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A week spent dawdling through the Dordogne


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This trip report was originally posted on Slow Travel and covers a week spent exploring the Dordogne in May 2015, from a base near Sarlat-le-Canada.

All the pictures can be found here.


We have spent two holidays in France, sailing with Brittany Ferries and taking our car. We had enjoyed the Auvergne so much the previous year and fancied getting further west into the Dordogne and south into the Midi-Pyrenees. This made us start to think about Northern Spain, an area we’ve not been before. Michael has been wanting to get into the Basque country for many years. We could use Brittany ferries to Bilboa and spend a few days in Spain and then slowly work our way north and catch the ferry back from Caen.

We began with a few days in the mountains of the Picos de Europa before moving east into Navarra. We then headed north into France and spent a week in the Midi-Pyrenees near Foix, before moving to a gîte in a tiny hamlet nearly 20 miles north east of Sarlat-le-Canada.

We chose May which avoided school holidays and we thought the weather would be warm, but not too hot. It had been a late spring. The few days in the Picos de Europa had been good, but Navarra and the Midi-Pyrenees had been cold, dull and damp. The weather did improve slightly for the Dordogne and we had three days with sunshine. The best two days were as we drove north for the ferry home.

I chose the Sarlet area as a base. Tourist information in Sarlat sent me lots of information, unlike Les Eyzies, who told me information was on the web and they had a policy of not sending out information. My email that I had a policy of not visiting places that didn’t send out information fell on deaf ears.

We wanted to book accommodation through Brittany ferries and the only place on their web site was Pech Mezel, near Borrèze, a small village to the north west of Sarlat.

It was a beautiful setting up a side valley surrounded by walnut orchards. The downside was it was several miles up a very narrow road with many blind corners. Michael was a lot happier once they cut down the verges so he could see the edge of the road. Fortunately we didn’t meet any other traffic.

It was a traditional building with very thick stone walls, a huge open fireplace and old stone sink on the wall. Windows were small, making it quite dark inside and lighting was poor. After the damp spring, it felt damp inside. Heating was by small electric fires and we never did manage to get the place warm. Furnishing was a bit spartan. We felt it was expensive for what was provided and I’m not sure that I would want to stop there again.

The property is no longer available through Brittany Ferries although it is advertised through Gîtes de France.

Borrèze has lost its baker, but there is a very good baker and butcher in Salignac about 5miles away. This also has a basic and rather scruffy Intermarché, so we planned to do shopping at the Super-U in Souillac.

We enjoyed the Dordogne and are aware we hardly scratched the surface of the area. We were disappointed by the honey pot sites of Beynac and La Roque Gageac, but found many of the smaller towns and villages delightful. Often there is little information about these on the web or in the guide books which is why I have written detailed descriptions of them

#2 An overview of the Dordogne
#3 To Borrèze - Castlenau-de-Montmiral
#4 To Borrèze - Montricoux
#5 The area around Borrèze - Salignac
#6 The area around Borrèze - Vieux St-Crepin, Carlucet and Paulin
#7 The area around Borrèze - St Geniès
#8 The area around Borrèze -St Amand-de-Coly
#9 Vézère valley to the north east of Borrèze - Cabanes du Breuil
#10 Vézère valley to the north east of Borrèze - La Maison Fort de Reignac
#11 Vézère valley to the north east of Borrèze - St Léon de Vérèze
#12 The Dordogne valley to the south west of Borreze - Carsac-Aillac
#13 The Dordogne valley to the south west of Borreze - La Roque Gageac
#14 The Dordogne valley to the south west of Borreze - Beynac
#15 The Dordogne valley to the south west of Borreze - St Cyprien
#16 To the west of Borrèze - Urval
#17 To the west of Borrèze - Abbaye de Cadouin
#18 To the west of Borrèze - St-Avit-Senieur
#19 To the west of Borrèze - Montferrand-du-Perigord and the Church of St Christopher in the Graveyard
#20 To the west of Borrèze - Santa-Croix-de-Beaumont
#21 To the west of Borrèze - Montpazier
#22 To the south of Borrèze - Belvès
#23 To the south west of Borrèze - Prats du Perigord
#24 To the south east of Borrèze - Besse
#25 To the south west of Borrèze - Villefranche du Perigord
#26 To the east of Borrèze - Rocamadour
#27 To the east of Borrèze - Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne
#28 To the east of Borrèze - Carennac
#29 To the east of Borrèze - Martel
#30 To the north east of Borrèze - Collonges-la-Rouge
#31 To the north east of Borrèze - Turenne
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It had been a very wet spring and everywhere was lush and green. The river Dordogne was so full the tourist gabarres at La Roque Gageac were unable to sail as gangways were under water.

The area is heavily wooded with mixed deciduous woodland.

There are many walnut orchards. In May the trees were just beginning to come into leaf and could immediately be recognised by their characteristic bronze colour. Walnuts are big business and are ground for oil as well as being used to make flour. We had intended to visit Moulin de Tour only to find it shut on a Sunday. We were interested to see the broken shells of walnuts being use as a weed suppressing mulch at St-Amand-de-Coly.

In places the River Dordogne and River Vérèze flows through a deep gorges with settlement huddled under steep cliffs. Elsewhere, it flows through a wide valley with rich fertile farmland.

Local strawberries were on sale everywhere. The forced asparagus grown around Beynac was at the end of its season. This is paté de fois gras country and all the villages sold their own variety of tinned paté. We did try some but found it too rich and greasy for our taste. We weren’t aware of many animals in the fields, although local cheese is made. The tops of the plateau tend to be unimproved pasture, rich in wild flowers.

In places the old dry stone field buildings, cabanes, can still be seen. Most of them date from the C19th and were used for animals or storage. Cabanes de Breuil is a small hamlet of cabanes around a working farm.

The Dordogne and Vérèze valleys do get very busy with tourists and, even in May, it was busy. From experience we know large towns aren’t for us and we prefer the smaller towns and villages. We didn’t visit Sarlat-la-Canada even though Michelin gives it its highest ranking of 3*. We were very disappointed by the tourist honey pots of Beynac and La Roque Gageac and rather wonder why everyone goes there. We much preferred Belvès with its fortified Castrum and St Cyprien, with its glorious golden chancel arch in the church.

Rocamadour is the most amazing site when you stand at the top and look down on the religious complex and the lower town. We were there early and left before it got too busy. We felt this was best seen from a distance and were disappointed by the religious complex. For those wanting to do holiday shopping it has an excellent range of shops which quickly solved holiday gifts.

Settlements are attractive with honey coloured stone houses with shaped lauze (stone) tiles. Many have a timeless air to them. Many like Villefrance-du-Perigord still retain their medieval market hall in the centre of the square. It was Market day when we visited Martel with the market in full swing in the market hall. This is a local market and we were the only tourists.

The Sunday market in the square at St Genies is popular with locals and visitors and is always busy.

Urval still has its communal bread oven with shelves to prove the bread and the baker's quarters above with his pigeon loft.

The area has been settled for several thousand years and the Vérèze valley is stuffed with prehistoric sites, including many painted caves. We gave these a miss this visit.

Early Christian hermits settled the area and many churches like that at St Cyprien, St-Amand-de-Coly and St-Avit-Senieur date from that time.

The area has been fought over for centuries. The Vikings arrived in the C9th and forts were built in the cliff face high above the river as a defence against raids. These were later reinforced during the Hundred Years War. La Roque Gageac is now a crumbling ruin, inaccessible after a rock fall. La Maison Fort de Reignac is the best surviving example of a cliff fort and is a fascinating place to visit.

Beynac has a hilltop château set high on the cliffs above the town. It is a marvellous defensive site. Disappointing inside, we felt this is another place best admired from the outside. There are other medieval châteaux along the Dordogne valley including Castelnaud, Puymartin, Felon, Montford, all of which we admired from the outside.

Many of the smaller towns started as bastides in the C13th and C14th. These were new walled towns built on a rigid grid pattern. Montpazier is one of the earliest, built by Edward I to defend his French lands. It retains its medieval street pattern and still has part of the walls with the old gateways.

Elsewhere churches were fortified for use by the villagers in time of attack or siege. St-Amand-de-Coly is surrounded by a defensive wall with a guard tower. It has an impressive fortified tower and is described in the guide books as possibly the best fortified church in the area. When the Huguenots occupied the church in 1575 during the Wars of Religion, they were able to hold out for six days against 20,000 soldiers of the Périgord seneschal who had powerful artillery backup.

