The Bort Les Orgues Damdordogne ValleyThe Bort Les Orgues Damdordogne Valley
©The Bort Les Orgues Damdordogne Valley

Meet a giant in Bort-les-Orgues

The first in the series of dams built on the Dordogne River in Haute- Corrèze is gigantic and home to the 4th biggest body of water in France.
470 million m³ of water that we’re going to get up close to as we explore the dam’s inner workings.

Big is beautiful

The Dordogne, a 21km long reservoir, a 120m high dam topped by a 380m ridge with a road running along, two départements, two regions… The Bort-les-Orgues dam marks the border (at the structure’s perpendicular median to be precise) between Corrèze and Cantal, between Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

Wherever you look at it from, the dam is impressive in terms of size and how much water it contains. As you approach it from the ridge, you won’t believe the difference in water level between the reservoir and the river that continues its way south west to the Atlantic.

You can walk along the edges of the dam (don’t get too close though) or you can book a tour of the structure at Haute-Corrèze Tourist Information… That’s exactly what we did.

Top tip: it’s best to enter “espace de visite EDF du barrage de Bort-les-Orgues” (visitor centre) into your GPS or else it will take you to the top of the dam.

Get your bearings

As you leave town (or enter if you’re coming from Cantal), there’s a little bridge spanning the Dordogne at its most humble. Cross the bridge to the car park upstream of the dam. It’s all a bit “retro” but that’s because building work began on the dam in 1942 and it was filled with water in 1951.

Fifteen of us excitedly wait for the tour to start. The guide arrives and asks us to leave our bags, phones and cameras. After two flights of stairs we reach a footbridge at the bottom of a high concrete wall. It’s 80m thick at the bottom. Our side of the wall is in the open air; on the other side it’s deep underwater.

Although the fear of drowning doesn’t dampen our spectacular and thrilling outing, you never forget how close you are to an absolutely huge mass of water. After an insight into how the dam and its spillway work, then some information about the 157 devices that measure the dam’s stability and have been checked every fortnight since 1952 (reassuringly), the tour itself can begin. We put on our EDF-branded hard hats and pop our earphones in before we venture deep into the plant and its facilities.

The dam's secrets

Obviously the dam’s everyday work doesn’t stop for our tour. But the control room is empty despite the screens displaying real-time information. It may be a Saturday but, like any other day, the plant is controlled remotely from Lyon and Toulouse. We don’t actually see anyone until we get back to the car park.

The rest of the tour is split into several stages and we try to get our bearings within the structure. We more or less stick to the route along a 55m long tunnel (an audit corridor) which we’re told is about halfway up the dam. A few leaks have created little limestone stalagmites and we’ve never been so close to the water!

“Don’t worry, everything’s under control”; our guide says. Alright… The tunnel leads to a door that opens onto a dizzying staircase over the void. From stairs to landings, turbines (in action, under maintenance or dismantled) to alternators, the underwater area for production groups to the “pipes” the water runs through (coming from the reservoir on the Dordogne and penstock from
Haute-Tarentaine) and the window looking onto the perimeter corridor, we give up trying to work out how high or how deep we are…

Want to find out more? Want to know all about how the dam works and learn some facts and figures? Do you want a journey deep inside a giant? Follow the guide!

Good to Know!

Dam access: head to the foot of the dam on Avenue de la Gare in Bort-les-Orgues on the right bank of the Dordogne.

Booking compulsory: tickets for entry or guided tours on:, at Haute-Corrèze Tourist Information points (Bort-les-Orgues, Meymac, Neuvic et Ussel) or on-sitesubject to availability (+33 (0)5 19 60 00 30).

Plant and EDF Odyssélec Visitor Centre tour: no animals (exc. guide dogs), mobile phones, cameras, bags or backpacks allowed inside the dam.

Closed toe shoes recommended. Plant tour: ID check before tour for visitors aged 18 and over (identity card or passport).

Visitors must be aged 8 and over for safety reasons.