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Whatever the season, the Dordogne Valley offers every travellers something different with each change.
The frenzied activities of summer, with festivals of music, fireworks, gorgeous summer heat and getting wet in the river to cool down. The warm Indian summer autumns mean you can still canoe until the leaves really turn. The serenity and tranquillity of winter. The vibrant colours of spring.
There is a season for everyone and something for everyone in each season…
Spring is for nature lovers - Easter until the end of June
In spring, the Dordogne Valley landscape is a vibrant mix of flowers beginning to blossom and leaves coming out on the trees again. Nature and locals come out of their winter hibernation to enjoy clear, crisp blue skies.
As cherry blossoms on trees add a splash of vivid colour to the countryside, expect a mixture of weather. There will be sunny days and you might encounter the odd day of rain or even a brief cold snap but generally the temperature is pleasantly warm.
When getting ready for your break be prepared, particularly in early spring, to pack for all weather, so sunglasses and a raincoat are a good idea. As it’s not too hot it’s the perfect time to discover nature and go walking and hiking in the countryside. Come across wild orchids as you ramble through the changing landscape and watch out for baby deer, or wild pigs crossing the small lanes in front of you when driving along country roads.
The joys of Spring
As the flowers bloom, the healthy and fresh produce of the season is ripening ready to be picked and tasted. Flavoursome fresh asparagus are a feature in early spring as too are the bright red delicious strawberries of the Dordogne Valley. If you are visiting in May be sure to pay a visit to the annual Strawberry Festival in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, where punnets a plenty can be bought and another Guinness world record strawberry tart attempt will be made. Markets spring back into action and in Rocamadour, a weekend cheese festival celebrates the various cheeses made in the valley, including the iconic goat’s cheese of Rocamadour itself.
As the twittering and chirping of birds fills the mornings with sound again, small villages come back to life and locals start their spring cleaning with vide-greniers (car boot sales) popping up all over the place.
Signs of Spring
As the warmth settles in during late spring (around May/June) people begin to rediscover the Dordogne river. Water sports enthusiasts return, the fishing season has just begun and from June canoe operators open for the season - so you can do a spot of canoeing with the river almost to yourself.
Spring definitely has its advantages in other ways. You can easily get a reservation at top restaurants and sometimes there is no need to reserve at all. As it’s not quite high season you can also get attractive deals on flights and accommodation too.
Whatever your fancy you can get back to nature, explore an ancient castle or medieval village, recharging your batteries as you enjoy the Dordogne Valley free of the summer crowds and draped in the vibrant colours of the season.
Summer – Sun Drenched Fun in July and August
With the arrival of summer the Dordogne Valley comes alive as one big playground for Europeans on holiday. The scorching summer is a blast of fun as bright days of blue sky with fluffy white clouds beam down invigorating everyone. Visitors take to the river, to swim, splash and play.
Winding through the entire valley, you can relax on a secluded beach beside the river, go canoeing down it or just lie in it. Visit a lake, or take in some minigolf then head to a waterpark with the kids for a hydro slide.
Sun drenched or just drenched in a water fight the summer is a blast of good times and the sun is there to be soaked up. Get a tan, read a book under the shade of a tree and jump in the water again to cool off.
If you’re finding it a little too hot under the collar, you can escape the heat with a visit to world famous caves and castles too. Thick castle walls will keep the heat off and caves always stay at a refreshing 13-14 degrees. Discover incredible cave art, thousands of years old and painted by prehistoric humans- its mind blowing stuff.
Not just Sunshine & Sunbathing
As the heat of the day cools in the late afternoon explore the fresh and delicious local produce being sold in Farmers markets and produce markets in small villages everywhere. When the bright azure sky dissolves into early evening it’s the perfect time to start up the BBQ. If that sounds too much like hard work head out to a restaurant.
One of the best things about holidaying here is that you can eat al fresco as the summers night air is still lovely and warm. Sitting on a restaurant terrace, admiring the view with a glass in hand in the warmth of the summer night will be what you dream about when you are back at your desk on Monday mornings.
A night on the towns
In the evening the activities don’t stop with the sun going down. There are a multitude of summer festivals that take place in July and August. From jazz to opera or classical to rock you can enjoy some amazing music in the most beautiful of outdoor and indoor settings.
Look out for a local village fête, as the locals proudly celebrate where they live with beer and food and of course music. Traditional nights of accordion music for the oldies to waltz along with give way to nights of rock and dance as the younger generations get down. Marvel at the fireworks that traditionally end one of these festivals. You’ll be surprised by how good they are for such small villages.
Above all, summer is an invigorating dose of sun, good for your Vitamin D intake but essential for your soul.
Autumn is for chilling out - September and October
There is never a bad time to come to the Dordogne Valley but arguably the loveliest season of the year is autumn. As the leaves start to turn the light changes too, and the rolling hills of oak trees with brown orange leaves look magnificent drenched in reddish autumn sunsets. As the kids go back to school, it is an ideal time to explore if you are seeking a quieter time far from the summer crowds. It will be easy to find a table in a restaurant and you will find you have the countryside, castles and medieval villages more to yourself.
You’re also in luck because autumns here are of the long Indian summer variety. As the frenzy of summer fades, it still remains warm, generally hovering in the mid-twenties until mid-October. You can still enjoy canoeing on the river, try some stand up paddling - the water is still warm. Obviously less hot than in the summer months, in autumn cycling or walking is a more attractive and doable activity.
Being a bit cooler but still warm means you can enjoy country walks and sightseeing without having to constantly escape the summer heat. As autumn progresses you can enjoy long countryside walks, picking up walnuts and chestnuts as you go.
Watch the locals harvest the walnut crops in October and enjoy the delicious variety of local food on offer – it doesn’t stop with the changing of the seasons. It’s a foodie paradise and you can still eat out everywhere as restaurants and brasseries, cafes and bars are still serving the delicious dishes of the region.
After all that food you will need something to wash it down with. Luckily it’s the wine harvesting season and you can visit one of many wineries in the area. If you are visiting in October try and catch one of Europe’s largest hot-air balloon festivals in Rocamadour. You can explore all of the major sites which remain open until around the first week of November.
Autumn is the ideal time to discover the Dordogne Valley. Minus the throngs of sun worshippers it’s a quieter time of year, you can take in the beauty of the changing colours of the countryside and come and chill.
Have yourself a merry little…
While many sites are closed during the winter period, some, including the most famous castles and Rocamadour remain open year round. Leading up to Christmas, some sites that were previously closed open up for the yuletide period. Grottes de Lacave reopens for cave visits for example, and villages come alive with Christmas markets as the big day approaches. These markets are a great way to get in the festive spirit, full of handmade Christmas cards and decorations. Warm up with a glass of mulled wine and fill up with a crepe or gaufre (waffle) after some sizzled sausages.
In December and January, you will be just in time for the height of truffle mania- as this exclusive gastronomic diamond is bought and sold and celebrated with truffle fairs in Cuzance and Martel. Experience the ritual of the truffle exchange and then settle down for an afternoon scoffing back this delicacy with a glass or two.
If you visit in the winter months you will find you have the Dordogne Valley for yourself. Enjoy the tranquillity as winter days tend to be dry and crisp, cold (on average -5 to the low ‘5s) but with blue skies and not too much drizzly rain. It’s time to take in a good book, visit a near empty Rocamadour, explore the ramparts of a castle and enjoy some long country walks. You might have to rub your hands together but afterward you can escape the cold in front of a warm and cosy fireplace.
What to do when it rains
Great advice on what to do on a rainy day in the Dordogne Valley