My recent trip to the Dordogne Valley amazed me.
I’ve been to France many times for family holidays, university ski trips and even lived in Grenoble for 9 months a few years ago. I thought I knew what to expect from France. I figured I knew what it looked like, pretty fields, nice cities and some delicious food.
But I was totally unprepared for the beauty of the Dordogne Valley.
You see there’s this thing in France where 155 villages have been granted the title of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (the most beautiful villages in France). Turns out 10 of them are in the Dordogne, there’s then a further 6 in the départment of Lot which is included in the Dordogne Valley area. Altogether the Dordogne Valley has the highest concentration of these beautiful villages out of anywhere else in France!
And when they say “plus beaux” they really mean it. Here are my five favourites.
In the department of Lot is Souillac. When we visited the annual Jazz festival was in full swing and the sounds of saxophones and singers warming up could be heard throughout the town.
The small, but lively town, it known for its agriculture which includes delicious strawberries (almost as good as English ones) and walnuts which make for great vin noix aperitifs!
10 kilometres away from the bigger town of Sarlat is the impressive castle of Beynac-et-Cazenac.
From here you get impressive views of the Dordogne River, and a number of other castles up on the hills. I could have sat on the edge of this castle staring out onto the river, the fields and the canoeists for hours.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rocamadour has been an important destination for pilgrims walking the St James’ Way for centuries. If you visit during the day chances are you’ll still see them climbing up the city’s 216 steps on their knees where they’ll worship the Virgin Mary.
We explored the sacred city by night having had a great view of it just before sunset from the other side of the valley. What makes Rocamadour so beautiful is the way it’s built into the cave, far different from anything I’ve seen before. You have to see it to believe it!
Collonges la Rouge
The red brick buildings of Collonges la Rouge in La Corrèze department are astounding. No they’re not painted, the bricks are built of of red sandstone so this colouring is entirely natural.
Walking through the narrow alleyways you won’t see a building that isn’t red and it’s amazing. The contrast of the green grape vines, the purple wisteria and the green hills surrounding the village certainly makes for a memorable visit.
But I’m saving the best until last. Sure, Collonges la Rouge was gorgeous but the winner in my eyes was Turenne.
This sleepy little village wasn’t packed with other travellers like Collonges la Rouge. There were just a few wanderers and a people sipping on coffee at cafés in the village’s charming square.
The part that won me over was definitely the castle. Or, more specifically, the views from the castle. For just 5 euros you can climb up into this privately owned castle where a surprise awaits you.
How often have you stumbled across a garden this beautiful in a castle’s grounds?
Climb the tower and you’ll be rewarded with views of Turenne. Gaze out at the countryside, the beautiful French country houses and lakes in the distance.
If I move back to France it’ll be to here.