A Biker's Reverie

Dordogne River - Route Description
  |  Gorp.com
Dordogne River Route

Total Distance: 150 miles.

Terrain: You are often surrounded on all sides by more than you think your legs can handle. This should be inducement enough to enjoy the riverside road when you have it. But it will also treat you to some delectable climbs, eye-tearing descents and views of a green and golden rolling countryside to which your camera will never do justice.

Season: You are in southern France so it isn't as cold as it is in the north. But you aren't always quite coastal either; the colds can be colder inland than they are at, say, Bordeaux. Late spring and early summer, though the latter can be hot, are pleasant times for this area. There are the obligatory tourist hordes, but the atmosphere is alive. Fall sees the grape-picking and crushing season and the streams of oenologists and ordinary wine amateurs enjoying the results. Winters can be cold inland.

 

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The seven-day program below only looks at the western reaches of the river. The more dramatic landscape and tougher cycling is further east.

Souillac - Sarlat-le-Canida (25 miles). Souillac, off the tourist circuit but on the train lines, is a good place to start whether you want to go west or east. The river through here cuts through the rolling hills and gives you and your legs a feel for what lies ahead. Before heading inland and up to the over-touristed but excellent village of Sarlat and the heart of medieval Pirigord, detour west along the river. There are majestic castles and stunning cliffside villages at Domme, la Roque-Gageac, Castelnaud, and Beynac-et-Cazenac. The steep climbs to the upper tiers of these places are often best saved for a stroll. Turn back east from Beynac to go to Sarlat, which recently won a prize for its effort to preserve its rich and complex antique architectural heritage.

Sarlat-le-Canida - Les Eyzies-de-Tayac (15 miles). From Sarlat you will continue northwest through Pirigord Noir to the famous town of les Eyzies-de-Tayac. The pedal is not easy since it goes with the inland up-and-down grounds of the area. It may only be 15 miles, but give yourself some time. Les Eyzies is renowned for the nearby prehistoric caves whose walls are covered with ancient painting. Prehistoric studies essentially began here in 1863 as more Cro-Magnon dwellings than anywhere else in the world were uncovered.

Les Eyzies-de-Tayac - Bergerac (40 miles). Leaving les Eyzies, follow the Vizhre River to where it joins the Dordogne. Continue on to the quiet village of Le Buisson and then head west back along the Dordogne. The roads here parallel the river all the way to Bergerac. Pause all along the way to admire the hilltop castles and points of interest. Spice up the ride with a climb to one or two of them. Bergerac, which gave its name to Edmond Rostand's Cyrano, is a pleasant place for an evening's frolic. Consider making the tough climb to the castle at Montbazillac. Coast back to town savoring the lingering taste of the castle's eponymous sweet wine.

Bergerac - Saint Emilion (30 miles). Now you are in the thick of Bordeaux wine country, a stretch of land that sweeps all the way to the distant Atlantic. Stay on the north side of the river as far as waterside Sainte-Foy-la-Grande and the twice-weekly markets on its town square. The south side of the river is best for the spin to Castillon-la-Bataille. Keep an eye out for the kiwi plantations along the way. Turn inland for the final leg to the world-famous Saint Emilion. You will have to push your bike up more than one steep narrow street of this hilltop town, but every grunt is worth it. The monolithic church carved into the cliff is incredible. Don't forget to check out some of the many wine sellers hocking bottles of the local elixir.

Saint Emilion - Bordeaux (40 miles). Finish your ride through the expansive vineyards with a triumphant sprint to the capital of the region: the city of Bordeaux. The most striking feature of the city is its preserved 18th-century architecture.


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