Sarlat is a great base for exploring the surrounding area and here are a few suggestions for some easy day trips from Sarlat. You could easily cover several of the places below in the same day. Check the map in order to get an idea of where these sites are located and how far apart they are from each other.
Hanging Gardens of Marqueyssac [15 mins]
Perched high above the Dordogne Valley, you’ll find the beautiful gardens, Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac. Listed as a National Historic Monument, these gardens are a must on your Dordogne itinerary. There are over 150,000 hand-pruned boxwoods, 6kms of paths, rock gardens and breathtaking viewpoints. There is a via ferrata as well as a number of playgrounds, a treetop circuit and the skeleton of a 150 million- year-old allosaurus! Every Thursday evening during the summer, crowds flock to the romantic candlelit evenings – les soirées chandelles – when an incredible 2000 candles are lit and placed throughout the gardens. A truly magical experience.
La Roque Gageac [20 mins]
Listed as one of the ‘plus beaux villages de France’, La Roque Gageac is a stunning village that’s nestled between the limestone cliff face and the Dordogne river. Wander through the streets and explore the dwellings that are carved into the rock face or head for the water for a trip on a gabarre. It offers a completely different viewpoint of the village and makes for some great snaps. There is even a small tropical garden due to the unusual sheltered position of La Roque-Gageac.
Domme [20 mins]
Located on a clifftop above the Dordogne valley, the town of Domme combines stunning landscapes, history and architecture. The origins of this medieval town date back to 1281 when Phillippe III decided to turn it into a defensive bastide. Wander through the picture postcard streets, admire the breathtaking views, visit the underground cave or learn about the fascinating knights Templar prison. You can easily spend a half day to a full day exploring this beautiful town either on foot or on the fun little tourist train. Join in with the locals by visiting the weekly market on a Thursday.
Chateau de Castelnaud [20 mins]
One of the must-visit chateaux in the Dordogne, be sure to add the Chateau de Castelnaud to your Dordogne itinerary. It’s a stone’s throw from the Hanging Gardens of Marqueyssac and would make a great combined day’s outing. This impressive fortress stands proud above the Dordogne Valley and river. There is plenty of medieval weaponry – think trébuchets, swords, crossbows, chainmail and more.
Chateau de Beynac [20 mins]
Across the valley from the Chateau de Castelnaud, you’ll find its former arch-rival, the Chateau de Beynac. This 12th century fortress domineers the town of Beynac from its imposing position high above the town and river. It has undergone extensive renovation works and is an incredibly well-preserved medieval castle. Highlights include the kitchens, the dungeon and the views… Prepare for lots of ‘ooooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ as you admire the stunning panoramic vistas from the castle. You can park in the carpark close to the castle or alternatively in the village, however, be prepared for a very steep 15 minute walk up to the chateau. We also recommend exploring the charming village of Beynac and if you have time, jump aboard a gabarre (flat-bottomed boat) for a trip down the Dordogne river.
Château les Milandes [20 mins]
And now to complete the trio of must-visit castles, we head to Josephine Baker’s former home. This is more of a fairytale castle than a defensive fortress. It was built for Lord Francois de Caumont’s wife who found her home (Château de Castelnaud) too austere. In 1947, Josephine Baker fell in love with the castle and purchased it with her husband Jo Bouillon. She lived there for many happy years with her 12 strong rainbow tribe of adopted children until she tragically lost it to bankruptcy. Her legacy lives on and visitors can discover many of her stage outfits – including the iconic banana skirt – as well as the role she played within the French resistance during the 2nd World War. The gardens have been beautifully restored to their original design and visitors can enjoy a daily bird of prey show.
Gardens of Eyrignac [20 mins]
If you’re a fan of gardens, Les Jardins d’Eyrignac are well worth a visit. They’re located about 13kms from Sarlat on a hilltop plateau. Home to 300 topiary sculptures, the gardens are set around the old manor house. This is very much a family affair as the house and gardens have been in the same family for 22 generations! Visit in the summer months to experience les pique-niques blancs which take place every Monday night. Everyone comes dressed in white and enjoys this whimsical affair.
