A picturesque tangle of honey-coloured buildings, alleyways and secret squares make up the beautiful town of Sarlat-la-Canéda. Boasting some of the region’s best-preserved medieval architecture, it’s a popular base for exploring the Vézère Valley, and a favourite location for film directors.
The Dordogne Valley
Lush meadows and green woods roll out along the meandering banks of the Dordogne, one of France’s most iconic and idyllic rivers. In centuries gone by, the valley marked an important frontier during the Hundred Years War, and the hilltops are studded with defensive châteaux, as well as heavily fortified towns.
Rich vineyards and rolling fields surround pretty cream-stone Bergerac, a good gateway to the Dordogne and one of the most prestigious winegrowing areas of the Aquitaine. The sweet town’s main claim to fame is dramatist and satirist Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619–55), whose romantic exploits – and oversized nose – have inspired everyone from Molière to Steve Martin.
Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil & Around
At the heart of the Vézère Valley, Les Eyzies (as it’s known locally) makes an uninspiring introduction to the wonders of the Vézère, with postcard sellers and souvenir shops lining the small main street. Still, the town has an excellent museum of prehistory, and many major sites are within a short drive, if you must stay there.
Montignac & Around
The charming auburn-stone riverside town of Montignac has become famous for the nearby Grottes de Lascaux, hidden in wooded hills just outside town. Montignac itself, with its crumbling medieval fortress and arching bridges, drapes beautifully along both banks of the Vézère, and is a more peaceful base than Les Eyzies for exploring the valley.
One of the best-preserved bastides is beautiful Monpazier. Founded in 1284 by a representative of Edward I (King of England and Duke of Aquitaine), it had a turbulent time during the Wars of Religion and the Peasant Revolts of the 16th century, but despite numerous assaults and campaigns, the town has survived wonderfully intact, with original walls, gates and a church.