The key to any good vacation is choosing a destination that fulfills all your travel desires, and a strong itinerary to lead you to all the must-see attractions, restaurants, and lodging...
Already have your heart set on visiting France, but don't know where to spend your time? Our vote goes to planning a Dordogne River Valley road trip! Whatever you decide, know that with the help of Auto Europe's comprehensive series of France road trip planners at your disposal, picking the location of your dream vacation has never been easier.
Tucked away in the heartland of France is the famed Dordogne River Valley, renowned for the Bordeaux wine country, numerous castles, and epically beautiful landscapes worthy of photographic exposition. Below you will find a detailed, 4-day guide to the Dordogne River Valley, affording you access to all the regions enchantments, guaranteeing a vacation marked by cultural discovery, exploratory excitement, and relaxation.
Read on to Drive to Discover the adventures that await you in France!
Rise and shine! It's the first day of your France road trip, and despite the jetlag from an expectably long flight, there are sites to be seen, attractions to discover, and amazing food to be eaten. Your journey begins in Clermont-Ferrand, one of France's oldest cities, and somewhat of a cultural bastion of the country. Considered by many to be a geographical anomaly, Clermont-Ferrand is surrounded by a ring of extinct volcanoes, affording visitors and citizens alike numerous hiking and backpacking opportunities scaling prehistoric summits. Beyond their endless hiking potential, the local volcanoes have contributed to Clermont-Ferrand's architectural heritage as well. Nestled in the heart of the city is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption, a cathedral started in 1248, but not finished until 1902, and like many other structures in Clermont-Ferrand the cathedral is built almost entirely from volcanic-rock, giving it a distinctly-ominous black appearance.
Clermont-Ferrand is packed with historic architecture, art galleries, and museums including: The Romanesque basilica - Notre Dame du Port, a scenic park overlooking the city - Parc Montjuzet, and a top-tier art museum - Le Musee Roger Quilliot.
France is internationally famous as a proving ground for the world's foremost culinary talent, and the restaurants in Clermont-Ferrand carry the torch of culinary excellence with great pride. For a lavish night out, try out Le Patio Nata, for an evening of exquisitely cooked traditional French fare, and chocolate fondue laden desert menu. As it turns out, pizzerias is pretty popular in Clermont-Ferrand, so if you are feeling like eating something a little closer to home, try out Planet Pizza, or Pizzeria Grill La Mama.
Just like the rest of France, wine culture dominates Clermont-Ferrand, so expect to see a number of wine tasting venues, surrounding vineyards, and sommelier shops abound. Despite the city's relatively small size compared to other French cities, Clermont-Ferrand is an outstanding university town, and thanks to the student population, has a pretty exciting nightlife scene. Walk down nearly any street in the downtown section and you will find plenty of bars, venues, and clubs with a positive party atmosphere. For a lively or relaxing post-dinner evening in the heart of Clermont-Ferrand adjacent to the cathedral, try Le Café Pascal - a nightly destination for local partygoers, serving light fare and affordable drinks.
Finding quality lodging is paramount in crafting a proper vacation itinerary. What better way to reflect on the day's activities than from the balcony-overlook of your luxury hotel, casually sipping room-serviced champagne or cocktails? Clermont-Ferrand's, Oceania Clermont hotel consistently receives top marks, and comes as a highly recommended 4-star accommodation in the heart of the city, featuring a full service bar and lounge, free WiFi, and street access to the cities top-attractions. Clermont-Ferrand's hotel options are nearly limitless, so whatever lodging accommodation you desire can be found with ease.
A famous proverb once stated that all roads lead to Rome, or rather, many different paths can lead to the same goal. In this instance, the goal is to get from Clermont-Ferrand to Tulle, but not all paths are created equal. You could take most time-efficient route, and head straight down the E70 expressway, but you would miss the opportunity to gaze upon the stunning beauty of the Dordogne River Valley's diverse natural landscapes, and stoic chateaus. Instead, deviate from the main thoroughfare and depart Clermont-Ferrand from the D922 as it weaves through the Chastreix Sancy Nature Reserve and Park, providing the lucky few who travel this route access to hidden vistas, and enchanting overlooks. As you reach the midway point, before reconnecting to the E70, be sure to stop off at Le Château de Val - a castle, originally built in 1660, on a mountain side overlooking the Dordogne River.
