10 beautiful villages in the Dordogne Valley you must visit
The Dordogne Valley is home to an enchanting mix of picture-perfect villages that have retained their French countryside charm. Here are 10 places that you should not miss
Built on cliffs above the River Dordogne, the Plus Beau Village of Beynac-et-Cazenac is made up of clusters of creamy-coloured stone houses that line steep, cobbled lanes. At the top is a castle that was the scene of battles in the Middle Ages as its lords, who were allies of the French king, fought their neighbours at Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, who were loyal to the English Plantagenets. The fortress is one of the best-preserved in the region and its sweeping views over the Dordogne Valley make the calf-straining climb all the more worthwhile.
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Consisting mainly of a row of yellow-stone houses between the River Dordogne to the front and overhanging cliffs to the back, La Roque-Gageac occupies a dramatic and much-photographed setting. The village enjoys its own microclimate, thanks to the sunny, south-facing position and the cliffs protecting it from cold northern winds. Palm trees and banana plants grow in a tropical garden, which you can marvel at along with several troglodyte caves, as you climb up the narrow streets towards the cliffs.
Founded in 1283, the bastide village of Domme is perched high on a cliff and retains much of its medieval fortifications. A large, double-towered entrance gate leads into the steep main street lined by stone houses, many of which are decorated with balconies and external staircases. At the top of the hill lies the town square, where an open market hall complete with impressive stone carpentry nestles among a cluster of cafés. Order a café crème and enjoy it on a terrasse overlooking the River Dordogne and neighbouring villages of La Roque-Gageac and Beynac-et-Cazenac.
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Perched on a promontory at the confluence of the Dordogne and Vézère rivers, the medieval village of Limeuil encapsulates all that is special about this area; a stroll up through the village will take you past rose-bedecked stone houses, layers upon layers of timber-framed cottages built into the hillside, artisans’ workshops and panoramic gardens. The village’s crowning glory lies on the top plateau, where the gardens are filled with centuries-old trees and sculptures and offer picture-perfect views of the rolling fields below.
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This quaint village overlooking the River Dordogne is home to a weekly Sunday market, which is perfect for anyone who has arrived in the area on a Saturday. The market is spread out along the main street, Rue Gambetta, where the region’s culinary treats including foie gras, walnut cake and wines from Monbazillac. Leave enough time to explore the medieval streets and steep, narrow lanes that lead out of the village; venture far enough uphill and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking valley vistas.
A landmark for pilgrims on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle and one of the most visited villages in France, Rocamadour clings to steep cliffs above the River Alzou, a tributary of the River Dordogne. From the turreted château at the top, it is a dramatic 150-metre drop. The 216 steps of the pilgrims’ stairs take you past the Unesco World Heritage sites of the Saint-Sauveur basilica and the crypt of Saint Amadour, as well as the chapel containing the statue of the Black Madonna. Be sure to reward yourself after the tough ascent with Rocamadour’s creamy goat’s cheese.
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Founded in 1284 by Edward I of England, Monpazier is one of the Plus Beaux Villages and is considered by many to be best preserved bastide in the Dordogne. Visitors to this charming village will be amazed to discover that at four hundred metres by two hundred and twenty metres, Monpazier is perfectly quadrilateral, with streets running parallel to the longest sides from one end of the village to the other. The village’s foremost place to visit has to be the Place des Cornières. This picture-perfect square is lined with 23 stone houses, whose ground floor form the arches of a long stone arcade, where a local market takes place come rain or shine.
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Perched on the confluent of the River Dordogne, the village of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is a quaint village with breathtaking views of the bucolic Dordogne countryside. Dominated from up high by its spectacular château, Castelnaud is a feast for the eyes; take a stroll up the steep streets and you’ll pass typical Perigordine style houses, built with large stone walls, deeply-sloping roofs and thick wooden shutters, interspersed with arched gateways, half-timbered homes and displays of colourful roses, all of which adds to the appeal. Climb to the very top to find the mighty, medieval fortress, from where you can enjoy soul-stirring views of the surrounding area.
Nestled in the north of the Dordogne region on the River Cole, Saint-Jean is a somewhat small yet utterly delightful village famed for its colombages (half-timbered houses) and ochre-coloured buildings. Houses in this village are of the picture-postcard kind with nearly all of them boasting the traditional stone roofs of the region. The village’s highlights are to be found in its main square; here visitors can admire the pint-sized 12th-century chateau while across the other side of the square lies an unusually rounded Romanesque Byzantine church. Enjoy the pretty views of the square form a nearby café before sauntering on down to the river, the perfect place to enjoy a tasty picnic and soak up the tranquil atmosphere.
This tranquil village perched on the edge of a hill to the north of Sarlat-le-Canéda is named after Saint-Amand, a hermit living in a cave in the hillside in the 6th century. At the heart of this tiny village made up of traditional, golden-stone houses is an imposing Romanesque church, which dates back to the 12th century and stands on the site of a ruined abbey. In the 14th century, this remarkable church was converted into a fortress, evidence of which can be seen from the thick walls, holes for archers and blind staircases. Saint-Amand is also home to the 14th-century Château de la Grande Filolie, which boasts an attractive woodland setting, as well as an atelier famed for his classic French copper cookware.
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