Sun, rain and temperatures
The Dordogne is the third largest département in France, with a total area of 9,200 square kilometres. (The first and second largest are the Gironde, round Bordeaux, and the Landes, to the southwest.) To understand its structure and climate, you need to see it as a transitional landscape, changing from the “Bassin Aquitain” – the coastal plain around Bordeaux – in the southwest, to the higher country in the north, culminating in the Limousin and the Massif Central. The numerous rivers that flow through the department follow this north/northeast to southwest trajectory, gradually combining in the Dordogne, which in turn flows into the Gironde estuary. In the northern and eastern parts of the department the rivers cut valleys into the hills. In the south they flow through broader plains.
A temperate climate, with local variations
Generally the Dordogne enjoys a varied and temperate climate. If you come from the south of England you will find that the summers are hotter than in the UK, but that the winters may be colder. However, within the department there are variations in weather patterns, making weather a very local affair, with temperatures and rainfall varying not only in broad bands across the department, but also within quite small areas.
These variations are partly influenced by a combination of airstream coming in from the Atlantic coast to the west, and the slightly more continental conditions affecting the east and north, and partly by the configuration of the landscape and the nature of the subsoil. The curious result of this is that in the winter there is more sunshine in the Sarlat area to the southeast, than in that of Ribérac to the west, where the greater proximity to the coast makes for a milder but also cloudier and foggier winter climate. In the summer, on the other hand, there is more sun in the southwest of the department – the band stretching up from Bergerac to Ribérac- than elsewhere.
Average annual rainfall in the department is 860 mm. This is more than the driest parts of France, such as the Alsace Plain or even the area around Paris, which have les than 600 mm, but well below the mountain areas such as the Alps or the Vosges, where rainfall exceeds 2000 mm on average.
Within the Dordogne, annual rainfall varies, increasing as you move from the southwest to the northeast – in line with the increase in height above sea level. Thus the Dordogne valley in the southwest has 750 mm whereas the highest parts of the countryside to the north of Nontron, such as Piégut-Pluviers, have 1160 mm. The driest part is around Bergerac, followed in turn by Ribérac, Sarlat, and Nontron. In Bergerac it rains on average on 112 days in each year – usually more in the winter months than the summer.
In the summer months, visitors to the region will have noticed the phenomenon of heat building up to a crescendo, culminating in a dramatic storm of thunder, lightning and rain, which clears the air and enables the pattern to begin again. These storms occur more frequently in the north and east of the department, but are a wellknown phenomenon elsewhere.
As with rainfall, so with temperatures. There is an average differential of about two degrees Centigrade between the southwest and the extreme northeast, largely because of the difference in height above sea level. In the summer months the Bergerac temperature exceeds 30 degrees for about eight days each month. The first frosts usually appear towards the end of October, particularly in the narrow valleys in the north and east, and will continue until the end of April. But within the department there may be variations of fifteen days or so for the onset or the end of groundfrost.
The better you know this region of France, the more you will appreciate its quite astonishing richness and variety. Don’t expect it to be a ceaseless round of sunny days: the landscape would not be so green if there were no rain. This can mean that second home owners find themselves in a cloudy spell when they visit. But on balance the weather is going to be better than the UK – and if the weather’s disappointing you can always console yourself with some local foie gras and a bottle of Bergerac wine!
The figures quoted above have been taken from the official site of Meteo-France.