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Tulle's relatively small size, and notable history as a producer of lace, belies the overwhelming magnitude of historic relevance, abundance of noteworthy attractions, and overall worthiness as a major travel destination. Day 2 of your Dordogne River Valley road trip focuses primarily on Tulle's old-town district, a quaint village district marked by a wealth of medieval architecture, engaging museums, and river-front views to die for. A vast network of cobbled squares and side streets weave throughout the old-town, highlighting numerous architectural styles from decorative balconies and ornately detailed doorways, to late-medieval manors and houses. Two particularly notable sites are the Maison de Loyac, and the Maison Lauthonie - both finely restored medieval houses that serve as immaculate representations of the period's architecture and design. Nearby on the water's edge sits the Tulle Cathedral and Bell-Tower, a 12th-century structure built in both roman and gothic style.
Depending on what time of year you choose to explore the Dordogne River Valley, Tulle hosts a number of art festivals throughout all seasons, from concerts and performances, to lace exhibitions and photography showings. Before departing Tulle, be sure to check your calendar for exciting public festivals that peak your interest.
The culinary scene in Tulle is fairly conservative, sticking mostly to the criteria of traditional French cuisine. Even though you would be hard-pressed to find avant garde, experimental fusion cuisine in Tulle, most restaurateurs devote their skills to helping diners appreciate the treasure that is the France's culinary heritage, so expect quality food wherever you eat. Standouts include: La Taverne du Sommelier - serving traditional French fare, and offering an excellent wine list, and Auberge le Tacot - a "home-style" restaurant specializing in fresh local products, and vegetarian options as well.
If you're looking for an epic party, Tulle's quiet village feel isn't all that conducive to the party-scene, and might not be the best place to search for it. This doesn't mean that Tulle doesn't have a variety of nightlife opportunities though, as the city has a healthy offering of wine-bars, pubs, and lounges.
When staying in Tulle, there are hotel options abound, and in reality, no matter where you stay, you are almost guaranteed to have an excellent experience. The city is magnificent and surrounded by awe-inspiring landscapes, so no matter what hotel window you gaze from, you are sure to be pleased. One notable accommodation is Le Domaine Des Monedieres, which is comprised of six guest chalets, a bar and restaurant - all with incredible views of the adjacent Dordogne River.
Once again, inspired by the road less traveled, the suggested route from Tulle to Bergerac avoids the heavily trafficked E70 expressway, taking you through some of midland France's haunts past numerous chateaus and scenic vista points. Leave Tulle and navigate your way to the D60, as it passes through quaint village-towns, eventually landing in the heart of Bergerac. As you approach the halfway point, be sure to take the 5 minute detour south, following signs for Manor d'Eyrignac - a 17th century manor house surrounded by Italian Renaissance style gardens, and an elaborate topiary garden. Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful manor gardens in all of France, a layover at Manor d'Eyrignac is a must when exploring the Dordogne River Valley.
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Surrounded by countless vineyards renowned for their world-famous varietals and blends, Bergerac is a wine lover's paradise. From within the city, not only can you go on a wine tasting adventure, but you also have the opportunity to check out a number of awe-inspiring historic monuments, and natured vistas. One shared pastime by locals and tourists alike in Bergerac, is kayaking down the Dordogne River and setting up a picnic camp on the water's edge. Multiple jump-off points are available for those interested in floating the river, available in varying distances, from 1km to 15km.
In keeping with the Dordogne River Valley's chateau laden landscape, Bergerac is home to a few must-visit chateaus and castles. The most prominent of these historic mansions is Chateau de Monbazillac, a renaissance-era estate overlooking Bergerac, decorated inside and out in era-specific accoutrements, and offering a quaint, yet comprehensive, venue for regional wine-tasting.
The Dordogne River Valley, and more specifically, Bergerac, is known for its magnificent cuisine, abundance of fine wines, and a regional propensity for pâtés. Some local specialties include, tourain blanchi - a garlic soup with egg whites, and pommes sarladaises - potatoes roasted in duck fat served over garlic and parsley. If you come to Bergerac on limited time, and can only choose a single restaurant to dine at, Cabanoix et Châtaigne comes highly recommended as one of the city's most revered restaurants, specializing in various foie gras preparations, regional wines, and a traditional French richness.
The nightlife scene in Bergerac is widely varied from modern and frenetic clubs, to the cozy atmospheres of small bar venues, though not an outstanding or notable party destination, exciting nightlife options can be easily found no matter what your interests are. For those travelers looking for live music or DJ sets, be sure to check out Rocksane - Bergerac's premier music venue, whose program features everything from rock and reggae, to jazz, metal, and even electronic dance.
Finding a quality hotel in Bergerac is exceedingly easy, as many accommodations rest on palatial grounds overlooking the Dordogne River, or within the cities storied grounds, providing many excellent settings for travelers of all interests and backgrounds to relax in, and soak up French culture to the fullest. Notable hotels include: Chateau les Merles - a contemporary hotel overlooking numerous Dordogne River Valley vineyards, offering in-house dining, a swimming pool with gym facilities, and a daily breakfast buffet. La Flambee - a rustic chateau converted hotel with a strikingly French atmosphere, offering traditional cuisine, modern amenities, and a prime location on the outskirts of Bergerac.
