Mike Innell is lucky enough to make a living out of cycling in the northern half of the Dordogne. Here, he shares his local knowledge.
The northern half of the Dordogne is perhaps less well-known than the busy south, which is home to popular tourist attractions such Sarlat, Beynac, La Roque-Gageac and, of course, the river Dordogne itself. However, all these attractions are within easy reach of the North, which has arguably more secrets for the cyclist to discover.
The Dordogne region is in the department of Aquitaine, and can be loosely broken up into four smaller regions: Perigord Vert is in the far north and takes its name from its year-round greenery. Perigord Noir runs down the eastern side of the Dordogne region, and is named after its dense woodland areas. Perigord Blanc, with its chalky fields and honey stone houses, sits in the middle of the region, bordered by Perigord Noir to the north, Perigord Noir to the east and Perigord Pourpre (purple) to the south. Perigord is the area’s old provincial name, and is sometimes still substituted for the Dordogne.
For the purposes of this article, we’re talking about Perigord Vert, and the northern halves of Perigord Blanc and Perigord Noir.
The area has something for everyone when it comes to cycling: gentle spins ‘en famille’, clocking up the miles by road, and hundreds of kilometres of off-road mountain bike (VTT) trails.
There are three great voie vertes (old railway tracks and canal towpaths that have been converted for pedestrian and cycle use) easily accessible from the north of Dordogne.
The Thiviers-Saint-Pardoux-la-Rivière Voie Verte is a 17km stretch of converted 19th century railway line that links Saint-Pardoux-la-Rivière to Thiviers via Milhac-de-Nontron and Saint-Jean-de-Côle. It’s great for summer cycling as it’s well shaded by oaks, pines and acacias.
The 15km Voie Verte des Berges de l'Isle crossed through Perigueux between Trélissac and Marsac-sur-Isle, offering a paved surface along the river through the heart of historic Perigueux. It’s a wonderful urban route that also links some of the city’s key parks, gardens, and sports venues.
While the 13m Châlus to Oradour-sur-Vayres voie verte is technically in the Haute Vienne region of Limousin, it is easily accessible from the North of the Dordogne and is an important feature of the Parc Naturel Régional Périgord-Limousin (see below).
Parc Naturel Régional Périgord-Limousin
A feature of cycling in the north of the Dordogne is its access to the Parc Naturel Régional Périgord-Limousin, an 1800km2 park that straddles the Dordogne-Limousin border. Home to some 50,000 people, the conservation area is designed to encourage local economic activity, innovation and experiments that are in keeping with the natural balance of the area. The park is a haven for cyclists, walkers and horse-riders, and offers marked trails, canoeing, guided tours, educational workshops and seminars. The park has its own bike station offering cycle hire, information and maps on mountain bike trails in the area.
There is plenty to offer the keen road cyclist. The northern half of the Dordogne is a popular area for spring training; it is often visited by European cycle clubs, who take advantage of the mild early spring weather, undulating countryside and impossibly quiet roads to build fitness for the season ahead. See the links for guidebooks and maps below to help you find a good route.
Mountain biking (VTT)
If off-road is what you’re looking for, then the Dordogne, together with neighbouring Limousin, has over 1000km of clearly marked trails. Routes are colour coded by level of difficulty from green to black.
The trails make use of a variety of old paths, historic by-ways, hunting tracks and impossibly quiet roads, through both forests and open countryside.
Each commune has its own mapped and well-marked trails known as PDIPRs, or ‘plan départemental des itinéraires de promenade et de randonnée’, which are designed to be accessible on foot, mountain bike and horse. You can scan the PDIPR routes in the Excideuil area directly into your smartphone.
(Thanks to Excideuil Tourist Office for this tip.)
Maps for cycling routes in other parts of the Perigord are usually available from local newsagents – look for the series ‘Sentiers du Perigord’.
The vtt-dordogne.com website (in French only), which covers the Vézère Valley and Perigord Noir, has lots of information, including listings for local rides and events (randonnées).
Cycling to Santiago de Compostella
The Via Lemovicensis branch of the famous pilgrim’s route cuts through the north of the Dordogne on its way from Vezélay to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. The route passes through Thiviers and is marked by the Pilgrim ‘shell’ emblem.
Velorail du Perigord
The Vélorail du Périgord runs along an old stretch of railway line between Corgnac and Thiviers, and between Corgnac and St Germain des Prés (both 11km). It is one of dozens of velo-rail attractions now dotted all over France (see page 2 of this link for a map of them all).
Key tourist sites
A stop in the village of St Jean de Cole is a must. Designated as one France’s ‘plus beaux villages’ (most beautiful villages), it has a stunning traffic-free square where you can take a break at one of the cafés or restaurants overlooked by the 15th century Chateau de la Marthonie. The tourist office has guided tours. If you are visiting the area in May, try to make it in time for the Floralies weekend, when the whole village is covered in flowers for an annual plant sale and brocante (antiques market).
The towns of Brantome (known as the Venice of the Perigord), Excideuil, Sorges (home to well known truffle museum) and Thiviers (capital of foie gras) are also must-sees.
Mike and Anna Innell run Dordogne Cycle Hire, which also operates a bike taxi service for up to 10 cyclists and their bikes. They moved to the northern Dordogne with their two young children in 2010. Anna had lived in France for most of her childhood and had always wanted to return, so when Mike spotted a gap in the local market for bike hire, Dordogne Cycle Hire was born.
Bike hire in the Dordogne
For bike hire in the Dordogne, see our Aquitaine bike rental listings.
Bike shop recommendation
Spadzone/Veloland is a great bike shop near Brantome (English spoken).
Dordogne cycling tours
Along with the Loire and Brittany, the Dordogne is one of France's most popular regions for cycling holidays. Most of these are self-guided rides, with the terrain relatively gentle compared to many other regions of France. Self-guided holidays in the Dordogne usually include accommodation, detailed route notes and maps, and local support and advice. Bike hire can also be arranged locally. You can search our organised tours section here.
Accommodation for cycling holidays in the Dordogne
Search Aquitaine in our Where to stay section for bike-friendly accommodation options in the Dordogne, or zoom into our Aquitaine accommodation the map below.
Guidebooks and maps for cycling in the Dordogne
The local tourist board also has an online map showing all the cycle routes in the Perigord region; it can be downloaded and printed.
IGN and Michelin both have regional maps. There’s also an IGN Vezère and Dordogne Valley map.
American cyclist Walter Judson Moore has a self-published guide to Dordogne’s Valleys and Villages (UK link, US link), which features detailed route information, maps and general cycling advice. Thomas Cook’s Driving Guide to the Dordogne and Western France may be of use to road cyclists.
DK Eyewitness has a general tourist guidebook to the Dordogne, Bordeaux and the south-west coast of France, while there is also a Rough Guide to the Dordogne and Lot and a Michelin Green Guide; Lonely Planet has a chapter that can be downloaded.