Urval and Besse have massive naves which look more like a castle keep than a church. Prats-du-Perigord is unusual as the fortified room was built above the chancel. All of these were interesting buildings and well worth visiting.

Many churches still have frescoes. Those in the tiny and neglected Chapelle du Cheyard in St Genies and the equally tiny church of St Christopher in the Graveyard in Montferrand du Perigord are medieval and in good condition.

Those in the church in Belvès are later and are a very different style.

Many of the churches still have the remains of a black funerary band (litre funéraire) painted round the walls. Seen at Besse and Cadouin, these date from the old regime and were painted in honour of the deceased with his coat of arms. At St-Avit-Senieur they form black band across the arches in the nave.

As well as frescoes, many of the churches have elaborately carved capitals as at Santa-Croix and Carsac.

The church at Carennac and the abbey at Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne have superb tympanum above the main door.

Others have elaborate altars with retables attached to the top of the altar with the host box, and large reredos on the wall behind them. These are often highly carved with statues and paintings. There are good examples at Martel and St Cyprien.

I relied on the Michelin 1:200,000 motoring map, using the symbols and star rating system, to plan what to do and see, rather than using guide books. We found some delightful small places off the tourist beat like Vieux St-Crepin with its old château and church and Montferrand-du-Perigord with its market hall, château and old church in the graveyard.


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Michelin maps gave a drive time to Borrèze of about 3 hours. We decided to take our time and do a detour via and Montricoux.

Early morning cloud turned to torrential rain as we left Montferrier, although it did ease as we drove north and we even managed some sunshine as well as some substantial showers.

Our first break was at Castlenau-de-Montmiral, a delightful walled bastide, perched on top of a rocky outcrop. It was founded in the C13th by Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse. Encouragements to settle included free grazing and exemption from tolls. It is set in attractive rolling countryside with scattered woodland and arable farms growing mainly cereal and rape. There are a lot of vineyards and small wine producers.

We parked below the walls and walked up a dog leg to go through the C13th La Porte des Garrics.

Inside there are narrow streets with stone setts lined with half timber frame and stone houses with archways over the street. Narrower alleys lead off these. It is still unspoilt and hasn’t been renovated out of recognition. Some of the houses have balconies used for drying and storage.

Place des Arcades in the centre of the town is an attractive square of half timber frame and stone houses with arcades. The Hôtel de Ville is a splendid building, as is the C17th hotel next to it.

One of the timber frame buildings is a restaurant and there is an epicerie next to it. The boulangerie on a side street has closed down.

Église Notre Dame de l’Assomption is C15th although the roof was replaced by concrete in the C20th. It is a big church with a square tower above the west door. The nave is tall, reflecting its fortified status. On either side are lower side aisles with small oval windows along the top of the nave.

Inside it is very colourful with a deep blue ceiling with beige swirls dating from 1856. Down the centre are a series of paintings of scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. Yellow wall pillars continue to form the ribs of the vaulted ceiling. The chancel arch is green with two gold motifs. The walls and apse are white.

The high altar and retable are 17th and came from Abbaye de Candeil, a short distance away, which was destroyed during the Revolution. The polychrome bas relief of the Last Supper on the altar dates from 1884.

The reredos has pillars carved with grapes and vine leaves. In the centre is a painting of the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and St John, set in a grey and gilt frame decorated with carved fruit and flowers. The portico above the reredos has a gilded statue representing the Assumption of the Virgin set in a gilded arch with a deep blue background.

On either side of the nave are side chapels with decorative iron railings separating them from the nave. They have vaulted ceilings and deep blue paint can be seen underneath the grey paint which is beginning to peel off in places.

The south chapel nearest the altar has a beautiful unrestored C15th polychrome pieta, now missing the head of Christ.

At the back of the north wall is a a pale marble altar with deep red marble inset panels. In a wall niche above is a stone pieta. On the wall is an icon of the Virgin and Child and a crucifix.

La Croix reliquary is kept in a small chapel off the north side of the chancel behind a locked metal grille. It is a beautiful large gold cross set with semi-precious stones. It is said to contain a piece of the true cross as well as various relics of the apostles.


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Montricoux is given a star rating in the Michelin Motoring Atlas and looked like a fortified settlement. We were ready for a break so decided to stop and explore.

It is set above the river and the round street layout reflects the original fortified settlement with houses built along the line of the walls. The village isn't at all touristy and is in fact a bit scruffy. It still maintains the feel of an unrestored medieval settlement. There is a broad main street with very narrow alleys running off it. There are a lot of timber frame houses with brick infill. Many have later been covered with plaster rendering which is beginning to come off in places. Stone buildings often have brick surrounds to the windows. Roofs are tile.

At the edge of the village is a rather plain stone built C12th château with a square tower which had been a Templar Commandery. This is now the Marcel-Lenoir Museum with over 130 drawings, pastels and water colours by this early C20th artist.

Next to it and reached through an archway off the main street, is the C13/14th église St-Pierre. This has an offset square tower with a later brick balustrade and hexagonal tower topped by a crocketted (nobbled) spire. The nave is a very tall square structure with heavy buttresses at the east end.

Inside, the nave is very tall with recessed chapels off the side walls. It has a plain barrel ceiling. The chancel and transepts are vaulted. On the back wall is a small water fountain with a stone basin.

There is a very simple chancel with three modern stained glass windows. There is a free standing altar and a small wooden crucifix on the end wall. There is a small stone carving of St Peter holding the keys to Heaven.

At the back of the north wall is a small chapel with memorials to the dead of both world wars. The chapel nearest the transept has a patterned tiled floor and a huge wooden altar and reredos with barleycorn twist pillars decorated with green vine leaves and gilt bunches of grapes and a very dark oil painting. The vaulted ceiling has gold and blue or red ribs and a lovely painted ceiling. There are roundels with paintings of cherub heads surrounded by decorative scrolls with flowers and leaves. Mounted on the north wall is a glass coffin with the dressed effigy of St Eutrope.

The transepts have pointed arches and splendid altars and reredos. The north transept altar has a small carved silver and gilt retable with an integral host box. Above is a dark oil painting which could be the Last Supper. Fluted pillars with gilt tops support a triangular portico with a cherub head at the centre above a garland of yellow flowers and green leaves. At the corners are more figures of cherubs. There are more angels on the side panels.

The south transept has a marble altar with a dark oil painting of the crucifixion. On either side are barleycorn twist pillars on either side with gilded leaves and silvered grapes twinning round them.

The south chapel has a decorative tiled floor with a big white wooden altar with an elaborate white and gilt host box. Above is a picture of the Virgin.

There are much better pictures of Montricoux here.


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Salignac is the main service centre for the surrounding small villages. It is an attractive large village of honey coloured stone houses with steep pitched tile roofs with a lot of character. There is a splendid view of the village set on the side of a hill from the D60 coming from the east.

The village is dominated by the turreted château to the east and the church spire at the west. There is a large square opposite the Marie, post office and tourist office. This has plenty of parking during the week when locals are at work. It is a thriving settlement with an excellent bakers, butchers, shop specialising in local produce and a big pharmacy. There is a small and rather scruffy Intermarché contact with 24 hour petrol at the edge of the village on the Sarlat-la-Canada road.

Houses, usually two storey with small dormer windows, line the small alleyways off the main street.

The C13th stone market hall is in a small square near the château.

Near it is the once splendid C13th l’hôtel noble des Croisires. This has seen many alterations during the years with archways blocked up and windows enlarged.

The château is on the edge of the village and has what could be the remains of a C12th donjon as well as the C16th three turreted towers and central tower house. It is surrounded by the low remains of a defensive wall.

Église St Julien is normally locked, but we managed to get in after mass had finished on a Sunday morning. It has a very tall heavily buttressed nave and chancel with a low square tower with a pointed roof over the large porch at the west end.

Steps lead down into the vaulted nave. It is a rather plain building inside which has been heavily restored. There is a large wooden pulpit with carvings of the apostles on the sides. Altars and stained glass are modern.


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VIEUX ST-CREPIN is signed off D56 from St-Crepin. A narrow lane leads to Château de Lacypierre and the church. It is a delightful setting with a few honey coloured stone houses with steep stone roofs, a small lavoir and a fountain. The only sounds were bird song and crickets.

The church has a Presbytery built on the south wall.

