Trek Notes - France

Historic Dordogne 8 days

Cycling in the southwest of France

The Dordogne, as the French say, is a land with 'un peu de tout', a little of everything; a gently meandering river, lush pastures, wine, walnuts, geese, the warm southern sun and of course a web of country roads linking the historic hamlets and towns, all just ideal for a stimulating cycling holiday. Don't be surprised to hear English voices, either on vacation or in residence, as the English have long been associated with this fertile green valley where they fought and died in the Hundred Year's War. They held the South bank of the river Dordogne and built many of the castles and fortified villages that are dotted along the route.
This cycling holiday starts and finishes in Souillac in the valley of the Dordogne River. We cycle on tiny lanes and byroads, initially following the river, which winds through a landscape of steep green wooded hills, patchwork fields and terraced slopes. This area of France is rich in scenery, architecture, history - and of course has a famous gastronomic reputation, as this is the home of the truffle! Cycling starts in the area around Souillac, known as Perigord Noir because of the way the oak and chestnut foliage turns dark as the sun sets. Pedaling through wooded lanes leads up to the truly magnificent Rocamadour, built almost vertically into its rocky backdrop. Pilgrims have flocked here for many centuries, drawn by the carving of the Black Madonna and the legend of Zacchaeus. Today tourists might outnumber the pilgrims but it is still worth the visit to admire the architecture, walk the trail past the 'stations of the cross' to the top of the hill and admire the sweeping views across the river valley and beyond. There are plenty of good restaurants here to sample the local specialities.

Back down into the Dordogne valley, our route passes the fortified town of Domme, which dominates the skyline for miles around, and on past the prehistoric troglodyte cave dwellings carved into the rock face. We stay for two nights in Sarlat the capital of Black Périgord; it is an exceptionally well-preserved city. The oldest buildings date back to the 10th century, with a comparatively modern old town being only 600 years old! The mellow honey-coloured stone building are a delight to the eye as you explore the pedestrianised streets, look up to the many tiers of windows and the steep roof of the Maison de la Boetie, wander the shady labyrinth of lanes and courtyards and join the café society for a little refreshment.

The second half of the circuit is a little more rural with an overnight stop in Les Eyzies, the Mecca of prehistoric man where a visit to the world famous Font de Gaume is a must. These caves are a showpiece of engravings and paintings from around 14.000 BC. The artefacts found during excavations testify to a continual occupation since the age of the Neandertals. The beautiful town of Montignac astride the Vezere River is our last stop before completing the circuit back to Souillac.


April to mid-October.

Level of Difficulty

Grade Moderate. A reasonable standard of fitness is required. Daily stages 25-52km. Average 39km/24 miles. Total distance 230km approx. Hilly terrain with ascents and descents up to 300m/1000 feet.

The Bikes

Road bicycles with flat handlebars are provided, equipped with a handle bar bag, water bottle, tool kit, rear carrier with elastic (bungee), pump and lock. Helmets are available on request, but for fitting and hygiene reasons we recommend that you bring your own. You should also bring your own water bottle for the same reasons.
Cycle hire fee 90 Euros per week payable at the start of the tour.


Itinerary Guide

Note: suggested stopping places for lunch are not necessarily open daily or throughout the year. You are advised to enquire at the previous evening's hotel before planning a 'sit-down' lunch stop.

Day 1. Arrive in Souillac. 

Day 2. Souillac to Rocamadour: 20 miles
A gentle start to the week by heading due south towards the villages of Lacave and Cales and then dropping down into the spectacular valley that runs towards the citadel of Rocamadour. You enter the town and wonder at the magnificent architecture.

Day 3. Rocamadour to Sarlat: 31 miles
It is gently downhill for the first 6 miles of today, followed by a brief climb, and then another long trip down to the Dordogne floodplain. You cycle along the broad tree-lined Dordogne, passing the elegant Chateau de Fénelon, which can be visited. A former railway track ensures a gentle gradient as you enter the Renaissance streets of Sarlat.

Day 4. Sarlat Circular tour 20 miles (optional)
Sarlat combines fine Renaissance architecture and delightful specialist shops in what is nevertheless a bustling little county town. Spend the morning here before cycling across the Dordogne via the fairytale chateau de Montfort, to the fortified mediaeval town or "bastide" of Domme, perched above the river. Return via the ancient village of La Roque Gageac, built into the riverbank.

Day 5. Sarlat to Les Eyzies 30 miles
Leaving Sarlat, cycle through woods and fields to visit the Chateau de Beynac, which towers above the Dordogne on the North bank, glowering at the Chateau de Castelnaud, which has an interesting Museum of Mediaeval Warfare. Crossing the river here you continue past Les Milandes, a chateau made famous by the dancer Josephine Baker. At St. Cyprien you turn North to reach the River Vézère and the village of Les Eyzies, nestling beneath white cliffs pock-marked with the dark openings of caves.

Day 6: Les Eyzies to Montignac 20 miles (+ optional canoe trip)
Continue along the Vézère, to canoe beneath the dramatic troglodytic cliff-face of La Roque St. Christophe, inhabited from pre-historic times until the 17th Century. At the pretty village of St. Léon, a Romanesque church is built on the foundations of a Roman villa. Continue to the ancient town of Montignac, which has existed astride the Vézère since pre-Roman times.

Day 7.  Montignac to Souillac 27 miles
Cycle out to visit the famous caves of Lascaux, which has been called "the Sistine chapel of Pre-historic Art". Continue past the carved stone houses of St. Geniès, and the Chateau de Salignac. The Italianate gardens of the Manoir d'Eyrignac can be visited en route for Souillac.

Tour Ends

The tour ends at Souillac on the morning of day 8 . Return by train to Brive and non-TGV train onwards to Paris Austerlitz (about 4 hours) or to Toulouse (2 to 2.5 hours). 

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