The Dordogne region of France is famed for its prehistoric cave drawings of lions, bears, and rhinos. Magnificent chateaux and fortified villages have also been here for centuries. This area is equally known for its legendary cuisine, and we will sample wild mushrooms, rich foie gras, and sumptuous truffles.
The region of southwestern France known as the Dordogne offers a remarkable variety of sights and experiences. Hidden in the Dordogne are the world's best examples prehistoric cave art, as well as troglodyte dwellings, castle-lined river banks, fortified English Bastides, beautiful medieval towns, and superb French cuisine. We've created a tour to highlight many of the Dordogne's most interesting and beautiful sights, all the while pedaling down some of the best country roads in Europe.
While this is primarily a gay cycling vacation, there are many other activities to enjoy. You can swim or canoe in the rivers Dordogne and Vezere, explore the underground grottos, chasms and caves, stroll narrow gas-lit streets of the Middle Ages, and enjoy the cuisine for which Perigord is renown. Around every corner you'll find a new delight to experience.
• Follow in the footsteps of 12th-century pilgrims as you climb the 233 steps of the Via Sancta
• Visit the postcard village of Domme, "the Acropolis of the Dordogne"
• Stroll the gas-lit streets of Sarlat-la-Caneda with its beautifully restored gothic and renaissance homes.
• Explore some of the 200 prehistoric archeological sites and caves in the region of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac and Lascaux.
• Cycle through an ever-changing scenery of cliff-lined rivers, woodlands, vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and striking medieval villages.
• Learn about the production of foie gras, one of the most beloved delicacies of France
Day 1 -
We begin our grand gay adventure in Bergerac. Straddling the banks of the Dordogne, Bergerac grew rapidly in the 12th century as a great port and river crossing. Until the French Revolution, Bergerac was the capital of this region, which was then known as Perigord. Today, surrounded by world-renown vineyards and France's largest tobacco crop, Bergerac is largely an agricultural town. With its charming restored old quarter it offers a lovely place to start our bike tour.
Our trip officially begins at 6:00 pm with a chance to meet your fellow cyclists while enjoying some local wine during our orientation. If you're in town by 4:00 pm, join us for a walking tour of Bergerac. We'll start at the Ancient Port where, long ago, ships dropped their goods and reloaded with barrels of wine bound for Holland and England. We'll also visit Place de Docteur-Cayla and Place de la Myrpe. Here stands the statue of Cyrano de Bergerac looking very debonair in his cape. Actually, Cyrano isn't from Bergerac at all but the townsfolk have adopted him as their own! Additionally we'll visit the heart of the old quarter with its brilliantly renovated 15th and 16th century homes.
After, we'll enjoy a fantastic multi-course dinner in the cutest restaurant in town.
Day 2 -
Bergerac to Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, 36 miles
This morning, after a fine French breakfast, we hit the road! We start today on the quiet country lanes of the Foret de Montclard. After some pastoral cycling you'll be warmed up as we start our ascent up to our first view of the beautiful Dordogne River.
We'll stop at the scenic white cliffs of the Cingle de Tremolat, overlooking a mosaic of fields and meadows across the river. A bit down the road is the town of Tremolat with a famous 12th-century fortified church and charming village. You may recognize this town from the French film The Butcher.
Back to our bikes and the tranquility of the country lanes of rural France. We continue wending our way along the riverbank and on to the tiered village of Limeuil, where the Dordogne and Vezere rivers join. You can still see remains of the ancient fortress that once protected this strategic site. While today's picnic is spread out, take some time to see the old village.
We continue up the Vezere, with beautiful scenery and quiet roads. You can follow your guides on to the village of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, today's final destination, or take your map in hand and continue on your own.
Les Eyzies is not only an impressive village set at the base of steep tree-topped cliffs, but also the capital of prehistory. To give you sufficient time to explore the region's prehistoric wonders as well as the river itself, we're staying here two nights.
Day 3 -
Today you'll have many options in and around Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. Canoe the Vezere, visit one or more of the region's many prehistoric discoveries, and of course, go for a bike ride.
After breakfast, with so much to see and do, there's a tough choice to be made. We've mapped out a route today that takes in a great complement of the "must sees". In addition, we've provided other options of varied lengths, that take in the river with its many natural wonders as well as opportunities to stop and visit the caves and other marvels from the dawn of civilization.
At Lascaux Caves, see the worlds most famous collection of cave paintings, tour Grand Roc's wonderful display of crystals, or visit the 13th-century fortress which houses France's National Museum of Prehistory, just to name a few.
Tonight you can select from several fine restaurants here. If you'd like, we can reserve a table for you, and perhaps a new friend or two, at the Michelin-starred restaurant Centenaire. Thought by some to be the best restaurant in Perigord, one reviewer writes ". . . the meals resemble a display of fireworks where each course is at once a taste both intense and subtle…"
Day 4 -
Les Eyzies to Sarlat-la-Caneda, 25 to 38 miles
After breakfast we leave Les Eyzies, spending much of the day tracing the Dordogne River. The Dordogne's natural beauty and imposing castles lie around every turn. Not far out of Les Eyzies we bike through St Cyprien, a picture-book town clinging to the north bank of the Dordogne. A bit further on we pass Les Milandes, home of the late Josephine Baker and her "world village" of adopted children of all races.
