Experience the charming medieval villages, prehistoric cave art, and traditional gastronomy of the Dordogne River Valley during a one-week sojourn in Sarlat-la-Canéda, one of France’s most beautiful and well-preserved medieval villages. 

Starting at: $5,295 * Price includes special offer Make a Reservation Ask Us A Question or Call 855-330-1542
 A 19th-century wooden gabare on the Dordogne River  Sarlat-la-Caneda  Early evening in Sarlat-la-Caneda  The Chateau de Beynac  Beynac  The landscape of Beynac, France  The exquisite artistry of prehistoric painters in the cave of Lascaux II  Panoramic view of Rocamadour  The medieval village of Rocamadour, a World Heritage site  France's finest “English” gardens on the grounds of Eyrignac Manor  A street in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil  La Madeleine, a well-preserved prehistoric troglodyte village along the Dordogne River

France’s Dordogne River Valley

8 days from $5,295

Experience the charming medieval villages, prehistoric cave art, and traditional gastronomy of the Dordogne River Valley during a one-week sojourn in Sarlat-la-Canéda, one of France’s most beautiful and well-preserved medieval villages. 

or Call 855-330-1542

Overview

In Dordogne River Valley, tiny medieval villages cling to sheer cliffs, prehistoric paintings are found in caves, and traditional southern French cuisine is found at every meal. Embrace the history and tradition of this remarkable region as you make yourself at home in a 19th-century townhouse hotel in Sarlat-la-Canéda, a lovely town renowned for its medieval, Renaissance, and 17th-century architecture.  

Highlights Include: 

  • Art and History: Step back in time to witness prehistoric cave paintings at Rouffignac and L’Abri du Cap-Blanc; visit the International Center for Cave Art (Lascaux IV); tour the National Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil; and walk through the prehistoric troglodyte village of La Madeleine. Admire magnificent Romanesque sculptures in Souillac’s Abbaye Marie. Gain insight about the architectural preservation of the region from a local expert. 
  • Charming Small Towns: Explore celebrated medieval towns such as Rocamadour, Beynac, Domme, Saint-Amand-de-Coly, where many of the fortresses are still intact. Meander the dazzling 19th-century garden paths of Jardins d’Eyrignac. View charming towns and a countryside virtually unchanged over the centuries as you sail aboard a traditional gabare on the Dordogne River. 
  • Culture and Everyday Life: Experience everyday life in the charming town of Sarlat with its fabled market, watch a traditional folk dance performance, and hear about the allure and challenges of modern village life from a local resident. 
  • Gastronomy:  Savor timeless gastronomic traditions of the Périgord during two special bistro dinners and at the family-owned Hotel Plaza Madeleine, plus enjoy a wine and cheese tasting. 

Limited to 24 Smithsonian Journeys guests. 

Itinerary

Day 1 — Depart the U.S.

Day 2 — Bordeaux, France/Sarlat-la-Canéda

Arrive in Bordeaux and transfer to Sarlat‑la‑Canéda. Check into the Plaza Madeleine Hôtel. (D)

Day 3 — Sarlat-la-Canéda

Author Henry Miller called Sarlat “the Frenchman’s paradise.” Your charming “village home” is in the pre–French Revolution capital of Périgord Noir, a lushly forested corner of the Aquitaine region ideally located between the Dordogne and Vézère Rivers. It is a bon vivant’s dream, renowned for truffles, wild mushrooms, strawberries, walnuts and duck—with close proximity to Bordeaux to procure the finest wines directly from vintners’ cellars.

Sarlat’s vieille ville has one of Europe’s greatest concentrations of medieval, Renaissance and 17th‑century architecture. Stroll through cobblestone streets illuminated by gas lamps and lined with Renaissance‑style stone houses famous for their pepperpot chimneys. The cultural heart of Sarlat is the Place de la Liberté, where every Wednesday and Saturday one of France’s most storied markets is held, a tradition dating from the Middle Ages.