On the north side is the graveyard and we were intrigued that several tombs had greenhouses around them.

It is an attractive small church with a square bell tower which has an open arcade below the stone tile roof. There is a simple wooden door at the west end with an empty trefoil window and a small round window above that.

Inside a modern wooden spiral staircase leads up to a balcony.

Pointed arches on either side of the nave lead into the lower side aisles. These were added later as they don’t line up with older arches on the wall above or the windows.

These have an internal flying buttress in the form of a round arch between the pillar and the wall for extra strength. The chancel is much narrower and has a pointed chancel arch. On the wall to the south of the chancel arch is a carved wooden pulpit. This had been reached by a stairway at the back of the wall to a small doorway leading into the back of the pulpit. This has now gone and there is a small archway containing a statue of St Theresa.

At the end of the south aisle is a very ramshackle old altar and reredos. The gilded host box with painted panels on either side, is now gently collapsing.

Steps lead up into the chancel with free standing stone altar with pillars on the base and a carving of the Lamb of God. The transitional style windows contain modern stained glass. In the centre on the east wall is St Martialis, with St Joseph and St Crispin on the side walls.

On the north wall is the remains of the processional banner with an embroidered Virgin and Child with painted paper faces and arms. There is a memorial to the dead of World War One with twenty names. Below is the memorial for World War Two with just two names.

CHÂTEAU DE LACYPIERRE is a charming stone building built between C15 and C17th on the site of an earlier building destroyed during the Hundred years War. There is a central hexagonal tower with a pointed roof and a square tower. There is free access to the grounds and a guided tour on Wednesday and Friday afternoons in the summer.

The main building has an old sundial and an archway into a small porch with an exhibition about the château. Steps lead up to a small doorway in the hexagonal tower, with a small shied carved above. This has a small balcony with a stone balustrade to the main building. Chimneys are square and have a stone cover resting on small stone supports.

CARLUCET is a few minutes drive from Vieux St Crepin along a narrow and winding road. It is a small settlement on top of a hill with a few stone houses (mainly gîtes) around the church.

Eglise Sainte-Anne de Carlucet Enfeus is one of the oldest churches in the region dating back to the C11th. It has a massive square bell tower at the west end with a pointed roof. It has Romanesque windows with a wooden ‘portcullis’ over them. There is a simple doorway under the tower set in an arch of big stones with a small recess with a statue of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child.

There is no entry into the church. A wooden door with banisters gives limited views into the church.

It is a cruciform church with a round chancel arch with pillars with carved capitals. On one side is a simple panelled pulpit on a bulbous stone base. Above the altar is a very elaborate host box with painted panels, scrolls, gilt decoration and topped with a crown. The massive 17thC reredos has an oil painting of the crucifixion in the centre with carved side panels showing the flagellation of Christ and Herod presenting Jesus to the Jews. These are set in elaborate frames with cherub heads.

The north transept has a stone altar with pillars carved on the base. Above in a carved wooden frame is a painting of the Virgin giving the rosary to St Dominic and St Catherine.

The south transept has a bulbous wooden altar with a painting of the holy family with Jesus as an adolescent with Mary and Jacob. Above is God the Father and the Holy Spirit represented by a dove.

A wooden door on the south side of the church leads into the walled cemetery. This is unusual as tombs are built into the walls.

PAULIN is a small settlement just off the D60 a couple of miles north of Salignac, with several big houses and barns. The Romanesque Église Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens has a stone house built onto the end of the nave. It is unusual as the transept roof is much higher than the nave. It looks as if it ought to be the nave, especially as it has four small bell windows at the south end and a Roman doorway at the base.

We were rather confused when we went through what we thought was the south doorway to find ourselves in the nave.

Inside it is a very simple cruciform church with a very short windowless nave with round arches with ‘water flower’ carvings into the transepts.

There is a small dome over the transept crossing, and the transepts have stone altars built into the east wall.

The small east apse has blank rounded arches on the back wall and a tiny Romanesque window with modern stained glass St Peter with the keys. Beneath it, steps lead up to a high backed chair for the celebrant. On the left is a crucifix and on the right a small darkened oil painting.

The village doesn’t feature in the guide books and there is little about it on the web. It is just a typical small village. There is nothing special about it. It is just nice, with a simple Romanesque church.


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We planned to visit St-Geniès on a Sunday morning. The market in the square was in full swing and the large car park at the edge of the village was busy. The market is an attractive sight with brightly coloured canopies and attracts a lot of visitors. Stalls were selling cheese, bread, cold meat, sausages, tins of paté (too rich and greasy for us), wine, olives and glacé fruit, vegetables, strawberries, jam and honey. There was even a stall selling vanilla pods and essence. We were tempted by the cheese stall and after sampling several chose a hard and very well matured local cheese which really had a bite to it.

St Geniès is an attractive town with honey coloured stone buildings with stone roofs, flowers and a lot of character.

The C15th château with its round machicolated tower with a pointed roof is was a restaurant.

Next to it is église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption with its square buttressed C14th bell tower and Romanesque nave.

Inside it is a simple building with side chapels containing statues off the vaulted nave. Steps lead up under the pointed chancel arch into the C12th Romanesque apse. This has side pillars with carved capitals and round arches surrounding the large round topped windows with modern stained glass. There is a wooden crucifix on the east wall and a free standing stone altar with carved arches on the bottom.

On a pillar on the north wall is a beautiful wood carving of a cherub lying on a cross surrounded by other cherubs and cherub heads with a Sacre Coeur in the centre.

The other main reason to visit St-Geniès, apart from the Sunday market, is to visit CHAPELLE DU CHEYLARD. This stands on a grassy mound above the main street. It is a small rectangular Gothic building with heavily buttressed walls and a steep stone roof with a small cross at the west end.

The inside is empty apart from cobwebs and the remains of a lopsided pulpit in the middle of the nave and a battered wooden altar, still with traces of deep blue and gilt paint. The ceiling is vaulted with decorative bosses at the ends of the ribs which still have the remains of paint on them.

The walls are covered with superb C14th frescoes in shades of reds, yellows and some blue/blacks. There are remains of frescoes on the ceiling but it is difficult to make out details, even on photographs.

Above the door is the figure of Christ with his hand raised in blessing surrounded by apostles. On the right is a figure of a monk with a halo with both hands raised.On the left is a fresco of St Luke with a lion at his feet, set inside a Gothic arch. The lion has a glorious golden mane, human face and a halo.

On the south wall is a fresco is St Stephen being pelted with stones. Below are two smaller panels. That on the left is St Catherine surrounded by four wheels. She was a C4th martyr who sentenced to be tortured on a spiked wheel, but the wheel flew apart and the fragments killed many of her accusers. She was then beheaded. On the right is St George killing the dragon.

On either side of the south window are haloed figures holding swords.

The north wall has St Michael weighing souls in a balance with angels watching.

There is also a fresco of St Peter holding the keys of Heaven.

On the east wall is a scene of the baptism of Christ with John the Baptist pouring water from an urn over the haloed figure of Christ who has a dove above his head.

This is a wonderful small chapel, no longer used and lying forgotten.


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St Amand-de-Coly is an attractive small village with a lavoir by the river and well cared for honey coloured stone houses with stone roofs. It is dominated by its massive church which is surrounded by a wall. Remains of the monastery can be seen beside the church.

Amand was a hermit who evangelised the region in the C6th. An Augustinian monastery was later founded on the site in the C12th. It was an important abbey with nineteen smaller priories under its control. The church was transformed into a fortress during the Hundred Years War. It was encircled by ramparts and walls, with a small stone guards house, complete with a fireplace, at one of the corners. With its massive west tower, it has been described as one of the most impressive fortified churches in the area. Its defences include very thick walls, holes for archers and several blind staircases built to mislead attackers into running into stairs which lead to a dead end.

When Huguenots occupied church in 1575 during the Wars of Religion, they were able to hold out for six days against 20,000 soldiers of the Périgord seneschal who had powerful artillery backup. After the French Revolution, the abbey was abolished and the church became a parish church. Little remains of the C14th hospital providing accommodation for pilgrims, apart from the pigeon loft.

By the mid C19th, the church was in a very poor state of repair and has been completely restored.

Steep well worn steps lead up through an arch in the wall to the church. This was built on sloping ground which had to be quarried away to make a relatively flat area to build the church. The transepts and apse are well below the natural ground level and if you walk round the back of the church, you are at eye level with the big round window of the apse.

