Citizens of EU member states and holders of passports from some 50 nations do not need a visa for stays of 90 days or less in Dordogne & Lot. These include Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. If you intend staying longer than three months, the law says you need a carte de séjour.
Non-EU citizens should kick off the process months in advance by applying for an extended visa at their French consulate before leaving home, a complicated procedure requiring proof of income, etc. You can’t get a carte de séjour without this visa, a trial run for the ennui you’ll undergo in applying for a carte de séjour at your local prefecture. See france-visas.gouv.fr/en/web/france-visas/long-stay-visa.
Travel to Dordogne & Lot
The major international airports in the region are at Bordeaux and Toulouse, both of which have direct connections with numerous airports in the UK and Ireland and around Europe. There’s also a small-scale international airport at Bergerac, and a smaller one at Brive-Souillac. Others in the vicinity are in Limoges (90mins from Périgueux by train or car) and Rodez (an hour’s drive from Figeac). Destinations and airlines keep changing, though, so it is always worth browsing Skyscanner.
From North America, the only direct flights to southwest France are from Montreal on Air-Transat, which fly direct to Bordeaux and Toulouse from May to September. Otherwise, your best option may be to find a cheap flight to a European hub then continue from there to Bordeaux or Toulouse. If you fly into Charles-de-Gaulle (Roissy), there are direct fast LGV trains to Libourne and Bordeaux from the airport.
From the UK, travelling from London St Pancras to Bordeaux can take as little as 6 hours with Eurostar, changing in Paris (Gare du Nord to Gare de Montparnasse; see thetrainline.com for options). You’ll save money if you purchase tickets in advance (up to 180 days before your return date). There are discounts on the Eurostar for children aged 4–11; under 4s travel for free.
For the Dordogne or Lot, an Intercity train from Paris Austerlitz to Périgueux 2 (via Limoges) or Cahors might be quickest. Another option is the overnight sleeper (intercité de nuit), leaving Paris Austerlitz at 22.00 and arriving in Toulouse at 06.00. Check out options on the French SNCF rail website, which now includes BlaBlaCar car sharing and Hiflow vehicle transport options.
It’s 1,028km (an 11hr drive) from London to Bordeaux by way of the Eurotunnel and autoroutes (toll motorways), and at the time of writing this costs around €220 in tolls and fuel. The Michelin website is useful for calculating routes, times, traffic conditions, and petrol and toll prices in France.
Drivers with a valid permit from an EU country, the UK, Canada, the USA or Australia don’t need an international licence. A car entering France must have its registration and insurance papers. If you’re coming from the UK or Ireland, the dip of the headlights must be adjusted to the right. Carrying a warning triangle and yellow vest inside the car is mandatory; the triangle should be placed 50m behind the car if you have a breakdown.
The Dover–Calais ferries offer the most frequent crossings, although ferries from Portsmouth to Caen (plus 603 km/5½ hrs onward drive to Bordeaux) may be a good option, depending on where you live.
Getting around Dordogne & Lot
Southwest France has a decent network of fast TGVs and LGVs, long-distance intercity and regional (TER) trains, although smaller lines may have only two or three connections a day, and may use buses to replace the rail service. Many trains will transport bicycles (look for the logo on the timetable and book a ticket (€10 or €5) for your bike; on TERs use of the special bike car is free, operating on a first come, first served basis). Fares are still reasonable, and discounts are available, especially if you book early and travel off-peak; see sncf-connect.com, which now also lists available BlaBlaCar car-shares.
By bus and other public transport
Do not count on seeing much of rural France by bus. The network is barely adequate between major cities and towns and rotten in rural areas. However, to make finding routes and schedules easier, all have been put under regional umbrellas: for the Gironde, Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne, see transports.nouvelle-aquitaine.fr; for the Lot, Tarn-et-Garonne and Toulouse, see lio.laregion.fr. Cities will have a gare routière (coach station), which is usually just a small parking area near the train station. To help get around the public transport systems of Bordeaux and Toulouse, download the Citymapper app.
Unless you stick to the major towns, cycle or walk, a car is the only way to see the area. Roads are generally excellently maintained, but don’t blindly rely on GPS for ‘the shortest route’ as it can take you down some very narrow hilly back roads and take twice as long as it should.
The price of petrol (sans plomb, unleaded; gasoil, diesel) varies considerably, with motorways always more expensive and supermarkets always the cheapest; all are nearly always open 24/7 with self-service – if you have a debit or credit card with the right chip and a four-digit code. Otherwise try to buy your fuel during working hours; the big supermarkets will have someone in the booth to take your cash or credit card. Drivers of electric vehicles will find fast-chargers along the autoroutes and others in village car parks, by supermarkets and hotels. Download one of the European apps, Chargemap or Plug Share, to find them; also check out advice from the AA. Not all charging stations in rural France work well with just the app but there is always a number to ring for help.