During the course of the program, immerse yourself in the joie de vivre of Sarlat. Sample regional cheese and wine in a specialty épicerie in Sarlat. Also, experience the market at leisure among the backdrop of corbelled towers and rich ocher walls. (B,R)

Day 4 — Rocamadour/Soulliac

Built on the face of a sheer 400-foot cliff, the World Heritage-designated village of Rocamadour has one of the most dramatic settings of any village in the world. During the Middle Ages, pilgrims flocked here from across Europe to perform penance by ascending the 216 steps of Le Grand Escalier on their knees—seeking miracles from the sacred 12th‑century statue of the Black Virgin and Child at the crypt of Saint Amadour. Embedded in the cliff above the doorway to the Chapelle de Notre Dame is a sword said to be that of the heroic knight Roland.

Nearby, visit the quaint town of Souillac and its 12th‑century Abbaye Sainte‑Marie, noted for its magnificent Byzantine roof domes and treasury of Romanesque statuary and biblical carvings. Savor a lunch of regional specialties in a village restaurant. (B,L)

Day 5 — Les Eyzies-De-Tayac-Sireuil/L’Abri du Cap-Blanc

Designated a national monument, the Eyrignac Manor, constructed in local golden stone and with a slate roof, has been the continuous family residence of 22 generations spanning over 500 years. On this 17th-century estate located just outside of Sarlat, view what many consider the finest jardins in all of France. Originally an 18th‑century Italian design, the landscape was converted a century later to an English‑style coniferous garden and has been immaculately manicured since that time to preserve the exquisite topiary patterns.

France’s capital of prehistoric humanity, Les Eyzies, is home to fossils of Early Modern Man. At approximately 35,000 years old, these fossils are some of the earliest known evidence of human life in Europe. Enjoy a guided tour of the National Museum of Prehistory, housed in a 13th‑century castle, which contextualizes the area’s cave paintings, fossils and early tools.

See L’Abri du Cap‑Blanc’s UNESCO World Heritage-designated prehistoric cave friezes that are distinctive for their life-size images of animals emblazoned across entire walls.

In Sarlat this evening, meet dordognais in the Village Life® Forum and hear candid perspectives on contemporary daily life in a medieval village. (B,L)

Day 6 — Lascaux/ Beynac

In 1940, a quartet of schoolboys stumbled onto the Lascaux cave, repository of the most stunning works of prehistoric art and today a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Explore the perfect reproduction in the International Center for Cave Art at Lascaux, where the Paleolithic age is reanimated through interactive exhibits.

The fortified Château de Beynac, perched 500 feet above the Dordogne River, commands a medieval village of golden stone houses tucked into the steep hillside. The fortress’ strategic position made it a defensive stronghold during the Hundred Years’ War. This masterpiece of medieval military engineering was guarded by Europe’s most illustrious figures, including the chivalrous Richard the Lionheart (1157 to 1199) and Fourth Crusader Simon de Montfort (1175 to 1218). Traverse its elaborate series of stone walls, parapet walks, watchtowers and passageways to an eclectic interior decorated with a magnificent 17th‑century staircase and delicate 15th‑century frescoes.

Cruise the tranquil Dordogne River aboard a private 19th-century gabare, traditional Périgord transportation for more than 150 years, followed by a lunch of Périgord specialties in a local restaurant overlooking the river.

Savor a specially arranged three‑course dinner in an authentic French bistro. (B,D)

Day 7 — Rouffignac/La Madeleine

Start your day at medieval Sarlat’s twice-weekly market and attend a private presentation in the hotel by a local expert on preserving Sarlat’s medieval architecture. Visit Rouffignac, “Cave of a Hundred Mammoths,” and marvel at the “giant kettles,” smooth, dome-like rock formations forged by swirling currents.

Carved beneath a cliff overlooking the serene Vézère River, the prehistoric troglodyte village and UNESCO World Heritage site of La Madeleine offers unique insight into the semi‑nomadic Magdalenian culture, which prevailed in southern Europe from 15,000 to 9000 B.C. Important prehistoric carvings discovered at the site include an antler carving of a bison licking an insect bite. Enjoy a private, 19th-century French folk music and dance performance after a three‑course dinner. (B,D)

Day 8 — Sarlat-la-Canéda/Bordeaux/U.S.

Continue on to the Albi and Toulouse Post-Program Option or transfer to Bordeaux for your return flight to the U.S. (B)

Included meals are denoted as follows: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Reception (R), Dinner (D)