It is a massive cruciform building with steep roofs over the transepts and nave and a hipped roof over the fortified west tower. This has a massive round arch above the doorway and a large round topped window. Round the inside is a narrow stone ledge, reached by a small wooden doorway from the tower. Above is a small defensive room.

Entry is through the west door which has pointed arches with dog toothed carving. Steps lead up from the doorway into a huge Romanesque building.

The choir was built first between 1120-30 followed by the chapels and transepts. The nave was eventually finished in the C13th and has much larger windows.

Inside, the floor of the church climbs slowly, one of the problems of building on a sloping site. The nave is large and very plain with a few wooden benches. The transepts are large and have big blind arches round the walls.

There are the remains of frescos on the window arch in the north transept and also at the top of the north wall.

There are two small apses off the transepts. The north apse has the remains of a stone pieta. The south apse has a simple table altar with a statue of the Virgin.

Steps lead up to the chancel with a simple stone altar with three long thin windows and a round window above. A row of corbeling above the choir supports a walkway round the top of the walls which is accessed by wooden doors behind the chancel and side apses.

Even on a warm and sunny day, the building was very cold and damp inside. There is a growth of black mould on the walls. This is another building which is more impressive from the outside.


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Midway between Sarlat-la-Canada and Les Eyzies, Cabanes du Breuil are reached by a lovely drive through mixed deciduous woodland along a winding road off the D47. Thinking this was rather an esoteric site, I thought it might be quiet, until I saw the road sign for coaches... We were there early and by the time it opened there were three other cars and a camper van waiting. During the visit, there was a steady stream of people through.

It is a lovely setting among the trees above the Vereze valley. Ducks, geese and hens were running around with their young. There were turkeys, peacock and an old dog. A construction site with two half built cabanes explains how they were built. There is also a ‘build your own cabane’ corner.

The date of the buildings isn’t known but there are records from 1449 when they belonged to the Benedictines of Sarlat. They were lived in until the C15th when they fell into disuse. In the C18th/19th artisans began to settle the area and three of the cabanes were restored and lived in by a cooper, a weaver and a blacksmith. This is the only reason this site survives.

The buildings have dry stone walls with a beautifully corbelled ceiling inside. The walls were about 1m thick at the base but taper towards the top. The outside of the roof is covered with lauze tiles with a single stone slab on the top. This was the last stone to be put into place using a wooden ladder. Larger buildings used for living in have a small dormer window in the roof.

Stone was quarried locally. The top 40-70cm provided weathered stone for the lauze tiles. The lower layers were used for walls and corbelled ceilings. The quarries were rarely more than 1m deep.

Entering the site, the building facing is the cooper’s hut. This was being used to house goslings when we visited. Opposite are three cabanes joined together to form a single building with an oven at one end. The door is set high on the wall and reached by flat stones protruding from the walls.

Beyond it is the weaver’s hut. This originally had animals living on the ground floor with the family living above on a wooden balcony. The fireplace was added in 1988 and the house is now used to display old utensils and tools. It is very dark with little room inside.

Behind is a reconstructed shepherd or vineyard hut. These were typical of the Perigord area and were used as shelter for men or implements. The walls were not as thick as the typical cabanes and there is no layer of lauze tiles on the roof. They have a low doorway but no windows. Most are now disused and only survive on the edges of previously cultivated land.

There are also a couple of brushwood huts. Heather was gathered in the winter and dried for about a month before being used to cover an 'A' frame. This can last for 30 years and huts were mainly used for storage.

The cabanes are part of a working farm with the owners living in a farmhouse which adjoins the three joined cabanes. The back north wall and roof are a typical cabane construction with no windows. The south facing wall has been modernised.

We felt the site had been opened as a form of diversification to increase farm income. There is a video (French only) in a newly built hut covering the history of the site. We were given a booklet in English to be returned as we left. This had information about the cabanes. These are numbered but there was no plan in the book. We never did find the cooper’s hut. Soft drinks, tea and coffee are sold at the ticket office which sells post cards and shopping bags. There are no toilets. It isn’t your usual slick tourist attraction, and does feel a bit amateurish. This is part of its charm.


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La Maison Forte de Reignac in the Vereze valley, is the most unaltered and best example of a cliff fort in France. Ruins of similar forts can be seen along the Dordogne valley at La Roque Gageac and there are others along the Lot valley, like at Cabrerets.

These provided a safe place of refuge for villages from attacks by the Vikings in the C9th and again during the Hundred Years War.

The fort is built into the side of the cliff, high above the valley. The site has been inhabited for 18,000 years and the tour takes you into part of this cave system. The front of the fort dates from the C14th, although the large square windows and chimney are C16th. Above is the huge and darkened smoke hole from the kitchen fireplace.

This was the centre of the estate where the Lord and his family lived with their servants. Built high above the valley floor, it was a good defensive site. Small holes under the windows could be used for firearms and there was a small machicolation over the main doorway. The fort could be defended by 15 people, each of whom would know their position and weapon.

The visit begins in the kitchens, at the lowest level of the fort. Above is the great room which was used as a dining room. Above is the dormitory and the Countess’s bedroom and above them is the drawing room. In the cliff above is a series of caves and walkways which were used to defend the site.

The pantry with a stone flag floor has examples of cast iron cooking pots and other kitchen equipment.

It leads into the kitchen with a beaten earth floor and a fire burning in the large open fireplace. As well as being used for cooking, this provided hot water and heat.

On a wall is a later stone built hob which could heat three smaller pans from a fire underneath.

There is a small sink by the window and a hand operated stone quern standing on legs.

Round the walls are storage cupboards, all beautifully carved, small working table with bread and vegetables, a grandfather clock and a shelf suspended from the ceiling which would be used for food storage.

Behind the kitchen is a cave which had been used by Cro-Magnon people. This now contains exhibits of stone axes, flint implements and weapons, antler picks and fishing hooks. There are some examples of beautifully carved work from throughout France and other parts of the world. These include female bodies with huge pendulous breast and big stomachs. There are carvings of horses heads, hen, bison and aurochs. Many are similar to the cave paintings found in the area. There are antlers with beautifully carved deer. Examples of human skulls from Lucy to Cro-Magnon man show the evolution of the human skull. There is also some information on curing animal skins and making fire.

Behind this cave is the former cellar. This now has a wooden cupboard, big iron saucepan and lid with the iron stands for use above the fire. There is a display case with different locks and keys as well as examples of cannon balls and lead shot.

Wooden stairs lead up to the great hall which was partially quarried out of the rock face and has huge square doorways. This has a newly laid pisé floor made of small pieces of stone carefully positioned upright into a clay and lime base. Walls would have been whitewashed regularly.

The room was used as a dining room. It has a large open fireplace under a massive stone lintel. Above is a mounted wild boar head.

Beside it is a Louis XIV roasting spit which could turn meat for 30minutes before the 25kg weight had to be wound back up. There were hams hanging smoking at the back of the fire and smoked sausages hanging from the ceiling above the table. This has bench seats along its length with upholstered chairs at the ends. Round the walls are beautiful examples of carved furniture from C16th and C17th. This includes an elaborately carved bread store on the wall with a locked cupboard in the centre. Round the walls are paintings and animal heads.

Off the room is a spiral staircase. Next to it is a wooden door to the outside of the cliff face with a bunch of keys hanging beside it. The staircase leads to the dormitory, used by the servants and could sleep around ten people. Above the great hall, it was heated by heat from the fire place below. It is simply furnished with wooden frame beds filled with bracken.

In a corner a modern wooden staircase, which is a bit tight on space and head room, leads to the drawing room. Lighting was by candles on a round metal base which could be raised or lowered using a rope. There are upholstered chairs in front of a big fireplace. In the ceiling is a large hole which was the original chimney. There are antlers and rapiers on the walls along with pictures and tapestries. It is furnished with a globe, small tables and carved wooden cupboards.

In an ‘oubliette’ in the wall is a suit of armour carefully designed so the arms can move – great for freaking out the nervous.

Off the drawing room is another vestibule carved out of the rock with another moving coat of armour. There are three openings off this. One is the dungeon with arm rings on the walls. There was no natural light and there was a small opening in the wall with a dog leg to the outside for food. Next to it is the weapons and trophy room with blunderbusses and pikes on the walls along with stuffed animals. It also contains an C18th safe which would have been used to safeguard documents and legal papers as well as personal possessions.

