Cycling in the Dordogne

After a week of cycling from Geneva to Avignon on the Via Rhona, we are in the Dordogne for a more relaxing week. This will inevitably involve some cycling. The Dordogne probably doesn't feature on many lists of great cycling regions but it has many features that make it worth a look. Firstly being in France, the traffic will respect you and you will see other cyclists on your trip and secondly the summer weather is very reliable.  But mainly the terrain and the scenery make every route interesting. There are no mountains here but, then again, there aren't many flat roads either - there are short sharp climbs that get into double figures on the gradient and then there are long drags on more gentle slopes. The scenery will include river valleys, limestone cliffs, castles and chateaux. Hilltop villages with churches and ramparts. There is racing pedigree here with the small airfield above the historic town of Domme a regular feature on Paris-Nice or for more gentle, family riding there is the flat piste cyclable that follows the course of an old railway line from Sarlat to Soillac. Talking of railways, there is a line from Bordeaux to Sarlat via Libourne, Saint-Emilion and Bergerac which could be used to make an easier out-and-back or the chance of enjoying a wine-rich lunch at Saint Emilion, though unfortunately due to engineering works the trains are replaced by buses at the moment so we couldn't take advantage. Be warned, French rural trains don't run all that frequently so check the timetables first and allow time for any contingencies, time which, if the ride goes according to plan, could be spent in the nearest bar enjoying a recovery drink or two....

So what did I get up to? Based in the small village of Tremolat, almost on the River Dordogne, I had the options of following the river or heading onto the hills. Here are 4 short rides that give an idea of the landscape.

1. Route des Cingles: 59km & 700m climbing
A Cingle is the French term for a horseshoe shaped bend in the river featuring a limestone cliff and usually a climb to a viewpoint. This loop is just under 38 miles and includes a few climbs as well as some fast riding along the river valley. The map and the profile (all profiles created at can be seen below; riding anti-clockwise on leaving the village of Tremolat it was straight into the climb up to the Cingle de Tremolat, the climbing continuing beyond the viewpoint before dropping back down to the river and crossing at the town of Lalinde. A fast ride along the valley is enjoyed until the hydroelectric plant is reached at Cales when the climb to the 185m highpoint is reached on the unnamed col before fast descent into La Buisson. Another fast flat section to Soirac, back across the river before the fun starts again at the beautiful riverside village of Limeuil (at the confluence of the Rivers Vezere and Dordogne) with the climb to the Cingle de Limeuill, a brief descent and then the final climb that runs at 10% for about 500m. In case you were wondering from the map; I didn't take a wrong turning at the end, I rode to the train station to find the times of the trains to St Emilion. There were none! 59km and almost 700m climbing.



2. Cingle de Limeuil & Alles-sur-Dordogne; 23km and over 300m climbing
A short ride of under 15 miles (after a hard day of sightseeing!), but one that packs in almost 300m climbing. I left the village today as I entered it yesterday and was soon enjoying the view from the Cingle de Limeuil but at the village of Limeuil I chose the road to Alles-sur-Dordogne and after a flat section had a modest climb of 110m vertical height gain  not exactly Alpine but more than you get in Essex and a good little tester. A descent preceded a short section on the main road before I turned onto a couple of ever-quieter roads to return to Tremolat via the hamlets of La Haute Rive and Traly. I was riding my disc-brake equipped gravel so was a little slower up the climbs than if I had my Madone with me but reckon that on the road bike this route would be a good challenge to beat the hour - on the very warm day it took me an hour and five.


3. Saint Alvere, Sainte-Foy, Lalinde & Cinge de Tremolat - 44km & 500m climbing
This 27 mile loop could be adapted into a sporting 25 mile time trial course, perhaps the 500m climbing would make road bikes competitive with time trial bikes. Heading north this loop started with a 10km climb , which was easy for the first 5 miles (why do I keep switching from miles to kilometers?) but ramped up for the final mile or so as the village of St Alvere was reached with some evidence of older hilltop ramparts. I then enjoyed a wind-assisted gentle descent in the company of a French rider until the village of Sainte-Foy-de-Longas was reached and I climbed again to about 210m, the same height as St Alvere. I then had a long descent into Lalinde and then reversed the first part of ride #1 back up to the Cingle de Tremolat. This means that I have now ridden both Cingles in both directions. All that followed was the drop back into the village and a pre-dinner Pastis - to aid recovery.


4. Cadouin, Molieres & Cales; 30km and 264m climbing
My final ride of the week and a loop of 19 miles with over 250m climbing. Leaving Tremolat by the fourth (and final) road, I immediately crossed the River Dordogne and had the short rise to Traly. I joined the main road close to hydroelectric plant for a brief time before turning off for Cadouin, a delightful village with an old abbey. Similar to yesterday, I had a long gentle climb, this time around 12km to virtually the same height as yesterday (208m, Tremolat is at around 50m), though Cadouin and up to La Placial before a short drop into the bastide (rampart) village of Molieres. I think the tourist office are a bit too generous in their allocation of 'Bastide' for villages - Molieres was another picturesque village, but there weren't that many ramparts on general view. I then descended back to the main road, but rather than retrace my steps, I took the detour via the hilltop village of Cales reached via the short, but steep (10%) ramp up the church with a great view over the river (and the hydroelectric power station). I then had an easy ride home via Traly.


In Summary
So four short rides that give an idea of what cycling in the Dordogne is like. There are plenty of options for longer or harder rides but the characteristics of short sharp climbs, long drags and hilltop bastide villages can be found in short loops. Being such a popular tourist area, some riverside villages are very busy but away from the hotspots most villages have a bar or restaurant where you can grab a coffee, have a bite to eat and refill your bidons. It wont be the same from mid-Autumn to mid-Spring when some villages close down. The biggest trouble you will have is the heat; the morning rides were fine but the afternoon rides were in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees. So if you are pondering a cycling holiday in a different location, then the Dordogne is worth a look.

Photo Gallery to follow

Martin Harris


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