“I hope I don’t hurt your feelings mom, but I like the Dordogne better than Paris. We can run around and there’s way more nature.”. Spoken like a true 8 year old. I can’t say I blamed him. After a week on my own with my two kids in lovely Paris, even I needed a place where I could run, jump and yell. I was also looking forward to some adult company as we were meeting up with my parents and pre-teen nieces (or shall I say – my babysitters).
The Dordogne river valley in southwest France (sometimes referred to as the Perigord) is a pastoral paradise with picturesque villages and fairytale castles built into limestone cliffs. The area is also famous for its incredible prehistoric cave paintings.
The farm to table culinary delights available at the local markets are not to be missed. Upon your return, you will find it hard to shake the memories of picnics under walnut trees with fresh pain de campagne, fois gras, local cheese, sausage, and wild strawberries, all washed down with a sumptuous glass of Bordeaux. What could be better?
Child’s Play in the Dordogne River
Anytime I asked a local villager where to find a good place to swim in the river, they would simply point directly at it. Apparently there was no bad place, or at least not in August when the river flowed very slowly. My kids spent hours in ankle deep water, looking up only occasionally as a canoe or family of ducks floated by.
Canoeing the Dordogne River
There are many companies that offer canoe trips on the Dordogne but we chose Canoe Copeyre because it was well reviewed and allowed for the shortest trip over one of the most scenic sections of the river. The trip could be done in as little as 2 1/2 hours, but you really need about 4 hours including transport and time for a rest (or a bite to eat as there are several lovely villages along the route).
The company provided child size life jackets and the paddling was quite easy, despite the fact that my two kids didn’t help out much. It’s really more of a float down the river than a rigorous paddle (at least in August).
Dordogne Castles with Kids
Pick a castle, any castle ! Around every bend in the road or the river, there is another castle or chateau towering over you. There are a few standouts for families however. Our favorite was Chateau de Castlenaud. Chateau de Castelnaud has everything your child is dying to see including knights in armor, catapult demonstrations, gelato stands, a cute little store well stocked with books and costumes, and gorgeous views of the Dordogne river valley.
Also worth visiting is Chateau de Beynac. As two castles in one day might be too much for little ones Chateau de Beynac could be combined on another day with a visit to the famed Jardins de Marquessac.
Les Jardins de Marqueyssac with Kids
The cliffside gardens of Marqueyssac are a wonderful place to let your kids have a little run around. These beautiful gardens have several games areas for children and a wonderful boxwood maze. In the summertime they also host an evening where you can tour the gardens lit by candlelight to the soothing sounds of classical music. Please check their calendar for more entertainment options at Marqueyssac. How I would love to be there for their spring Easter egg hunt !
Dordogne Cave Tours
There are many options for the viewing of prehistoric cave paintings and drawings in this region. We chose to visit Les Grottes de Rouffignac since they seemed to be the most kid-friendly. Les Grottes de Rouffignac offers short tours via a 20 minute electric train ride, which is sure to keep most children entertained.
A more thorough 45 minute tour can be found at Les Grottes de Font-de-Gaume. The difficulty with Font-de-Gaume, however, is that they only allow around 100 people to tour the caves daily. You can either try to reserve ahead (months in advance in summer to guarantee a place) at firstname.lastname@example.org , or arrive early the day of to wait in line for the few remaining tickets.
Also very popular are the colorful cave drawing reproductions of Lascaux II. These drawings and paintings are a recreation of the original Grotte de Lascaux (situated 200 meters away), that was closed to the public in 1963 due to the carbon dioxide deterioration caused by too many visitors.
Reserve Zoologique de Calviac
Reserve Zoologique de Calviac is a wonderful facility that strikes just the right balance between animal preservation and education/interaction for visitors. Our visit coincided with feeding time where a kindly zoo keeper let us tag along to watch the excitement. The visit was a huge hit with children and adults alike in our party of 10.
Dordogne Family Friendly Vacation Rentals
There are many vacation rental options for families in the dordogne such as the almost 2000 listing provided by homeaway.com. A note of caution. Attractions in the Dordogne are fairly spread out, so to best see the region you should rent a car.
Dordogne Family Hotels
There are several well reviewed family hotels in the Dordogne as well including:
4 star family friendly hotels in the dordogne
3 star family friendly hotels in the dordogne