Rather incongruously there are three wooden choir stalls and a ‘cathedral’ throne from Sarlat.

At the front is a tiny square room with a window. Named the ‘Billy Goat’s room’, this is where the seigneur could exert his right to sleep with a new bride on her wedding night. There are various pictures on the walls including an erotic one of a nude female with a dog…

The wooden staircase continues up, eventually becoming stone steps, to two levels of walkways cut in the cliff face. These would have had a defensive purpose. Caves are carved out behind them. One of these has a promotional video on tourist attractions in the area with English subtitles, a good excuse to regain your breath.

On the top level is what is described as the Alchemist’s room. Alchemy was very much a forbidden art and could have been practised up here in relative safety. There are stone shelves carved out of the walls with a rather dusty bookcase with even dustier test tubes, scales, still and books. A bit further along is the counterfeiter’s cave with steps leading down into it. However there is no evidence that it was used for this purpose.

The only reason to come up here is for the view across the valley and the top of the original drawing room chimney.

Otherwise miss this and take the spiral staircase down from outside the Billy Goat’s room. This leads down to the Countess’s bedroom with four poster bed, wooden chests, wash stand, able with an open jewel box and a small prie dieu with an upholstered kneeling pad. It was a comfortable room with a small fireplace, curtains, commode…

Steps lead down to the shop selling local jams and honey, soaps, the usual selection of toy knights and a good selection of books. This is in the cave which was inhabited 18.000 years ago and was the stables of the medieval fort.

Beyond is a display of instruments of torture. There are large signs warning that this is not suitable for minors unless accompanied by an adult. It could give some adults nightmares too. Skip the rest if this isn’t you.

Leaving nothing to the imagination, there were brief explanations in both French and English.

There are examples of rack, guillotine, wooden cage, stocks, scold’s bridle as well as instruments to curt out tongues, gouge out eyes, a metal skinning cat and many more too numerous to list. Most we had come across before, but there were several new ones.

The pillory barrel was used for drunkards. It either had an open bottom so the drunkard could be paraded around the town, or a closed bottom which would be filled with faeces, urine or (if they were lucky) putrid water. Bringing this back might solve our Friday and Saturday night drunken orgies and their aftermath… The grill was a metal bed frame. The victim’s head, arms and legs were clamped to it and a big fire lit under it. The victim was literally roasted to death. This was very popular in the Wars of Religion.

In the water torture, the victim was shackled to a cross of wood which could be tilted. The victim could be forced to drink from a funnel. When the stomach was bloated, it could be tipped over the other way putting pressure on the heart and lugs. This could be repeated indefinitely.

In breaking on the wheel, the naked body of the victim was stretched out on the ground with limbs splayed and tied to wooden stake or iron rings. Thick pieces of wood were put under wrists, elbows ankles knees and hips. A large iron wheel with iron edges was progressively rolled over the victims to smash the limb bones.

One of the least ‘harmful’ was the wheelbarrow, where the victim was forced to spend years chained to a wooden wheelbarrow doing forced labour.

North east of Les Eyzies, this is at the heart of the tourist Dordogne and does get busy. The car park was full when we arrived but as it was nearly lunchtime, most people were finishing so it was fairly quiet inside. Plan your visit to try and avoid the crowds as it would be difficult to move around some of the staircases and take pictures if it was busy. There are signs in French round the site and we were given a book with an English interpretation to be returned at the end of the visit.

It is a fascinating place to visit, and well worth the €7.20 entry. There is a short and fairly steep climb to the ticket office and main doorway. DDA has not reached here yet.


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St Léon de Vérèze is an attractive village of narrow streets with honey coloured stone houses, many with roses growing up the walls. On the river, it is popular with tourists and the car park was busy. There didn’t seem to be many people around so we rather wondered where they all were. There are several restaurants, a general store selling bread and another more touristy shop. There is a comment in some guide books that the views are best from across the girder bridge over the river. In fact views there are obscured by trees.

Église St-Léonce is in a lovely setting beside the river at the end of the village. After all the rain this was very full and fast flowing.

It is C11th and all that remains of a Benedictine Priory. It has a tall square tower above the transept with two tiers of open round topped bell windows. Above is a pointed roof with lauze tiles. The transepts with steep pitched roofs are much taller than the nave which has a flatter pantiles roof.

At the east end is a large round apse with lower, smaller apses on each side, all with lauze roofs. There are large round topped windows along the top of the nave and at the ends of the transepts and the apses.

Entry is either through the south door at the back of the nave or smaller north door in the north transept. Both have plain round stone arches.

Inside it is a very plain and simple church with modern stained glass windows.

There is a small carved font by the south door. On the back wall is a list of names of the dead from the First World War, including names of the missing. Above is an old stone carving of two figures on horseback, the smaller one now headless, and the larger one holding a shield.

Along the south wall is the original stone bench used by the old or infirm.

There are massive square pillars in the transept with round arches above. Those on the nave side have been reinforced at a later date to take the weight of the tower. On either side of the transept arch are very tall narrow arches with round tops which lead into the transepts.

The nave has a flat beamed ceiling. The transept is domed and the apses have round ceilings. The side apses have very simple stone alters with a crucifix with blue/mauve drapes hanging from it. The north apse has a statue of the Virgin, the south of St Theresa. Both are surrounded with plastic flowers.

A small round arch leads from the apses into the chancel. This is known as a berrichon and is a feature of churches in the Berry region.

On the south chancel pillar is a small carving of a black Madonna and Christ Child. There is a small wooden table altar beneath the chancel arch and a plain stone alter behind. Round wall pillars have carved capitals with round topped arches and there is a stone bench round the base of the wall.

The ceiling and parts of the arches and walls have frescoes. These are in poor condition. We could make out red and yellow sprays with foliage. Between are figures. Some have a halo, and one seems to be holding a scourge. There is a figure of a bull with tiny horns and a halo; the symbol of St Mark possibly.

There are more frescoes on the walls of the south apse. There are narrow red patterned bands with red scrolls between them and what look like insects with long dangling legs.

Round the top of the wall is the remains of a black funerary band with part of a shield and a crown.

There is a pattern of red or blue flower motifs round the window in the north transept, which has a statue of St Anthony of padua with teh christ Child.

We would have liked to know more about the frescoes. At the back of the church are several long information panels in hard to read handwritten French, which didn’t help much.


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Carsac-Aillac is a delightful small village on the River Dordogne, south east of Sarlat-la-Canéda. Beautifully maintained large pale stone houses are surrounded by carefully mown grass and there is a carefully restored lavoir. The large mill is now a hotel and restaurant. There is the remains of a wall going up to hillside to the gateway of a fortification.

Église Saint-Caprais de Carsac has been carefully restored without spoiling its character. It is a small C12th building of rich honey coloured stone with a steeply pitching roof. From the outside it is a plain building with a short square tower with a pointed roof above the transept. There is a round apse at the east end with carved corbels below the eaves.

Entry is through the west door which is set beneath round arches with dog toothed carving.

Inside, it is a lovely church with massive transept pillars, big round chancel arch and pure Romanesque chancel.

The nave has an elaborately vaulted ceiling with carefully carved bosses. These include figures and animals, including a really moody lion.

The transept pillars have carved capitals and there are more on the chancel pillars. The church is noted for the quality of its carving and these included foliage and human figures. Each capital has a different design.

In the chancel, double wall pillars with superb carved capitals support five blank round arches. In the centre one is a stained glass window with four small roundels with images of a fish and a lamb.

The baptistry at the back of the church has a simple stone font on four legs.

The wooden pulpit against the chancel arch has with “AUDIUNT VERBUM DEIET” (They hear) carved round the top.

The south aisle has a stone altar at the end with with the names of the dead from the First World War carved on the base.

The north aisle is shorter than the south aisle and has a white stone altar with carved pillars on the base with red and gilt painted capitals. The host box is pale blue with rust and yellow panels and has a yellow scallop shell.

The wall pillars are painted with blue spiral bands with a red outline and yellow carved capitals. The ceiling ribs are red with a blue zig-zag pattern on the sides with red triangles and blue dots. The ceiling boss is shaped like a flower. The ceiling between the ribs is blue. The walls are are outlined with grey frames. Inside there are red outline circles with a smaller circle and cross.

