We are planning a 3 week trip to France in July. We arrive at CDG on July 9th in the early morning and plan to take the TGV from CDG to Rennes for 4 nights where we plan to make day trips to St. Malo and Mont St. Michel. Then we have 8 days to travel before we meet up with friends for a week in Paris on July 21st. We have an old friend that we must see in Pau for a night so we are looking for a place to stay between Rennes and Pau that's easily accessible by train. Bordeaux seems like a logical option but we'd like stay somewhere less urban. My husband is very interested in prehistoric caves or prehistoric/historic anything so we're thinking the Dordogne would be a good choice. Would anyone have suggestions of a particular city in the Dordogne that would have easy train connections? We've read in RS France that many of the caves are hard to get to so if that's the case, we can skip the caves and go to a nice town instead. We love old Roman ruins, farmers markets, simple but good food and a relaxed, walkable environment. Thanks in advance.
The fastest rail journey will be on a TGV that zips from Paris to Bordeaus, probably without any stops. Choosing to spend time along the way, or off the direct path from Bordeaux to Pau, will add considerable travel time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.
Places I especially enjoyed in western France that have more of a small-city feel than Bordeaux does include Poitiers, Limoges, Bergerac, Brive-la-Gaillarde, Perigueux, Cahors, and Figeac. Those are all places with attractive architecture and not a lot of non-French tourists. Poitiers and Limoges are north of Bordeaux. The last five are east of that city near the Dordogne or Lot. All have rail service; in most if not all cases there are buses fanning out to smaller towns/villages. I didn't attempt to get to any of the caves, so I can't tell you anything about access or what would be a convenient place to stay for visiting them. It sounds as if that should be the driving factor in your decision. I don't know whether any of the listed cities are large enough to be the origin point for day tours.
The Wednesday and Saturday markets in Sarlat-le-Canada are huge draws. Saturday is the busiest day, but the market was large even on the very rainy Wednesday when I visited it. Sarlat has a lovely historic center but is very touristy. There's rail service to Sarlat from Bergerac, Brive and Perigueux. You can check frequencies and travel times on the SNCF website.
There are, of course, other markets in the Dordogne. This website is one of several that list markets in the Dordogne. I don't see a date, so I can't guarantee the information is current. You should definitely Google for verification. https://www.everythingdordogne.net/dordogne-markets/
As you consider what place or places to stay, you'll probably want to check how long a trip you'll have afterward as you head to Pau. I think the fastest route will be via Bordeaux. The travel time may vary quite a bit among the places I've suggested you consider. I think Perigueux may be fastest. There are some (rather unimpressive to me, definitely not an aficionado) Roman remains in Perigueux, but I don't think it's worth going much out of your way to see them. Your husband might disagree.
In the unlikely event you get as far east as Figeac, there's a small square near the Champollion Museum that's paved with a replica of the Rosetta Stone. That was cool.
Adrienne, if your husband loves prehistoric anythings be sure that while you are in Brittany to visit Carnac, the 3,000 aligned megaliths, which date from 4000BC.
The Dordogne is a great place to stay. But since you are going to be there in July and have to go to Pau later, have you thought of maybe going to Basque Country instead? There are two interesting caves in the area, Sare and Isturitz. But as you have commented, they are not easy to get to.
Some great suggestions already.
If you'd like to break the journey from Rennes to the southwest, you can stop in La Rochelle for a night or two, it is a historical port city that is definitely worth a visit, with scenic coastlines in the vicinity.
Thank you acraven, dlindstrom and Balso. We've marked all the places that you suggested on our Rick Steves France map and look forward learning more about them and checking out the links you provided as well. Of our 7 trips to France since 2014, we've only been to Paris and Nice with day trips to Bayeaux, Chartres, Giverny and Pau so we look forward to exploring new parts of France. We'll definitely make it to Carnac as we'll already be in the area. Surprisingly it turns out that Carnac also has a nice beach which sounds good to us covid-weary city folks. We'll also look into the Basque area close to Pau, maybe staying in St. Jean de Luz or Biarritz with a day trip to Bilbao that's been on our bucket list for years. Many thanks for your help.
In the Basque Country I'd recommend St-Jean-de-Luz (cute coastal town) or Bayonne (large historic center) rather than Biarritz, which just didn't float my boat, though there's a privately-run museum of south Asian decorative arts I really liked. As an environment to stay in, I'd prefer either of the first two. I chose Bayonne and never regretted it. It might be worthwhile to Google for photos and see which you think you'd most enjoy.
France is full of lovely towns and cities. If you end up traveling past Limoges (which has an expansive center with historic architecture as well as multiple museums of decorative arts), you will be near Oradour-sur-Glane, site of a Nazi atrocity during WWII. The burned-down village remains as a memorial, and there's a very well-done museum. It takes several hours to take it all in. It's a very sobering experience.
Thank you for the St-Jean-de-Luz and Bayonne recommendations. They both sound great. The Oradour-sur-Glane link was eye-opening and puts one's experience of France in a historical perspective. My husband is a WWII history buff and appreciated learning about Oradour-sur-Glane and how DeGaulle insisted on preserving the ruins as a permanent memorial. Thanks again.