The Dordogne Valley: A Fairy Tale Trip

Find more how to plan a romantic trip in one of the most spectacular regions in France, known as the land of “1001 castles.”

If you like fairy tale stories, you’ll sure love the Dordogne Valley, where medieval towns and castles reside together, surrounded by green fields crossed by the meandering Dordogne River.

Known as the land of 1001 chatêaux, the Dordogne Valley, in the South West France, offers historical visits to fascinating villages and castles, an exquisite gastronomy and warm people who welcome visitors to enjoy their stay at one of the most beautiful regions of this country.

Start your trip at Sarlat-la-Caneda, a medieval village where you’ll find a great tourism office that will provide you with flyers, tours information and advice about Sarlat and surrounding areas. Make sure you enjoy a Saturday morning in this town, when the center becomes a lively street market where you can literally find anything. While people dressed in medieval costumes offer different types of cheese, sausage and fois gras, around the corner, salesmen display a great variety of Chinese products, including bags, sunglasses and clothing.

Fois gras, the most typical food product of this region, can be bought in different shops in the village, or at nearby special factories that produce this delicacy. Most menus in restaurants will offer fois gras as a first plate. Thus, if you haven’t tasted this food product you have a chance to try first and decide later if you want to buy this exquisite French gastronomic dish made in such a controversial way.

From Sarlat, you can take day trips to Domme, a medieval village conserved as a museum. Located on the top of vertiginous hill, Domme offers one of the most spectacular views of the Dordogne Valley. The ancient ramparts of this fortified village are still intact, including the Porte de Tours. Converted into a prison in 1307, this tower used to emprison knight Templars, as an atempt to silence their Catholic faith. An effort that they disregarded as the knights continue to profess their beliefs by carving messages on the wall. Writings that are still visible nowadays and visitors can see first-hand.

Underneath the city lies the Grottes de Domme, a cave with a 450m gallery with two passages decorated with prehistoric engravings and another two featuring fantastic stalactites. Besides its natural beauty, the grottos have a historic value for the local population, who seeked shelter against the intolance that left thousands of Catholics and Protestants behind during the Wars of Religion.

Promenade through an astounding garden

The number of castles can be overwhelming, since each one of them offers a unique facet that intrigues our curiosity. If you need help choosing, don´t miss buying the combined ticket for Marqueyssac and the Château de Castelnaud.

In Marqueyssac, the beauty remains outside the main building, closed for the general public. This castle’s greatest attraction is its astounding garden, sculptured twice a year as a green maze of geometric forms. Located at 130 meters from the river, Marqueyassac is considered the “Belvedere of Dordogne,” as it offers a panoramic view of castles and villages. A promenade around the property will introduce you to extraordinary views of the Beynac, Chatenauld and Fayrac castles, as well as other scenic sights, such as La Roque Gageac. Because of its amazing architecture, a village constructed with golden stones squeezed between a towering limestone cliff and the Dordogne´s riverbank, this town is classified as one of the most beautiful cities in France.

Learn about Medieval warfare

Across the river, you can find on top of a mountain the Chateau of Castelnaud, used during the Hundred Year’s War as an English fortress to battle the castle of Beynac, controlled by the French. From the parking lot, a steep walk takes you to the castle’s gate, passing through a small village built on its feet that evokes the atmosphere lived in the 13th century when the construction of the castle started. Currently, the castle hosts the Museum of Medieval Warfare, combining media, illustrations and several weapons to explain the defense mechanisms employed during the Middle Ages. A giant crossbow, artillery weapons and canons are featured along the rooms, ending with a remarkable collection of full-scale catapults displayed at the castle´s external patio.

In recent history, Castenaud served as a resistance point during the II World War, and the walls of the outside staircase still bear the scars of this conflict with the Germans.

Wrap-up your journey with a romantic boat trip on the Dordogne by jumping into a Gabare, the typical vessel used to transport merchandise in the 18th and 19th century. Let the local guides steer you to the spetactular history of this region while you admire one last time the  splendid view of castles and natural beauty of the Dordogne Valley.

Lodging

Make Sarlat the main hub for your visit to the surrounded cities, as it offers the best budget choices of hotels. If you have a car and don´t want to spend too much in lodging, a good choice is the Abbys Hotel, located only 10 minutes from the village´s center. You´ll find clean rooms, with TV and bathroom, for only 41 euros a night. If you plan to park your car and enjoy this mystical city by walking, you might consider staying at Ibis Hotel, which charges 79 euros a night. For those who really want to live a full-time medieval experience, try the charming Hôtel Restaurant La Couleuvrine, with rooms varying from 58 to 90 euros. With an internal court, the Hôtel des Récollets is another option for those willing to enjoy a long and calm breakfast surrounded by ancient stones that in the XIX served as a convent cloister.

 

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