The stations of the cross are rather esoteric terra cotta sculptures made by the Russian abstract artist, Léon Zack, who was a refugee here during World War Two. The words are part of a poem “The Way of the Cross by Paul Claudel (1868-1955)



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West of Carsac, the Dordogne runs through a deep gorge cut down into the limestone and La Roque Gageac is the next village set in the middle of the gorge.

Seen from the river it is a dramatic site with stone houses with lauze tile roofs climbing up the slopes of a very steep wooded cliff along the River Dordogne.

After all the rain in spring 2013, the river was very full and fast flowing. The Gabarres which normally run tourist trips along the river were all tied up as the access gangplanks were under water.

It is an attractive settlement and very photogenic with the church to the east, Le Manoir de Tarde with its round tower and pointed roof in the centre and Château de la Malartrie at the west end. Don’t be fooled, this was built in 1902 in the style of a C15th chateau.

Above Manoir de Tarde it is possible to see the remains of the Troglodytic Fort, a few stone walls built into the bare rock face. This provided the villagers with a virtually impregnable refuge from Vikings in the C9th. It was further strengthened during the Hundred Years War and remained in use until the C18th when it was partially dismantled and the stones taken for building material. This used to be open to the public but a major rock fall in 2010 destroyed the access steps and part of the site, as well as part of the road below. The site is unstable and closed.

Steep alleyways with steps climb up from the main road to a narrow road lined with houses and shops selling local produce.

Along the side of the road is the Exotic Garden which was created in 1970 with palm trees, bougainvillea, passion, mimosa, oleander, banana, lemon….

This takes you to the église Notre-Dame de La Roque-Gageac, a small C14th church with a round apse and small bell cote with a lauze tile roof over the lower bell chambers.

The inside is very simple and quite plain, with whitewashed walls. At the back is a wooden balcony set on wooden pillars. There is a small stone font and a stone tablet with the names of the dead from the First World War.

There is wood panelling round the walls of the chancel with a bench round the bottom with a high backed seat for the celebrant. The free standing altar is covered with a cloth and there are small white statues on either side of the modern stained glass window which has an image of St Donat.

On either side are small chapels. The south has a pieta in a niche with blue back lighting.

The north chapel has a wooden altar resembling a chest with bands and rings on the front. Above the host box is a statue of Notre-Dame de Lourdes with urns with flames on either side.

The road beyond Le Manoir de Tarde was still blocked by a landslide in 2013, so the only way to access the street beyond is by going back down to the main road and climbing back up. We didn’t bother to do this.

La Roque Gageac is a tourist honey pot and its popularity can be gauged by the size of the car parks at the east end of the town. We are not quite sure what everyone does here, unless we are missing something...


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Beynac is very much on the tourist route. Views of the château set high on a steep cliff high above the town looked attractive when we drove past the previous day. Michelin motoring atlas gives it 2* so we decided it must be good.

Beynac had been an important river port trading with Auvergne, Quercy and Bordeaux. The main port was to the east and is surrounded by some nice big buildings.

There are few shops in the lower town, chemist, bakers and a few tourist shops. There are even less in the upper town around the château; a small gift shop and two restaurants which had very appetising smells coming from them.

At the western end of the town, rue Tibal Lo Garrel leads from lower village up to château. It is a steep climb up a narrow cobbled street lined with renovated C15-17th houses with coats of arms and ornate dormer windows.

The château was one of the most important castles in the region, protected on the landward side by double walls and ditches and 150m cliffs along the river. The site has been inhabited since the Bronze age. The first château was built in 1050. It was captured by Richard the Lionheart, demolished by Simon de Montford and later rebuilt. It was repeatedly under attack during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. The château was abandoned in 1798 and fell into disrepair. Restoration work began in 1961 and was still in progress in 2013.

The C12/13th battlemented square keep with its tall narrow corner tower is at the heart of the château.

It is surrounded by C14th buildings with lauze tiles. There are two defensive walls. The inner one has stone battlements. The outer has groups of 4 or 5 wooden spikes along the top of the wall.

Entry is through a gateway with the ticket office. This leads into the outer courtyard between the two defensive walls, with a massive castle wall in front. There is a dry ditch in front of this. From the ends are good views of the river to the east with its very flat valley bottom and wooded sides with the châteaux of Feyrac, Castlenaud and Marqueyssac.

We walked along the ramp round the keep which has the remains of corbels which would have supported projecting wooden defences on the walls. A double door leads into the guard room at the base of the keep.

This is very dark with no natural light. The only light would have come from lanterns suspended from the ceiling which could be raised and lowered by a rope. In the centre is a long wooden table with benches and swords propped up against the ends. On the walls are pikes and halberts. The horses were stabled against the wall and we could still see the stone feeding troughs and rings used to tether them. On the walls is the remains of old tack. In the back corner was the spiral staircase to the upper rooms in the keep.

A door to the right of the entrance leads via a passageway with a wooden chest and picture to two rooms in the later building. The floor is newly restored in a beautiful ‘pisé’. Small upright pieces of stone are nailed vertically into a bed of clay and lime.

In the first room is a fireplace. Windows are larger and have shutters and stone bench seats. There are the remains of latrines, now wood covered holes in the floor.

A wooden staircase leads to the second floor with the Great Hall with a fireplace with a carved over mantle. There are old and rather dirty tapestries and flags on the walls and a big dark oil painting of the crucifixion. There is large window on the east wall. Round the walls are old and rather plain wooden chests.

Off the north wall is a small oratory behind a locked door. This has a stone altar with a modern crucifix on it. On the wall behind is a C15th fresco of the Last Supper.

Off the Great Hall is a room with a fireplace with a metal fire back dated 1302 which has two lions on either side of a shield with a diagonal bar across it with moon and stars on either side. There is a table and two chests and another drab tapestry. Another small room off has more dirty tapestries, a wooden cupboard and a latrine.

In the north west corner, a modern spiral staircase leads to the roof of the keep. In an alcove in the wall, behind glass, is a suit of armour. There are a series of locked doors off the staircase, which were opened for guided groups. At the top this picks up the original stone staircase onto the roof.

This has a tall wooden palisade round the inside of the walkway. In one corner is a tall, narrow square tower with battlements and machicolations. There is a smaller round lookout tower with a pointed roof. A doorway off the walkway leads into a small room with a fireplace. Another doorway leads into an open area with battlemented sides and good views of the river. Looking back over the château, there are views of the different roof lines but no view down onto the town.

Back in the Great Hall, a doorway to the right of the fireplace leads to a C17th stone balustraded staircase which leads to the C17th rooms. These are kept locked. One was open for a guided tour and the guide was very insistent we did NOT go in. A brief glimpse through the door before I was firmly shoo-ed out showed carpets, tapestries, curtains, table and tapestry covered chairs.

You need to go back down the spiral staircase in the north west corner of the Great Hall which takes you down into the centre courtyard. This is the heart of the château . All the rain water was collected in large underground tanks, which were the only source of drinking water. Originally this only had one doorway into the guards room.

The C12th kitchens are off the central courtyard and have a stone ramp which allowed men to ride into the centre courtyard and guards room without dismounting.

The kitchens are built on three levels. At the bottom is the fireplace with an alcove next to it and a pile of firewood in a corner. There is a big wooden vat and iron hooks hang from the ceiling. There is a large iron cage to store food. There is a large wooden chopping board, old rough wooden table, stone sink, chests and barrels.

On the middle level are two long trestle tables with slits to hold swords and wooden benches. Cross bows are suspended from the ceiling and metal shields, helmets and swords are propped against the walls.

We felt the château was expensive for what there was to see. There was no attempt to interpret the château and little information. The English guide available from the ticket office was very poor and some of the directions were out of date.

Église Notre dame de l'Assomption de Beynac is the parish church and open for services on a Sunday. It is on top of the cliff next to the château and reached up a ramp running round the outside of the château wall. It is a long rather plain stone building with a simple wooden door under pointed arches. It is usually kept locked but we were lucky as it was opened up for a group of film makers sussing it out as a possible location. We followed them in.

Inside is a long nave with a vaulted ceiling with ribs painted to resemble marble. Steps lead up to the chancel with an ornate wrought iron altar rail. There is the remains of a black funerary band round the walls of the chancel.

The wooden altar has leaves and faces carved down the corners and a painted pattern of pink flowers and grey leaves on the front. Above is a gilded host box with carvings of leaves and cherubs. At the corners are two angels and at the top is the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child. Behind is a huge carved wood reredos which covers all the east wall. This has a large oil painting in the middle of the Assumption of the Virgin. On either side are full size carved figures with barleycorn twist pillars and carved panels. The whole is topped by a triangular portico with God the Father.


