Walnut grove in the Dordogne Valley - @ Malika Turin
The charm of quintessential France
The Dordogne Valley has no must-visit imperial cities like Paris and no must-see royal châteaux such as Versailles. But what it does have is an incomparable wealth of natural beauty, history, culture and cuisine.
Few regions sum up the attractions of France better than the Dordogne. Although currently ranked one of the hottest destinations in Europe, the region has long been a favourite getaway for families looking to spend a week in quintessential rural France.
The Dordogne Valley is marked by rich, luxuriant valleys, through which flows the crystal clear waters of the Dordogne river. Edged by lush woods and criss-crossed by tributaries, much of the river remains wild with kingfishers and herons hunting along its banks and wild salmon and freshwater eels navigating the currents on their spawning migrations.
A journey through History
Separating the valleys are rugged plateaux of granite and limestone, sharp outcroppings of rock and steep, sheer cliffs. Offering a nice contrast to the region's rugged landscapes are the countless picturesque villages either lining the banks, sunk into the canyons or perched on the cliffs.
As you meander along the quiet country lanes, your eye is drawn time and again to hill-top châteaux standing sentinel above a valley and to the ancient villages in whose Romanesque churches pilgrims have prayed for centuries. Not only do these jewels offer a succession of beautiful vistas and panoramas, they also illustrate the region's strategic importance through the ages with bastides, fortresses and cliff-dwellings throughout.
In addition to the ravishing countryside, castle-strewn riverlands and storybook villages, the Dordogne is also renowned for its extensive underground world. Dubbed France's 'Prehistoric Valley', the dense collection of prehistoric cave art and subterranean concretions within a radius of 100 miles can be found nowhere else.
Unlike many destinations where attractions are few and far between, those who visit the area are guaranteed to stumble across some sort of prehistoric, roman or medieval gem with each kilometer traveled.
Sun, river, beaches...and lots of fun!
But there's much more to the Dordogne Valley than its history. With pretty rivers come pretty beaches... and lots of them! A refreshing escape from the hot summer climate, the region boasts many a creek to pop your swimmers on and go for a dip.
Whilst some come fully equipped with a lifeguard, refreshments and games to keep the kiddies content, others offer no more than towering cliffs and the odd canoeist to wave at.
Leisure lakes are a speciality in the area and are visited both by beach bums looking to throw out a few Z's as well as keen anglers eager to catch that 40lb carp.
The Dordogne's waterfalls are also a fab way of keeping cool with mighty 30-metre Niagara Fall wannabes to smaller chutes that make great slide material.
An ideal combination
The Dordogne Valley's tremendous and well-preserved cultural heritage coupled with its lush landscapes and 'art de vivre' make an ideal combination and an absolute corker of a holiday. So if you want to smile happily ever after then a trip to this fantasyland full of castles, prehistoric caves and idyllic beaches should be just the ticket!
If you're looking for cave art to marvel at, rivers to canoe down, lakes to laze by or viewpoints to hike to, then click this way and discover the best of the Dordogne Valley's natural heritage!