Tiny little villages made up of half-timbered houses with slanted rooves or castles perched precariously on a cliff, overlooking a cluster of houses that make up the eponymous town. Read on to find 10 of the prettiest towns in Dordogne and start planning your trip.
The Dordogne department in France is one of the most visited parts of the country, second only to Paris. Every year millions of tourists flock here to savor the local cuisine, visit the castles and explore the quintessential French villages.
We spent one-week road-tripping through the region, and I cannot wait to go back in the near future to uncover more of its secrets. This little corner of the world has so much to offer and is the perfect place for a bout of slow travel. Below you will find 10 “must-visit” villages in Dordogne, although truth be told every little village you come across in the region is equally worth a visit!
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Plan your visit to the most beautiful Dordogne villages
WHERE TO STAY
- Castle Hotel: Le Petit Manoir
- Best Views: Hotel Beau Site – Rocamadour
- Best Service: Moulin du Roc hotel Brantôme
THINGS TO DO
- From Sarlat: Lascaux IV & Cave Art Tour
- Beynac & Domme: Walking tour & boat
- Dordogne Valley: Private tour from Sarlat
HOW TO GET AROUND: Traveling to the various little villages in Dordogne will require a car as not every spot is reachable with public transportation. Find the cheapest rate.
GOOD TO KNOW: In case you do not fancy driving base yourself out of Sarlat-la-Canéda. This is the starting point for many tours in both Dordogne and the Dordogne Valley.
USEFUL READING: Website of the tourism office for Dordogne and the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.
Where is Dordogne in France
France is divided into 13 administrative regions, which are subdivided into departments. Dordogne is located in the largest region of France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine in the Southwest of France. It is one of twelve departments that fall under the region.
How to get to Dordogne
FLY: The largest international airport is Bordeaux Mérignac Airport (BOD). A shuttle bus connects the airport to the Bordeaux train station, which has trains crisscrossing all of France as well as two offices to rent a car. We rented a car right at the Bordeaux train station
FLY: Alternatively fly into Bergerac Dordogne Périgord airport, which is serviced by a number of low-cost airlines including Easyjet at Ryanair.
TRAIN (recommended): We took the high-speed train from Paris to Bordeaux (2 hours, direct) instead of flying. As trains run multiple times a day, this turned out to be both the cheapest and most sustainable option for our trip (€/$35 one-way ticket).
Is Dordogne worth visiting
The Hundred Year war between France and England played out in Dordogne. The legacy of that tragedy is a plethora of castles dotting the countryside of Dordogne. Add to that the typical bucolic charm of southern France and you get a picture-perfect holiday destination.
To top it all off, Dordogne has some of the best wine in all of France – and therefore, arguably, the world. Famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux blends, Dordogne is a great alternative to the more famous – but let’s be honest expensive and crowded – Bordeaux and Bourgogne.
10 Most beautiful towns in Dordogne
Once we left the confines of the big cities and headed into the heart of the region, it felt like we hit the jackpot of castles and storybook villages. Picking just 10 villages in Dordogne for this list was a bit of a herculean task truth be told.
I tried the vary things up, adding in a sprinkling of the officially recognized “Plus Beau Village de France” (Prettiest Villages in France) as well as various towns with medieval castles that will make you want to hunt down Prince Charming.
For brevity’s sake, detailed guides to castles and some of the villages have been linked, providing you with ample information to plan your very own trip to Dordogne. If, by any stroke of luck you have additional time on your hands venture down further South and check out some of the prettiest villages in Provence while you are at it.
Read before you go | Prettiest castles in Dordogne to visit
Recommended Hotel | Château de Villars
Villars is one of the smaller and older villages in Dordogne with a population of nearly 500, and a history of inhabitation that dates back to prehistoric times. Evidence suggests the town was then further developed in the Middle Ages.
There are multiple reasons to add the village of Villars to your itinerary. First off, the fortified church of The Abbaye de Boschaud was built between 1154 and 1159. Next is the nearby “Grotte de Villars”, huge natural caves containing prehistoric paintings which are accessible to the public.