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St Cyprien is a few miles from the tourist honey pot of Beynac. It doesn’t get any stars in the Michelin motoring atlas and is rather dismissed by the guide books as a “workaday place without the attractions of Beynac”. Having been singularly unimpressed by Beynac, this sounded much more ‘our sort of place’. It was and we were the only tourists that afternoon.

There is plenty of free parking as you come into the town which has a one way system along rue Gambetta, which is the main shopping street with a good range of shops and small restaurants. Narrow alleyways with a stone drain down the centre (much needed when it rains heavily, as we discovered) climb up to the massive église St- Cyrprien. These are lined with stone houses, many with carved dormer windows. Unlike Beynac, they have not been prettified.

Église St-Cyprien at the top of the town is a huge church with a very tall buttressed nave and big square bell tower which looks more like a castle keep than a church.

The church was built in the C12th over the tomb of Cyprien, a C7th hermit. It was restored in the C13/4th.

Steps lead up to the doorway at the west end which has pillars with small carved capitals and pointed arches above. On either side are the remains of blind Gothic arches, with a Gothic round window and three lancet windows above.

It is quite a dark church inside, although there are lights triggered by movement. These light up the chancel arch with its gilt paint, which glows.

The chancel arch is white with swirls of carved gold foliage on the sides and smaller painted roundels at the bottom. At the top is a blue circle with a gold sunburst.

Round three sides of the chancel is a huge C17th wooden reredos painted to resemble pink and yellow marble panels in grey frames. There are dark ‘marble’ pillars with gold acanthus leaf tops. Along the top are golden urns with flames coming from them. At the top of the east wall, set in gilt fretwork, is a painting

The high altar is painted to resemble dark red marble and has carved gilded corners and surround. Above is a small gilt retable with gilt host box with cherubs at the top and garlands of flowers down the sides.

The wood pulpit pulpit has carved panels and an elaborately carved sounding board above with an angel and trumpet on the top. It is reached by a stairway in the wall pillar.

Above the west door is a balcony with a wooden organ.

The side aisles have two chapels on each side separated by big square wall pillars with a pointed arch, all with splendid carved wooden reredos.

We particularly liked the one on the north aisle nearest the chancel. In the centre is a wooden statue of the Virgin and Child. On either side set between fluted pillars with acanthus leaf capitals are the wooden figures of two bishops who look as if they have taken too much communion wine and look decidedly joyous.

When we came out the skies opened and we had to shelter from the torrential rain under an archway. We understood why the streets needed central drains.


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During my preliminary researches of the area, a picture of the bread oven at Urval had caught my attention. Further reading suggested this was the kind of small settlement we enjoy. Apart from a very brief mention in ‘Eyewitness Dordogne’ it is ignored by the other guide books. There is a certain amount of information on the web and google images were encouraging.

Urval more than lived up to its promise. It is a delightful small settlement just off the D25, about 8 miles south west of St Cyprien. There is no plan to the village, the stone houses with steep stone roofs just get closer together. We parked by the large stone built Marie on the edge of the settlement. This is a splendid building dated 1882 which was also the boys school.

Across the road are some old wooden barns. At the other end of the village is the château, a large stone building with a very old defensive tower at the centre surrounded by later buildings. Over the road from it is the cemetery with the large family vault dwarfing the other graves.

In the centre of the village is an old mill with a mill pond with a swan and ducks.

The fortified church has a massive C12th nave and looks more like a a castle keep with its narrow slit like windows, than a church. The doorway to the defensive rooms above the nave was half way up the north wall which now has a metal ladder to it. The C11th chancel is lower and has a high wall built above it to provide extra defence. There is no obvious tower. We couldn’t see the bells, but we could hear them.

Entry is through an old wooden doorway at the west end which is set under pointed arches. Steps lead down into the church.

It is very simple inside with very small windows in the nave.

On the north wall is a memorial to the dead of World War One with eight names. One name is added from World War Two, as well as another who died in Buchenwald Concentration Camp. It is the first time we have seen someone remembered like this.

To the left of the chancel arch is a statue of the Virgin and Child. On either side of the arch are patches of plaster with the remains of frescoes. Around the top of the chancel pillars is a broad black funeral band with two shields painted on it.

In the centre of the chancel is a simple stone altar. The side walls of the chancel are arcaded and have pillars with carved capitals. On the east wall is a small wooden crucifix.

There is a later chapel off the north side of the nave, reached through an archway. This has a wooden altar with an elaborate deep blue and gilt retable above it. Set high above on a stand is a statue of the Virgin Mary. On the back wall are painted pillars supporting a triangular portico around the statue.

Propped up against a wall is a big C19th oil painting of the Virgin and Child, which used to be in the choir as well as the remains of the old metal altar rail.

The communal bread oven is signed from the back of the church and was typical of ones found in a Périgourdin, medieval village. It is one of the few to survive intact.

It is a communal bread oven dating from the C13/14th. From the C11th, the Seigneur had banal rights to the oven and the mill. The peasants had to pay to use them or else they had to pay a fine. The ban fell into disuse from the C14th and was eventually abolished on 4th August 1789, along with feudalism.

It is a splendid stone building. The roof is later and would originally have been stone. The wood fired oven is at the base and the wooden shelves used to prove the dough still exist. At the base was the wood store. The Fournier (baker) lived above the oven next to his wooden pigeonnier.

The oven was used during the First World War and is still used on the village fete.


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Cadouin is another small village with a few shops, a big stone market hall and dominated by its abbey.

Facing the abbey is an attractive row of small stone house with shutters lining an open square. Beyond them is an old gateway across the street.

Beyond the gateway are large old houses with pigeon lofts.

There are a few shops around the square including a bakers, Tabac and cafe, épicerie and a shop selling local produce.

The abbey is rather an austere building of pale yellow stone which has become blackened in places.

In the Middle Ages, Cadouin was an important place of pilgrimage as it was thought to have part of the Holy Shroudwhiich had been wrapped round the head of Christ. This was suspended in a casket above the altar. In the 1930s the material was examined and found to be C11th as it had embroidered bands of Kufic script about an emir and Caliph who ruled in Egypt in the C11th. It was removed from the Abbey and pilgrimages discontinued. It is now on display in the Chapter House. It is still possible to see the chains hanging above the altar which held the casket.

At the east end is an unusual small bell tower with a double pointed roof. The abbey has a massive buttressed west front which masks the roof line. To the right of the abbey is a large stone building which would have been part of the Abbey buildings, but is now the Marie.

Inside, it is a huge and plain Romanesque building with large pillars with round arches separating nave and side aisles and a barrel ceiling with ribs. There is a narrow carved frieze round the top of the walls of the side aisles.

A locked doorway on the south wall would have lead into the cloisters. We peeped through for a glimpse.

The transept pillars have beautifully carved capitals and statues include the Virgin Mary and Christ Child as well as St Joseph and the boy Jesus.

The chancel has a small stone altar and is pure Roman, with round wall pillars with ‘water flower’ carved capitals and round arches on the walls. Between them are round topped windows with modern stained glass. On either side are small apses. There is the remains of a fresco of a knight with a lion. Round the walls is a black funerary band with badges.

The chancel has a blue painted ceiling with yellow fleur de lys and two angels holding a banner inscribed “IHS sanctum sudarium”. The ceiling rib has a grey and blue scroll pattern on a plum background. Behind is a mural of Christ stepping out of the sepulchre holding a metal cross and banner with a red flag, while the Roman soldiers are sleeping. The buildings of Jerusalem can be seen behind Christ.

Cadouin is a popular stop on the tourist route and for coach parties. Most people head for the cloisters. These are accessed through the Tourist Office and cost €7 (2017). They were built in the C15th and heavily restored in the C19th when the capitals were restored. The brief glimpse we got of them through the locked door in the Abbey didn’t encourage us to visit.


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St-Avit-Senieur is a small village about 5miles south west of Cadouin. Like Cadouin, it is given 1* rating in the Michelin Motoring map but is ignored by the tourists. We found it a much more interesting place.

Again it is dominated by a massive C12th abbey which was fortified in the C14th. Opposite the abbey is a big tree lined square with honey coloured stone houses and the Marie.

