Dwight Peck's personal website

Kristin's visit: Southwest of France 2008

A ten-day respite from All That -- Kristin's visiting and we're in Sarlat for four or five days and trying not to miss any of the medieval castles still open for viewing in late November.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Castle-hopping along the Dordogne

We're out for a nice drive, just to see what castles we may sneak up on and surprise unawares -- this is Carlux, east of Sarlat, picturesque, but still in the middle of its restoration project.

Château de Fénelon

Farther south, this is Château de Fénelon across the Dordogne -- closed up tight, but open next Saturday, so we'll be back.

Fénelon. This whole region has got castles tripping over one another every sixty metres or so.

During all the running about and shouting of the "Albigensian Crusade" against the Cathar heresy in the early 13th century, and the Hundred Year's War in the 14th and 15th centuries, in which the English owned much of Aquitaine for nearly a century -- and then of course the awful Wars of Religion in the later 16th century -- only an idiot would not have wanted his own castle up on a craggy mountaintop.

We're leaving now but we'll be back.


Domme's Porte des Tours, original gates on the east side of town, converted into prisons in 1307 to cater for a number of Knights Templar during Philip IV's France-wide crackdown on the powerful military and financial order of monastic soldiers.

One of the streets of Domme overlooking the Dordogne. Domme is one of the bastides, the grid-style "new towns" constructed throughout southwestern France -- nearly 700 new model towns were built between 1222 and 1372 -- in order to colonize the wild region after the French conquests there and to encourage trade, but unlike most bastides Domme, the "Acropolis of Périgord", built in 1281, sits up on a craggy bluff overlooking the river.

The cathedral

The outcrop upon which Domme was built

La maison du souvenir

Back down the hill

A genuine Knight Templar!

Kristin is a Domme. Sorry, Kristin is IN Domme.

La Roque-Gageac

La Roque-Gageac westward along the Dordogne, largely built into the cliffs overhead. Its origins are prehistoric and troglodytic, but in peaceful Roman times the people set up at the foot of the cliffs and built a Roman road along the river.

Fortifications were built into the cliffs during the era of Viking raids up the river, and they served well in later years, as the town came off a lot better from the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of Religion than nearly all of the towns and castles in this region.

The tourist concession was closed for the season, so we couldn't get in to see how things were organized up inside the cliffs. A pity -- there are quite of a few of these troglodyte villages in the Périgord region surrounding Sarlat, but this is the only one we were able to visit.


Kristin still hoping to find a way to sneak in, but no go.

Shut down for the winter. (The castle is, I mean.)

It's hard to believe we can't find a way to sneak up there.

The river Dordogne. In summer, the river swarms with gabares, the flat-bottomed boats that once hauled goods and now haul tourists.

The Château de la Malartrie peeking at us, beckoning. "Rent me," it's saying. "Rent me by the week."

The "Fort Troglodytique"

The Château of La Malartrie has been there in one form or another since the 12th century, originally as a leper hospital, but was restored in its present form by the Count de Saint Aulaire, the French ambassador to the UK at the end of the 19th century. You can rent it out from his descendants as a holiday flat, if you like: it's only 3,500 euros for the week, and not only are the bed sheets changed every week, there are also a washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher included. Extras: A cook will prepare your meals "if you whish".

Atop those cliffs, we learnt a few days later, loom the "suspended gardens" of Marqueyssac.

But now it's time to move on to the famous Château de Beynac.

Château de Beynac

The Château de Beynac

First built by the barons of Beynac in the 12th century to close off the upper part of the Dordogne valley from intruders, throughout the Hundred Years' War the castle's lords fought a tit-for-tat on-again-off-again war with the English-leaning lords of the Château de Castlenaud just across the river.

The castle has got sheer cliffs on three sides and double defenses facing along the narrow plateau at the top of them. There's an interesting formerly-walled village at the foot of the cliffs, but here we're sauntering in along that plateau, right up to the front gates from the carpark, bold as brass.

In the old days, attacking troops were invited to step into the Tavern of the Ramparts for a refresher before assaulting the castle walls. Medieval hospitality.

Once inside the first gatehouse (right, €7.50 each), we're poking about among these palisades and preparing to assault the really serious gates within (unlike hostile medieval barons we've got our tickets).

The original castle keep, or 'donjon'. Richard "the Lionheart", the French crusader/bandit who was technically King of England 1189-1199, ruled here for a while, just before he got crossbowed whilst beseiging some of his neighbors just to the north.

Kristin on the terrasse in front of the keep. We lost her glasses at some point after taking this photo, but found them again a few hours later, against all the odds, proving that there is a god.

A knights' hall at the bottom of the keep (it was completely dark -- that's my admirable Fuji flash lighting our way along).

Excellent historical furnishings throughout the rooms

A comfortable room to relax in, read the newspapers, play some chess with your friends, and ignore those metallic people watching you.

The chapel from the top of the keep, the river Dordogne below

The keep

Peering from the impregnable heights. Not exactly impregnable. Not long after Coeur-de-Lion's death, the redoubtable old predator Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, Crusader and scourge of the Cathars in this region in the early 13th century, captured Beynac and wrecked most of its defensive architecture at the time.

And these are the replacements.

Kristin's glasses are down there on the chapel lawn, but we didn't know that yet. You can't really see them from here.

The mighty Dordogne

Examining the kitchens

We're having a good look about for Kristin's glasses. Just on the point of giving up now -- we've been back and forth, and up and down, throughout the castle several times with no luck.

We've even been peeking in the back door of the keep. No luck.

Sherlockian methods prevailed. After looking everywhere twice, we're back on the terrasse in fading light, reconstructing the scene, deducing purely through raw cerebration where the glasses must have fallen, and there they were.

Right there.

Now at the end of the day, we're back out the main gate (in the background) and through the tiny upper village to the carpark, and back to Sarlat for dinner and a BBC sitcom on the DVD.

A last look at beautiful Beynac

Next -- Castelnaud

1. Sarlat
2. Roque-Gageac, Beynac
3. Castelnaud
4. Gardens of Marqueyssac
5. Castle of Fenelon
6. Carcassonne
7. Castle of Peyrepertuse
8. Carcassonne by night
9. Meyrueis, Tarn

Beynac from the Château de Marqueyssac a few days later.

La Roque-Gageac, likewise from the Château de Marqueyssac a few days later.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 15 December 2008, revised 29 December 2013.

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SW France, November 2008