I love the Dordogne Valley - @ Bob D.
If you’re planning a family trip to the Dordogne Valley, there are hundreds of way to enjoy the beautiful weather, do the cultural visits, admire the fantastic countryside, tuck into the scrummy food and keep those little monsters happy at the same time.
Here is our Top 10 of great activities that everyone is bound to agree on (because family holidays in the Dordogne Valley always end in happy memories!)
A canoe trip down the river is the highlight of any holiday in the Dordogne Valley. Glide past the region's most glorious sites and treat the kiddies to some unforgettable holiday memories.
If you're a first timer or planning to take the kids in your canoe, you'd be better off sticking to a half-day option. Routes like Gluges or Saint-Sozy to Pinsac or Argentat to Brivezac offer tons of fantastic views and you shouldn't be left with any swollen muscles at the end.
If you're an experienced rower or the kids are old enough to go it alone, why not push the boat out and go for a longer stretch. Argentat to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne will take you through wooded hills and down small but fun rapids where as Vayrac to Pinsac will take you past gorgeous castles and towering limestone cliffs.
But not to panic, there are always lots of places to pull over for a picnic, a quick dip or a snooze in the sun. Most rentals have to 2 to 4-seater canoes so the whole family can jump into one but it's important to book beforehand. A closed plastic box is usually provided to stop your sandwiches from getting soggy and your camera splashed by over-excited children.
Please note that canoeing is not allowed for children under 7 and non-swimmers.
To keep away from the heat or the rain, there is no better way to entertain the kids than taking them underground to explore the magical world of caves and chasms. Le Gouffre de Padirac is the biggest and most famous of them all with a boat trip on a turquoise blue underground river. But there are also plenty of smaller mesmerising caves to explore with weirdly shaped stalactites and stalagmites or even original prehistorical paintings.
For the more adventurous, pot-holing with a guide is a thrilling and unforgettable experience for kids from 5 upwards.
Tours de Merle
Les Tours de Merle are medieval towers that seem to appear out nowhere and a perfect day-out for wanabee knights and princesses in search of adventure. In the summer months, shows with medieval sword fighting are a great way to spend the afternoon. Very close by, Les Fermes du Moyen-Age is a perfect reproduction of a 15th C. hamlet with farm animals, houses and medieval vegetable garden.
Monkey Park in Rocamadour
Step inside La Forêt des Singes and be greeted by 150-odd Barbary macaques running freely around a 50 acre forest. Visitors can get up close to these friendly monkeys and feed them popcorn out of their hands. With plenty of picnic tables and good views of Rocamadour, this shady park is a winner on a hot day in the Dordogne Valley and is also a great child-friendly alternative to an afternoon of sightseeing.
Lakes and water parks
On those sizzling hot summer days, kids love to get wet. And in the Dordogne Valley, there are many ways to do just that : lakes with sandy beaches, waterfalls, pebble beaches by the river, water parks... They will love it! From small secluded beaches and supervised lakes with slides to thrilling waterparks with hydroslides, the choice is endless. Quercyland in Souillac or La Saule in Bétaille are open everyday in summer for a splash around the swimming pools, a glide down the water slides or a bounce on trampolines and inflatable castles.
Great castles for kids
The Château de Hautefort is full of treasures that are sure to win over both parents and children. Explore this fortress-turned-Renaissance castle with its amazing fortifications, underground chambers, secret passages, film set and period furnishing before taking some fresh air in the French formal gardens and English-style park. Workshops for children are organized on the theme of the chateau every Wednesday during July and August. Night and costume visits are also regularly on the agenda.
The Château de Castelnaud is the place to go if you want to find out about the art of fighting in the Middle-Ages. The impressive 12th C. castle has 250 swords, armors and war artifacts on display as well as life-size catapults in the gardens.
Aquatic Trekking: Waterfall Expeditions
Hike along forest streams, scramble up and down waterfalls and shoot down natural water slides on an aquatic trek. Guides take adventurers off the beaten track and into the Dordogne Valley's hidden waterfalls. For beginners and children over 7, the Cascades de la Vierge trek should do the trick. The Cascades de Lamativie or Cascades de la Vierge et de Murel trails are more complex and aren't available to under 10s but the spectacular landscapes are worth the exercise...
A minibus will take you to the starting point and back to base after. Helmets and life jackets are provided by the organizers. Remember to bring correct foot wear (you'll be getting your feet wet) as well as a change of clothes and a drink.
A Ride on the Truffadou Stream Train
Just 5 minutes down the road from Martel, jump on the Truffadou and journey through dark tunnels carved into the cliffs 260ft above the river before emerging to jaw-dropping views over the Dordogne's countryside. This vintage steam train takes its passengers on a there-and-back journey from Martel in around 90 minutes and makes a stop at Briance for a stunning cliffside viewpoint.
Primarily used to transport truffles (hence the nickname 'Truffadou') from Martel market between World Wars 1 and 2, the railway was only restored in the 1990s for the pleasure of all train-obsessed folk. The line's open from April to October and if you want to ride on a steam engine as opposed to diesel, make sure you check out the time table beforehand. All aboard!
If you enjoy daring cliff-face adventure, then embark on the Via Ferrata in Argentat or in the Gardens of Marqueyssac and take in the superb views over the Dordogne Valley. Laid along the side of the cliff a hundred meters above the river, this climb/hike combo is a great way of treating the kids. Accessible to everyone (but you need to be fairly fit) over the age of 8 and measuring over 4.2ft, you will need the provided safety equipment including ropes and helmets. Make sure you've got a pair of trainers in your bag and some shorts or trousers on (in other words skip the dress.)
Animal Park in Gramat
With over 150 different species to observe, the animal park in Gramat is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon or more. With its large enclosures, shady grounds and picnic area, the whole family is on for a special treat: petting zoo, domestic species, bears, wolfes, monkeys, buffalos...The Animal Park also works for the protection of several endangered species.
Also very popular also with younger kids, Prehisto-Dino Park takes you through a journey back in time with life-size dinosaurs (some of them even move!) and the evolution of Manking.