The Most Beautiful Villages of France: Historic Twins

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The Dordogne River winds slowly across southern France, passing centuries-old chateaux and villages. The region known as Perigord is now more often called Dordogne. Here life moves in old, gentle ways. In small villages along the river the townspeople remain well connected to one another, sharing community festivals and dinners, meeting one another at weekly outdoor markets, sharing wines, patés and brandies made from their walnuts. The weather in southern France is often mild in winter attracting many British people who relocate to the Dordogne region for retirement or to establish small businesses. The area is very popular with tourists who are familiar with France. Many local people, both French and British, operate B&B’s or offer vacation rentals and camping sites on old farms. Today they live together in peace but the French and the British have not always been good neighbors.

The history of this region is both long and brutal. Prehistoric cavemen are believed to have lived in this area of France 30,000 years ago. The famous cave paintings of Lascaux are just 20 miles north of the Dordogne river. Two-thirds of all the cave paintings known to exist are in southwestern France. Richard the Lionheart was killed in a battle here in 1199. Between the years 1337 to 1453 the two countries often fought over control of southwestern France in what is called the Hundred Years War. Relics of war can still be found across the region in the form of ancient fortress-castles. Two of these chateaux crown the neighboring villages of Beynac-et-Cazenac and La Roque-Gageac. Battles were sometimes fought between these fortress-castles which are only three miles apart.

Today these peaceful places are members of association called The Most Beautiful Villages of France. Each village is comprised of houses built of golden stone centuries ago. An ancient chateau still stands at the top of each town. The chateau at Beynac is open year-round for tours. The houses in Beynac are stacked on the steep hills and cliffs above the river, the foundation of one at the roofline of its neighbor. The homes in La Roque-Gageac have been sandwiched between the river and the cliffs that run beside it. Each of these villages is the site of fine restaurants and vacation rentals. Boating and camping along the river is easy to arrange. The atmospheric old town of Sarlat-le-Canéda is just twenty minutes away.

Here are some pictures George and I took a few years ago when we explored this part of France. I look forward to returning.

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The chateau at Beynac
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Beynac is so steep that this street runs along the roofs of the adjacent houses.
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Can I please live in this house in Beynac?
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Tourists enjoying a ride on the Dordogne river.
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The road into Cliffside Roque-Gageac
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Buildings stand between the river and the cliffs in La Roque Gageac.
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The chateau at La Roque Gageac

Resources:

Think you might like to know more about visiting Begnac and La Roque?  Here’s a good site to begin with.

My friend Elinor and I have discovered a series of novels set in the Dordogne region of France. Elinor’s much more discriminating about what she reads that I am so I feel safe recommending these to you. The series begins with a book called Bruno: Chief of Police by Martin Walker. I’ve read all but the latest one and find Bruno and his friends to be very likeable.