Les Eyzies [20 mins]
Located on the banks of the Vézère, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac (shortened to Les Eyzies) is a gem of a town. It’s known as the birth cradle of prehistory with scientists believing that our ancestors, les cromagnons, used to walk these lands. The town is carved into the limestone rock face and borders the Dordogne’s other river – the Vézère. It’s home to the National Prehistory Museum, the Pole d’Interpretation de la Préhistoire (le PIP), l’abri Pataud (a prehistoric shelter dating back almost 40,000 years) – notice a theme here? – artisan shops, restaurants and cafés. It’s also here that you can visit some extraordinary 20,000 year old cave paintings… read below to find out more!
Font de Gaume [20 mins]
I find this place completely mind-blowing… cave paintings that date back some 20,000 years… There are no replica paintings here, this is the real deal. Some of the only polychrome paintings in the world AND open to the public, it’s a true privilege to visit this site. Be warned though, there are only 26 tickets per day that can be booked ahead and the remaining 52 admissions have to bought on the day.
You have to be prepared for an early start and some hard core queuing. In order to remain fair to the public, anyone wishing to visit the caves has to turn up before opening hours and take a seat on a numbered bench and wait… wait til the doors open to purchase their ticket. No bum on seat, no ticket – it’s a first come, first served situation as numbers are very limited. So get your flask of tea and your blanket at the ready. Queues aren’t as bad during shoulder season and you might be lucky and be able to turn up on the day. Once inside you can’t fail to be impressed by the quality and sheer volume of paintings of animals, as you move through the various galleries.
Lascaux IV [30 mins]
This is the big boy of cave paintings… the world-famous Lascaux IV in Montignac. Back in the 1940s, a group of school boys made an incredible discovery. When their dog fell down a hole in the woods, the boys followed suit in order to rescue him and what they found was mind- blowing – a cavernous underground gallery full of cave paintings. By pure coincidence, they had discovered the entrance to the now world-famous Lascaux caves, home to priceless prehistoric cave art. The caves were initially open to the public but due to the deterioration of the paintings from the human footfall, the caves were definitively closed in 1963. Since then, Lascaux II opened followed by the travelling exhibition Lascaux III and since 2016, we have the brand new ultra-modern Lascaux IV visitor centre. Visitors get to experience a full replica of the original caves along with interactive displays including the use of multimedia technology.
You can join this organised tour which will pick you up from Sarlat and take you around all the prehistoric sites over the course of a day. The tour covers a trip to Lascaux IV (including a skip-the-line ticket), the caves of Rouffignac and a visit to the National museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies. Check here for prices and availability.
Gouffre de Padirac [1hr]
This is truly one of the earth’s wonders and well worth the one hour drive from Sarlat. These underground caves were discovered around 130 years ago by Edouard-Alfred Martel. During your visit, you will descend deep into the Gouffre de Padirac where you’ll board a small boat and embark on a magical journey along the underground river. The tour lasts about 1hr30 and you’ll discover a series of lakes and gigantic stalactites – be sure to wrap up warm as it does get chilly in the cave. It’s a very popular place to visit and we strongly recommend that you buy your tickets ahead online; Check the website for opening times as they close during the winter months (approximately mid-November til end of March).
If you’re planning on visiting the Gouffre de Padirac, then we suggest combining your trip with a visit to the beautiful hilltop village of Rocamadour, one of the Grand Sites de France. Located in the neighbouring department of the Lot, this village enjoys a privileged location hugging the cliffside above the Alzou river. It’s also an important pilgrimage destination as it said to be home to the relics of Saint- Amadour (a hermit who spent many years living in solitude in Rocamadour). Take a stroll through the narrow streets and lanes and explore the religious buildings and climb the Grand Escalier – pilgrims used to climb the 216 steps on their knees. If you have children, you can also head to the nearby Forêt des Singes.
Canoeing near Sarlat
Depending on the time of year, an outing on a canoe is a must on your Dordogne itinerary. There is no shortage of canoe hiring companies dotted along the Dordogne river. Head south of Sarlat towards the river and choose between La Roque-Gageac Cénac, Carsac or Vézac. A number of canoeing companies have been highlighted on the map at the top of this post. A day on the river makes for such a great outing and a novel way to see the sights. You can easily spend half a day or ideally a full day meandering down the river – take plenty of breaks, go for a swim, a paddle and a picnic. Bliss!
There are of course many more places that you can add to your list, however, this should get you off to a good start. If you’re looking for more ideas, then check out our ultimate guide to visiting the Dordogne.