The Dordogne region of southwestern France, located two hours east of Bordeaux, may not be the first area that comes to mind when Americans are planning a French trip. But travelers in-the-know consider it, for good reason, one of France’s most special destinations.
Entering the Dordogne is like stepping into a fairytale. Every turn of the road (yes, it’s easy and fun to self–drive here!) reveals castles, châteaux, churches and villages whose architecture dates to medieval and Renaissance times—all situated in epic landscapes. This region is truly a “cradle of civilization.” Pre–historic man settled here and the many archeological sites include caves with paintings and drawings that experts estimate to be from 12,000 to 20,000 years old. The haunting art, a legacy of our ancestors from the dawn of civilization, deeply moves visitors. In addition to historical sites, the Dordogne also offers excellent wines and cuisine (foie gras and truffles are specialties).
This bucolic destination offers a perfect getaway from the chaos of urban life. As American novelist Henry Miller once wrote: “The Dordogne is a sacred spot … a paradise that gives me hope for the future of the earth itself. It will live on, just as dreams live on, and nourish the souls of men.”
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Some useful information:
FRANCE JUST FOR YOU
This unique, family-operated tour company, run by Emilie and Guillaume Thyebaut, organizes customized, self-drive trips through France’s most fascinating places. 888-316-3979 (toll free from the U.S.), france-justforyou.com.
DORDOGNE TOURISM SITE
ABOUT THE CAVES
Font-de-Gaume, near the village of Les Eyzies, is the last cave with original polychrome paintings still open to the public. Combarelles, another cave nearby, features prehistoric drawings and engravings. Access to both is limited, so be sure to book ahead. They’re managed by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (Center for National Monuments). sites-les-eyzies.fr/en/Prepare-for-your-visit/Prepare-for-your-visit. Rouffignac, another must-see cave in the region with original art does not require advance reservations. The famous Lascaux caves with original art are closed to the public to preserve the art inside. However, outstanding replicas of the Lascaux cave art are accessible (along with high-tech, educational presentations).
This château has remained unaltered since the 16th century and was officially listed as a French Historical Monument in 1928. Its sole access is by bridge over a moat and through a fortified gatehouse that’s the largest of its kind in France.
The cave art at Font-de-Gaume dates to pre-historic times. It’s the only site with original polychrome paintings that’s still accessible to the public.