And finally, the reason we ended up visiting, is one of the only Renaissance castles in Dordogne, Château de Puyguilhelm. The castle lies on the outskirts of town and was built initially as a sumptuous hunting lodge in the 16th century for the first president of the Paris Parliament.
The castle can be visited with or without a guide, though it is noteworthy to mention guided visits are held but once a day at 10.00 AM and are entirely in french. Tickets €/$6 to be bought online or at the entrance of the castle.
2. Rocamadour – the most impressive town in Dordogne
Read before you go | In-depth guide to visiting Rocamadour
Recommended Hotel | Hotel Beau Site – Rocamadour
Guided Tour: Book a 1h30 guided tour of Rocamadour (price per group)
The village of Rocamadour is located in the Dordogne valley and had me picking up my jaw off the ground, it is that spectacular. This hamlet is one of 150 officially recognized “Prettiest Villages in France” and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Rocamadour is a tiny one-street village. What makes it so special is the way it was built: three distinct layers carved into the cliff slopes, dating back over 600 years. The lower layer is made up of a selection of restaurants and little shops, the middle layer is a cluster of religious buildings including the famous Chapelle Notre-Dame and the Black Madonna statue which has attracted millions of pilgrims over the centuries. And finally, right at the very top stands the Rocamadour castle, which offers the best views over the sprawling Azou Canyon.
Arguably the most famous village in Dordogne, Rocamadour tends to get very, very busy in the summer months. To enjoy the beauty of the town, you might need to kick yourself out of bed early and explore before 09.00 AM or avoid July and August instead opting for June, September, and October to visit.
Alternative tip: Explore Rocamadour and the surrounding canyons via a locally run bike tour. Spend half a day with a guide learning about the history of the village, find the best viewpoints and cover much more ground than on foot. Option to rent an electric bike to navigate the hilly terrain.
Recommended Hotel | B&B Couleurs du Temps
There are plenty of beautiful towns in the Dordogne but few can boast the ancient history of Perigueux. Known as a City of Art and History it boasts some of the most important historic heritage.
You will encounter a beautiful Gallo-Roman medieval and Renaissance old town, where the UNESCO world heritage site of the Byzantine style Saint-Front Cathedral proudly sits on the Way of St James. The town has a vast number of Roman remains that allow you to soak up the splendor of the ancient days and transport you back through France’s rich history.
Visitors can visit several museums while in Perigueux, which offer up the opportunity to experience Renaissance and medieval collections and artifacts. Vesunna museum has some of the best-preserved remains of architecture and artifacts that display life from the 1st and 3rd centuries.
To bring you back into the modern day then you can stroll around authentically French markets in the old town and enjoy local produce and fine foods. There is also a busy commercial center in the heart of the historic town that offers up modern-day shopping and gastronomy making it a vibrant and fun place to be.
Read before you go | The complete guide to visiting Brantôme
Recommended Hotel | Nearby Moulin du Roc hotel or Moulin de l’Abbaye in Brantôme
Perched against a limestone cliff and surrounded by the Dronne river, lies the hamlet Brantôme. One of the most visited villages in Dordogne with over 40.000 recorded visits per year – although 70% of these visits happen in July and August. We visited in October and practically had the village to ourselves!
The undisputed highlight of Brantôme is its gargantuan Abbey, dating back to the 8th century and reportedly gifted religious relics by none other than Charlemagne himself! The original structure was sadly destroyed, what visitors can see today is the extensive 19th-century rebuild. When visiting the Abbey, wander through the gardens to check out the impressive Troglodyte Caves where the original monks of the order used to live prior to the building of the abbey.
Brantôme is dubbed the Venice of Dordogne and is best viewed from the deck of a tiny electric boat that glides across the Dronne river. A €/$9 ticket will buy you a 45 min boat ride, narrated by a very dry-humored French guide who had me laughing from start to go while recounting the history of the town.
