I think, apart from Provence (will it always be ‘apart from Provence’?), this has been the most beautiful area we have seen in France. The traditional, stone roofed homes, particular to the area have been mostly preserved and the plentiful, rocky hills offer panoramic views of the landscape that is saturated with castles, greenery and of course the shimmering eponymous river, Le Dordogne.
We stayed in the little village, ‘Auriac-du-Perigord’, which today, has just over 400 inhabitants. There are no stores in the village which seemed half abandoned, common for many of the small, rural villages we’ve visited. It is a beautiful place to spend a couple of weeks though as it’s quiet, the views are spectacular and our Airbnb is a traditional stone home, complete with pigeonnier tower-it looks to be straight out of the pages of the girls’ fairy tale books, there is a heated pool and amenities are close enough if you have a car. On Thursdays in the Summer, they have a quintessential night market in the town square where long trestle tables are set up and produce (including wine!) can be bought and cooked on site and enjoyed in the communal setting.
It has actually been an ideal spot to explore all that the domain of Dordogne has to offer and we managed to check out quite a few of the beautiful places.
Les Jardins de Marqueyssac (The Hanging Gardens of Marqueyssac)
We spent a happy few hours discovering the grounds and the girls were entertained by the hedge mazes and the adventurous play parks that are scattered amongst the grounds. The netted path was a highlight for us all, especially because it ended at a really enchanting spot with stone sculptures that were reminiscent of the trolls in Frozen… because of course Frozen is everything!
There was a tea house and restaurant there on the grounds with a most spectacular view but was not for the self catering peasants who settled for a picnic just outside the grounds, with an equally spectacular view of both Beynac Castle and Chateau de Castelnaud, and of course the river. We highly recommend a visit to this remarkable garden, with or without children this is an absolutely beautiful, enjoyable outing.
Chateau du Castelnaud
This place was super cool. It was built early on in the 13th century and has a really cool history of seizing, capturing and changing hands and burning down. A REALLY sordid, interesting past! It played a key role as a principal strong hold and was rivalled constantly by its enemy and neighbouring chateau, Beynac. Now it houses many of the weaponry used during its heyday and displays its history throughout the castle walls.
When we arrived at the castle, the beautiful surrounding village was worth a wander. Cute little shops stocked medieval costumes and one shopkeeper handed us wooden weapons to try (shrug!). He also let the girls borrow some princess crowns to wear whilst they explored the castle. Amazingly generous.
We paid 38 Euro total for two adult tickets that gave us access into both the gardens and Chateau Castelnaud. The girls were free for both. We felt that the gardens had more things to do but the Castle was more interesting. Probably the perfect combination for a day’s outing really! Check out this video below to see highlights from our day!
Another on France’s Plus Beaux Villages list, and it is so obvious why. It occupies a stunning position on the north bank of the Dordogne and backed by a steep, rocky cliff that shows the obvious remnants of a troglodyte fort which dates back to the 12th Century, apparently an important and strategic point of defense for the area up until the 17th century. The homes in the village are a mixture of the beautiful, modest French homes, with their tiny doorways traditional styles and amazingly grand homes like the renaissance style, Chateau de la Malartrie that cannot be missed. By the river there is a little playground and large picnic area with boats docked along the water. The ticket office for cruising is within site although we did not do this.
The larger city within this area, centres around a Benedictine abbey and the Sarlat Cathedral, this charming town is full of art, culture, history and good food! The Saturday market is huge and famous and you can find anything you need there (from delicious treats to clothing and souvenirs. Its history seemed to be lovingly preserved, as the entire city has retained its traditional, 14th century style impeccably.
We visited on a windy afternoon and seemed to be the only people around! The town sits on either side of the river, Vezere and the old town is small but lovely and the highlight is the Place Bouquier which is has some great buildings and a little garden area with a little labyrinth. Lots of really great looking cafes and restaurants but all were closed during our visit as it was between service times.
This is another Plus Beaux Village and possibly my favourite so far. It’s ADORABLE. There are some amazing restaurants (Le Petite Leon- a New Zealand chef!), cafes and sites positioned in a perfect little loup of the river Vezere. There’s an Eiffel style bridge (not super exciting but there and impossible to miss!) but I was most taken by an adorable little cafe on the banks of the river between the church and the Clérans Castle, Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (or, in English, Lunch on the Grass), which sells delicious plates of local specialties (foie gras, tartine, salad, cake, beer, etc!) which you enjoy right on the banks, either on one of the picnic tables or on one of the picnic rugs they have to borrow, where you can sit on the ground and enjoy your lunch amongst the cats and chickens that wander freely. We are going to head here for lunch tomorrow so I will update this when we do. The river is shallow and clear in Saint Leon and there are spots to swim that seem safe for little people. It’s SUPER cute and I would say not to be missed.