Exiting Bergerac towards Bordeaux is served by two main routes, and though the E70 expressway is far and away the most time-efficient method for getting there, it misses quite a few scenic opportunities along the way. In favor of exploring the Dordogne River Valley to the fullest, we recommend you take the D936 out of Bergerac, connecting down the road with the N89 highway - taking you through a number of quaint French villages, the beautiful city of Libourne, and concluding as you arrive in Bordeaux for the final day of your Dordogne road trip itinerary. Along the way, take a stop at Lac Bleu, a gorgeous lake with azure-blue water, picnicking area, and numerous photo ops.
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Rise and shine! It's the final day of you vacation in France, and despite the road trip nearing its end, Bordeaux is a beautiful city, and a wonderful location to close out your journey. Despite being all but devoid of a skyscraper-laden skyline because of weak ground soil, Bordeaux is known locally as "Little Paris," and is full of tourist opportunities, wine tastings, and not-notch eateries. The architectural diversity displayed in Bordeaux is boundless, and history buffs should make a point to visit a few sites before departing the city. Stan-out monuments include: Saint Andre Cathedral - built in 1096 in Romanesque style, and consecrated by Pope Urban II, Saint Michel Basilica - a 14th century church built in gothic style, and Saint Seurin Basilica, all of which are not only excellent examples of Bordeaux's rich history, but also all nationally recognized World Heritage Sites - must visit destinations on any serious traveler's bucket list.
Beyond the more obvious attractions, Bordeaux is also home to one of France's most competitive and heralded soccer teams, F.C. Girondins. Catching a game is fairly affordable, ranging from €9 EUR to €80 EUR depending on seat quality, though if you plan to attend a major fixture, say, against the rival team Marseille F.C, tickets should be purchased in advance.
Now that you're in Bordeaux, let the real wine-tasting experience begin. Plenty of French towns and cities have excellent surrounding vineyards, but the sheer scale and diversity of Bordeaux's many wineries is something to be admired by aspiring somelliers and everyone in-between. Touring the vineyards and sampling the local wines is one of the most attractive outings when vacationing in Bordeaux. It is the second largest wine-growing region in the world producing over 800 million bottles annually. It produces some of the most prestigious wines in the world, including vintages from chateau's: Haut Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Cheval Blanc, and many more. A variety of local operators run tours of the cities many vineyards and wineries, though some only open for specific requests, so booking in advance is always recommended, especially in Bordeaux, where travelers come from around the world to sample the wine.
Gastronomy plays a very important role in Bordeaux, and when you think about it, it makes sense, with great wine selection comes great food selection. Fortunately for the foodies traveling with this itinerary, Bordeaux has an unofficial "restaurant street," where visitors can walk or drive through a maze of restaurants in nearly every culinary style. Of course, traditional French cuisine hailing from nearly every region, can be found in Bordeaux with relative ease, but somewhat surprisingly, Bordeaux is home to numerous ethinic cuisine restaurants serving everything from Turkish fare to Morrocan delicacies.
Bordeaux is a lively city no matter what time or day it is - part of what makes it such a great place to conclude an explorative journey through France! If you're looking for a club or bar to hang out at during the night, head down to the La Victoire area of town, as it's populated by numerous nightlife venues of all styles, as well as within walking distance of some of Bordeaux's most prominent architecture monuments.
Being that it's the last night of this Dordogne River Valley Road Trip itinerary, we recommomend that you go out with a bang, and splurge for a night at one of Bordeaux's fanciest accomodations. First up, Grand Hotel De Bordeaux, easily one of the cities premier hotels, featuring a full service bar and restaurant, on-site spa, and beautiful downtown setting overlooking the city from above. If you desire something a little more modern, check out Seeko'o, the pinnacle of contemporary elegance, featuring a cocktail bar and restaurant overlooking the intersection of the Garrone and Dordogne Rivers below. Of course, if splurging on 5-star accomodations isn't really your thing, fear not, Bordeaux is chalked full of wonderful hotels, hostels, and other budget-friendly lodging opportunities.
Not ready to leave France just yet? We understand concluding any vacation can be difficult, that's why we say, "why not keep it going?" Bordeaux is conveniently located on the mid-Atlantic coast of France, and is fairly close to a number of incredible domestic and international destinations. So whether you choose to head home after 4 days, or stay out a bit longer and continue your France road trip, Auto Europe is here to help. No matter what city or country you find yourself in, know that we can help you finalize all the details in order to make your trip completely hassle-free.
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