Read before you go | Prettiest castles in Dordogne to visit
Recommended Hotel | B&B with castle view: La Source, Beynac
Recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in the Dordogne is the fairy-tale-like village of Beynac. The pretty village stretches along the northern bank of the Dordogne river. As we were driving in the direction of the village, we kept catching glimpses of a fortified castle perched high atop a rock, surrounded by tiny little yellow stone houses.
Chateau de Beynac is an imposing stone fortress that was built to protect. This no-nonsense chateau has stood watch over the Dordogne for nine centuries and remains surprisingly well-preserved. A €/$9 ticket grants you entrance to the castle, which is open yearlong.
The Chateau has an interesting history having been fought over between the English and the French for many years. It was even conquered by Richard the Lionheart at the end of the 12th century.
Today, however, Beynac is truly in French hands. Time permitting, spend a night in Beynac and see it come to life at night, it is beautifully illuminated with atmospheric lighting casting orange glows over the entire village.
Tip: Take a guided tour from Sarlat that combines the village of Domme and Beynac. Includes a visit to the castle as well as a boat ride on a traditional wooden boat past the Beynac Castle.
Check rates before booking.
6. Saint-Jean-de-Cole – the most beautiful village in Dordogne
Recommended Hotel | B&B Chez Robert or nearby Château de Villars
Probably the biggest surprise of my trip to Dordogne! The medieval Saint-Jean-de-Cole is the smallest of all the Dordogne towns but without a doubt the most evocative. It received the official classification as “Plus Beau Village de France” and its not hard to see why. As we pull up to the outskirts of town, the cluster of timber-framed houses with red slated rooves catch my eye immediately.
The little alleys of the town all seem to lead straight to the impressive main square, flanked by a 7th-century Romano-Byzantine church (church of St Jean Baptist) on one side and the, equally impressive, 12th-century Marthonia Castle which is only open to the public in July and August (it is in fact still privately owned).
Truth be told, there is not much “to do” in Saint-Jean-de-Cole. After languorously strolling through the village and visiting the church the very best thing you can do is sit down on the main square, order a glass of local wine and simply watch the world go by. We were here around lunchtime and had a good value for money meal at “Le Saint Jean”.
7. Montignac (Lascaux)
Recommended Hotel | Beautiful 19th-century mansion La Roseraie Hôtel Restaurant
Another of the Dordogne villages that fights for the title of the most beautiful village in the Dordogne is Montignac. Straddling both sides of the Vezere River this attractive village is lined with balconied houses, and picturesque alleys and is positively bursting with charm and authenticity.
On the right side of the river, you can find restaurants on stilts offering terraces with beautiful views to sit and enjoy regional cuisine before ambling along the medieval-style alleyways and the sloping riverbank. If you happen to be visiting on a Wednesday or Saturday, be sure to frequent the local market to enjoy some of the finest local delicacies and French culture.
After soaking up the right bank you can cross a recently renovated stone bridge to walk along the left bank and uncover the plentiful shops in the heart of the city. Together with shops, you will find no end to the restaurants, cafes, hotels, a cinema, and plenty of artistic and festive exhibitions. In the summer months, you can expect to find this pretty Dordogne village lined with colorful bunting that truly brings it to life.
No visit to Montignac is complete without a visit to the Lascaux cave. Known as the “Sistine chapel of prehistory” for the beautiful prehistoric frescoes that are reportedly over 20.000 years old.
Visiting the caves: The original caves have been closed to the public for preservation, but three exact replicas have been made. Guided tours to Lascaux IV, the National Prehistory Museum and the nearby Rouffignac caves run from Sarlat. We chose to visit Lascaux IV as it has a museum explaining the various different elements of the cave paintings in a fun and interactive manner.
Recommended Hotel | B&B Le Jardin du Moustoulac
Although technically not a town – 20.000 inhabitants is more of a small city in my book – Cahors has to receive an honorary mention. The city is nestled in the bend of the Lot river right at the very edge of the Dordogne region.
Historically it was the capital of the ancient Cadurci people and went by the name Divona, eponymous for the nearby spring that still supplies water to the city to this very day. Tourists flock to Cahors for one of two reasons: The impressive Pont Valentré and for the local wine.