In the C5/6th, a hermit named Avit came here. Tales of his miracles soon attracted pilgrims and a monastery was established here. It suffered in the Albigensian crusades and the Hundred Years War. The building was in poor condition and the Huguenots wrecked the abbey and partially destroyed the bell tower during the Wars of Religion. The cloisters and monastery buildings collapsed. There was a major reconstruction in the C19th and further work done towards the end of the C20th.

The abbey has a very plain long low nave with flat buttresses and unadorned round top windows. Beneath the roof are a series of small square windows.

The chancel has very tall blind round topped arches and a flat east end. At the west end are two towers. The south tower is square with tall blind, round top arches and a pointed top. The north tower was later and had a battlemented top. This is now ruined and only the east wall still stands.

The west front is masked by trees and difficult to photograph. It has a wide facade with a big arch with machicolations and battlements above the door. Above is another row of machicolations and battlements with wooden flaps between.

Steps lead up to the wooden door and then through a metal grille into the huge and empty nave. This has a walkway round the top reached by a spiral staircase in one of the wall pillars. This gave access to the towers. Below the walkway is a narrow painted frieze. There is a feeling of light inside with plain glass windows in the nave.

The walls of the nave are almost totally covered with murals in varying states of conservation. The choir was rebuilt in the C17th and is devoid of painted decoration. Massive square wall pillars continue up to form wide ribs painted in bands of red and yellow, across the arcaded ceiling. There are a series of beautifully carved bosses.

There are the remains of frescoes. There is a beautiful St Christopher carrying the Christ Child on his shoulders. It is difficult to make out details on the rest, but we identified a haloed Virgin Mary with the Christ Child with an angel holding a sword to her left.

Four wall arches on the south wall of the nave are painted red and contain a regular painted design. Each arch is different. Running across the bottom of the four arches is a black funerary band. The rest of the walls are covered with a wavy brick outline with a small red central motif.

There is a four sided C9th carved stone font in the nave. This has a scroll pattern carved on the sides. At the top is a very small bowl with four carved scallop shells. Near it is a statue of St Avit Ermite.

At the end of the south aisle is a wooden altar with an unusual circular gilt host box with a carved and gilded bowl of fruit on top and praying angels on the side panels. Above in an elaborate frame is an oil painting of Christ Crucified with a dove above.

The wooden altar at the end of the north aisle has a wooden host box with Christ crucified on the door with Mary Magdalene at his feet. Above is an oil painting.

In the chancel is a modern free standing altar with a gilt design of Christ and angels on the front. Behind it is the high altar, painted to resemble marble, with a massive reredos and host box. This is set in gilded panels with cherub heads. On either side are two full size figures on pedestals. On either side are painted marble pillars with carved capitals with urns and angels above. Above is a large oil painting of the crucifixion in a black and gilt frame with a carving of an angel blowing a trumpet at the top.

On the side walls of the chancel are wooden choir stalls with blue painted seats, high backs painted with red and yellow squares in a blue frame. They have yellow scrolls on the arms and a blue canopy above.

To the south of the church are the remains of the cloisters, used as a cemetery from 1659-1923, and the remains of the monastery buildings with their wall round them. There are good views of the outside of the Abbey.

The old Presbytery had stone archways on the ground floor leading to the storage rooms. Steps lead up to the first floor living quarters with a covered balcony.



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Montferrand-du-Perigord is an attractive small village deep in the rolling wooded countryside of the Dordogne. The main street is lined with lovely old stone houses, many with towers. They are well spaced out with flower gardens and grass around them.

Set above the village and reached by a narrow lane is the C12th château with a later C16th tower.

There is a very large stone market hall in the square with the Marie and C19th church which was being renovated in 2013. This replaced the C12th Church of St Christopher in the Graveyard which was falling down.

The cemetery is to the south of the village and St Christopher in the Graveyard is signed as 900m from the main square. The road climbs steeply out of the village and there is a right turn at the crossroads to reach the church. It is well worthwhile seeking out as the inside is covered with frescoes.

The CHURCH OF ST CHRISTOPHER IN THE GRAVEYARD was the parish church until 1847 when it was in a very poor state of repair. The length of the building had been reduced by half as the cost of repair was too great. The C12th bell-tower and a small nave are all that are left of the Romanesque church.

On top of the plateau surrounded by rolling farmland, the church is set in a walled graveyard with many large and splendid tombs. It has a square stone tower with a row of corbels below the louvred bell windows and a pointed roof made of stone tiles. The tiny nave has a herring bone pattern on the walls, characteristic of C11th work. Originally it would have been 4 or 5 times as long and much higher. It now has a later pantile roof and the original roof line can be seen on the tower.

There is a simple arch above the wooden door leading into the church. The chancel is now under the tower and has a plain stone altar. The nave windows are the original C11th windows. The chancel window is larger and later.

Inside, the walls and ceiling are covered with frescoes which are described as some of the best in the region. They are mainly shades of reds and yellows. They were covered with plaster in the C15th and only rediscovered in 1980. The oldest are C11th.

There are two small blind arches on the walls which have yellow, red and blue blocks painted round the arch. On the walls between are foundation crosses with red circles with red crosses on a yellow background. There is the remains of a black funeral band round the walls. At the top of the wall is a small plinth painted with blue, yellow and red blocks. There are tantalising glimpses of more frescoes where the later wall plaster is beginning to peel off.

The chancel vault has red stars on a pale background with a sun and moon, both painted with human faces. At the centre is Christ Pantocrator, clothed in red, sitting on a throne, against a red stippled background. In his left hand he holds an orb. His right hand is held high in blessing. His face is outlined in black and has a distinct Arabic look.

He is surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists, with a very mean lion of St Mark with a long red tongue. The bull of St Luke is a deep red and has wings. St Matthew is represented by a winged angel with a red halo. The eagle, symbol of St John has been lost.

The east wall of the chancel is painted a deep rust colour. On the north side is a fresco of the Annunciation with Gabriel appearing to Mary. On the south side is an image of a bearded St Christopher holding a stick and carrying the Christ Child on his shoulders.

The oldest, C11th fresco is under the first left hand arch in the chancel. It is a lovely depiction of St Leonard. He was authorised by the king to free some prisoners. The small building at the bottom left is the prison and two prisoners are kneeling at his feet in thanks. Above two angels endorse his action.

On the north wall near the entrance is a C15th depiction of Hell, represented by Leviathan, a sea monster with his mouth open ready to swallow the damned. Look closely and you can see figures in his mouth.

To the left of him is a figure of a woman with a red clock riding a lion, the symbol of lust and one of the seven deadly sins. The rest have been lost.

On the south wall is part of a depiction of the Last Supper, but only two of the apostles remain. The rest were lost when the nave was shortened.

This was a wonderful find.


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There was a board and information about Santa Criox-de-Beaumont in the Church of St Christopher in the Graveyard. It sounded interesting and was only a short drive so off we went. It doesn’t feature in the guide books and there is little information on the web.

Set on top of the plateau in poorer farmland, we were nearly deafened by the noise of crickets when we got out of the car.

Santa-Croix is a small scattered settlement with Marie, Salles de Fetes, a couple of houses and the remains of a very tall keep like tower. This used to be a Templary belonging to the Knights Templars.

The church is C12th and has a very tall nave with a flat bell cote at the west end. This has an enclosed wooden balcony. The east apse is lower with an even lower apse on the south side. There is a low south aisle and a later rectangular sacristy on the north wall. There are re-carved corbels under the apses with human and animal heads. The apses still have a stone slab roof. The nave roof is later and has pantiles.

Entry is through the west door which has a large arch over it with a round window above. Steps lead down into the small nave. It is simple Romanesque architecture at its best. Round arches lead into the south aisle. Big transept pillars support round topped arches. Above is a domed ceiling.

The capitals are elaborately carved with Adam and Eve hiding their modesty at the tree of knowledge with the serpent coiled round it. Two smaller figures on either side represent Adam and Eve being thrown out of paradise.

Other capitals have ‘water flowers’ or complex knot designs.

By the chancel arch is a large oil painting of Jesus with the Sacre coeur.

There is a small Romanesque chancel apse with round wall pillars and small Roman windows. Steps lead up to the high altar with a small retable containing the host box with carved panels on either side and a cross in a cupola above it.

The smaller chapel in the south apse has a stone altar with a statue of Mary and also Joseph and the boy Jesus.

This again is a simple but charming church and worth finding.


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