a testament to the incredible talent of those who copied the original – as you descend into the cave and your eyes widen at the thousands of images painted on the cave walls displaying the historic fauna of the area some 17,000 years ago.

Affectionately nicknamed the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory, the cave walls have over 900 animals on display, from deer and bulls to ibex and cows, and one bird-headed person, each in remarkable form and vibrant colours given the materials and knowledge of prehistoric man.

These cave paintings are some of the best examples of Upper Palaeolithic art, and some of the best preserved, so you can’t miss out on a trip to Lascaux 4 during 5 days in Dordogne.

The cave is rather narrow so people with severe claustrophobia may wish to skip the cave itself and head on to the on-site museum and gift shop where you can still learn a great deal about the history of the area, but everyone else is highly recommended to visit the cave to appreciate the artistic skill and interest of our ancestors.

The Gardens of Eyrignac Manor

For those visiting the Dordogne in Summer – which comes highly recommended due to the excellent weather as well as the many activities that take place through July and August – you can’t miss out on an evening in the Jardins d’Eyrignac.

Every Monday night over Summer, the proprietors of Eyrignac Manor open its gardens for a fantastic White Picnic. This family-friendly evening sees white blankets placed all over the gardens for visitors – wearing only white – to sit and enjoy a picnic with the sunset, followed by music, dance and fireworks.

Each ticket includes a visit to the gardens, so get there before sunset to explore the wonderful horticulture before relaxing for the evening with your own picnic, or one you’ve bought on-site, and a drink from the cocktail bar. Dogs are allowed for ordinary visits to the gardens but are unfortunately not permitted during the picnics due to the number of visitors and abundance of food.

It’s also a popular event, so to guarantee entry, book your ticket in advance and have a spectacular final night of your Dordogne Valley road trip!

Gardens of Eyrignac Manor
Gardens of Eyrignac Manor

Where to Stay in the Dordogne Valley

Hostellerie de la Bouriane – Located in the town of Gourdon, this 3-star hotel is perfect for those looking for a tranquil escape while visiting the Dordogne Valley. They have a number of lovely rooms to choose from along with other amenities for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability

Le Relais des galets – This 3-star hotel located in the town of Domme is another wonderful option when visiting the Dordogne Valley. They have a number of great rooms to choose from along with a fantastic location outside of Domme. Click here to check availability

Le Manoir – This country bed and breakfast just 5 kilometres outside of the town of Souillac is an excellent option in the Dordogne area. There are a number of great rooms to choose from along with a fab breakfast available and an on-site swimming pool. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Dordogne hotels!

If you want a city break, the Dordogne Valley is not for you. But if you’re interested in relaxing in the French countryside and indulging in local gastronomy as well as exploring ancient historical sites, you absolutely have to spend 4 to 5 days in Dordogne.

Are you visiting the Dordogne region? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Brittany Scott-Gunfield

Brittany is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Colchester, England, she is slowly but surely travelling the world as a digital nomad. She loves to hike around different landscapes and has a deep love for travelling around France (and elsewhere in Europe).

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