Cahors wine producing notoriety is long-established, having been an infamous wine producer since the medieval period. In fact, it was wine that ensured the city became extraordinarily wealthy. The aforementioned bridge, Ponte Valentre was originally built from the town’s wealth in the 1300s..
It stands to reason therefore that no visit to Cahors is complete without visiting the plentiful vineyards that stretch west from the city and to sample some of the infamous local produce. For wine connoisseurs, a visit to Maison du Vin de Cahors, near Pont Valentré is another must. Sadly, we made but a brief pitstop in Cahors to admire the beautiful Ponte Valentre on our way to Rocamadour and did not make it to the wine store!
9. La Roque-Gageac
Recommended Hotel | Nearby storybook manor with a pool – Manoir de la Malartrie
It is the setting that makes this one of the most beautiful towns in the Dordogne. What makes it even more remarkable is that it has stood the test of time and barely changed in the last 300 years. La Roque Gageac is situated on the north bank of the Dordogne River, with a steep limestone cliff sitting in the background, lined with yellow stone buildings and traditional pointed Perigord rooves.
La Roque-Gageac was a strong and impermeable stronghold throughout the hundred-year war and is home to a fascinating troglodyte fort set in the cliffs 40 meters above the village. Below the troglodyte, you can travel through the Renaissance era and visit Manoir de Tarde, an impressive round tower with mullion windows.
The looming limestone cliff not only helped protect the town throughout warfare but also shields the flora and fauna from the cold weather resulting in an unusual but impressive tropical-style garden throughout the town. As you wander through and climb its hills you can enjoy a variety of exotic plants and gardens that flourish year after year.
Another valuable part of the town’s rich history is the Dordogne river which was used for trading. Today, you can recreate these routes in replicas of the traditional ‘gabares’ boats and enjoy a river cruise along the infamous Dordogne. Each boat will guide you through the nature and history of the area and offer up some truly unique and beautiful sights.
Recommended Hotel | Nearby B&B – Auberge de Castel-Merle
This small and simple French town. If you are looking for a remarkable restoration that echoes the simplicity of its origin without being over-renovated throughout the years, then the village of Saint- Léon-sur-Vézere should be right up your alley.
Storybook Saint-Leon-Sur Vezere is nestled in the curve of the Vezere river. The town is a maze of little pathways that all seem to lead to the large looming church, aptly named the Church of Saint Léon. This romanesque beauty is one of the oldest churches in all of Dordogne, dating back to the 12th century.
It will therefore come as no surprise that a visit to the Church of Saint Léon is an absolute must when passing by the village. Stepping inside allows you to admire the round domed ceilings and historical frescos of times gone by. This church is perfectly placed on the riverbank, if you happen to be here in summer do not hesitate to partake in a picnic or walk down the riverside to admire the views of the majestic Chateau de Clarens.
Do not leave without visiting the 15th-century Manoir de la Salle in the center of the village, complete with a large square dungeon right in the middle of the garden.
Map of towns and villages in Dordogne
Have a look at the interactive Google Map to get an idea of where all these beautiful towns in Dordogne are located. Or take a peek at the below map.
To conclude on villages in Dordogne
Take the train from Paris to Bordeaux and rent a car right at the train station. Embark on an epic road trip through some of the most evocative castles and storybook villages in all of France. Stay in a locally run Chambre d’hôtes (B&B) or in one of the many castle hotels the department is known for.
Dordogne is choc-a-bloc with quaint towns to visit, some very well known (Rocamadour) while others have remained off the tourism radar (Villars). One could easily spend a lifetime traversing this corner of France and never get bored!
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING DORDOGNE & SURROUNDINGS
Itinerary: 7-days in Nouvelle Aquitaine
Brantôme: Practical guide to storybook Brantôme
Rocamadour: An in-depth guide to the prettiest village in France
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie: Everything you need to visit this quaint village
Dordogne: Prettiest castles in Dordogne worth a visit
Further out: The hidden gem of Eastern France – Doubs & Jura