Turning with every bend of the river we'll soon come to the regal Castelnaud Castle. During the Hundred Years War this castle repeatedly changed from French to English hands, and was left in ruins. Much of the castle was later rebuilt and is now open to the public.
Next: More castles! Across the river, we make a short detour for the must-see Beynac, a 13th-century castle proudly standing watch over the Dordogne. At the foot of the castle stands the 15th century village of the same name. The architecture tells of the great prosperity Beynac enjoyed during the Renaissance.
Not far down the road now is Sarlat-la-Caneda, called by some the "most seductive" village in France. Thanks to a talented lighting designer the town is illuminated by gas lights and spotlights, creating an intimate effect while enhancing the medieval atmosphere. After yet another fabulous Perigord dinner, be sure to take a stroll through the medieval streets to enjoy this special ambiance.
Day 5 -
Sarlat-la-Caneda, 41 miles
Built around a 9th-century Benedictine abbey, Sarlat has preserved its collection of 15th-century golden sandstone buildings and has more heritage-listed buildings per square kilometer than any other city in Europe. We've got two nights in Sarlat, and for today we've mapped out several biking loops of varying distances. We'll start out through the woods, with opportunities to view numerous chateaux including the Medieval fortress Chateau Salignac-Eyvigues, built in the 12th century and decorated with Renaissance and Louis XIII furnishings. Soon comes the immaculately restored bastide town of Domme. We'll enter through the Porte des Tours, one of the best-preserved gates in the 13th-century city wall. The writer Henry Miller described this area as "the nearest thing to Paradise on earth".
Those who want a break from the bike saddle today can try a scenic flight over the region, highlighting its numerous castles. Or visit the Jardins d'Eyrignac, an 18th-century garden lovingly restored to its original form including cypress groves, urns, pools and pavilions decorating the grounds of a 17th-century mansion.
Tonight another sumptuous multi-course meal featuring local specialties and wine.
Day 6 -
Sarlat-la-Caneda to Rocamadour, 40 miles
On we go from beautiful Sarlat to the medieval village of Rocamadour, spilling down the side of a cliff. Again we'll bike along the meandering Dordogne river. From the cliffs of the Cingle de Montfort, we'll get a lovely view of the Turnac peninsula and its walnut plantations.
Stop for a visit at the French gardens of Chateau de la Treyne. Built in the 14th century, it was burned to the ground in the Wars of Religion by the Catholics. Rebuilt in the 17th century, today it is a hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant. Stop in for a pastry or perhaps lunch.
If you still haven't seen enough of the underground world, we'll next pass Grotte de Lacave. If you wish, take a tour of this mile-long subterranean world and enjoy the stalactites, underground rivers and placid underground lakes.
We leave the river here to start our ascent to the center of medieval Christianity, Rocamadour. The village sits 1600 feet above the gorge of the Alzou river and is topped by the religious city which is in turn crowned by the remains of the castle walls. It's truly an impressive sight.
Day 7 -
In A.D. 1166 a grave was dug on the threshold of the Chapel of the Virgin for a villager who desired to be buried there. A body was found to be already there and was removed and placed by the altar. From that day forward miracles occurred. Some believe it was the body of a disciple of Christ who was forced to flee Palestine after the crucifixion, others believe it was the body of an Egyptian hermit. Regardless, the pilgrimage to Rocamadour became one of the most famous in Christendom.
Spend the morning exploring the sights of Rocamadour, including the miraculous Virgin known as the Black Madonna on the alter of the Chapelle Notre-Dame, and the Musee d'Art Sacre displaying an important collection of sacred art and giving a detailed account of the history of Rocamadour. Be sure to take in the unforgettable views of the valley from atop the Ramparts.
If we can tempt you back on your bike, we have several routes prepared. Highly recommended is a bike ride and visit to the Gauffre de Padirac. The Gauffre is a chasm that until the 19th century was linked with the devil. Geologists have uncovered thirteen miles of river and caverns, as well as animal bones 200,000 years old. Descend, by elevator, the 338 feet below ground to the river. Jump aboard a flat bottom boat for a half-mile long underground cruise to view the Grand Dome, the largest and most beautiful cavern, with a ceiling height of 295 feet.
Be sure to work up a hearty appetite. Another Perigordian meal with the renowned local goat cheese awaits us again tonight.
Day 8 -
The hardest thing about our trips is saying goodbye to a wonderful group of new gay friends, and to this beautiful region of France.
If you've got extra vacation time to spend in Europe, we suggest you save it for after the trip, rather than before. Chances are there will be others from this adventure who would like some company for a weekend in Paris.