The Dordogne region was once almost completely forest. While a significant part of the forests has been cleared over the centuries to give way to agriculture, there still remain large areas of woodland and forest, and the main impression of the region is of one which is essentially forested.
Apart from the many smaller areas of woodland to be enjoyed and explored, a couple of forests remain substantially intact.
FORET DE LA DOUBLE
The Foret de la Double covers about 50,000 hectares to the south-west of Perigueux, in the northern part of the Dordogne between the Dronne river and the Isle River. The forest is only sparsely inhabited, by smallholdings and houses scattered far and wide.
The forest has also long provided a safe refuge for those in hiding, from the Hundred Years war to the Second World War.
The forest was a wild, malaria infested, place until the monks at Echourgnac cleared part of it in the 19th century, and established efficient drainage systems to reduce the marshes and bogs.
The Abbaye at Echourgnac is still the best place to begin an exploration of the forest, which is now home to lakes with leisure activities eg Etang de la Jemaye - and pleasant walks, while also retaining the 'wild forest appeal' that it must always have had and a feel for what it was like in the region 1000 years ago.
Other places to visit within the Foret de la Double include many small towns and villages. Some of the most interesting are La Roche-Chalais and the nearby Valouze castle; Vanxains and the nearby castle at Brangélie; the hamlet at St-André-de-Double; the scattering of little villages around Saint-Michel-de-Double; and the interesting museum tracing the history of life in the forest at La Ferme du Parcot.
There are some small lakes in the forest where swimming is possible, mostly to the region south of Siorac-de-Riberac (including Etang de la Jemaye above).
FORET DU LANDAIS
The Foret du Landais is south of Mussidan, between the Isle River and the Dordogne river.
A much newer forest than most it came into being as a pine plantation in the 19th century, when the resin from pine trees was an important commodity. It is the scenery and the wilderness, the paths and the wildlife, that now attract people to this part of the Dordogne.