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A week spent dawdling through the Dordogne


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Montpazier is described as one of best preserved and most photogenic bastides. We hadn’t intended to stop, but as we drove past it looked interesting and, although it was getting late, we decided we had time for a quick visit. We found somewhere to park on the outside of the walls. It is popular with tourists and coach tours as there is a wide range of shops for them. Fortunately by 4.30, they were all heading for home loaded down with bags of shopping.

It is an attractive walled town with gateways through the walls. It is one of the earliest bastides (fortified walled town), being built by Edward I in 1284 to protect the southern flank of his French possessions. It eventually passed into French control in the late C14th.

Three of the original six gateways survive and several houses have retained their original appearance. It is built to the typical bastide grid pattern with the parallel streets crossing at right angles. In the centre is the main square with arcaded shops around it. These date from the C13-16thC and have a small gap between them to reduce the risk of fire spreading. The corners of the houses are cut away to allow easier passage of animals into the square. Narrow alleyways lined with tall houses run off this.

The town had an air of purpose to it with locals hurrying about their business. It repaid visiting.

Église St-Dominique is behind the square. The original building was C13th but it was fortified in the C14th. It is a large building with an offset square west tower with a pointed roof. The nave is as tall as the tower and is heavily buttressed. The side aisles are much lower.

Entry is through the splendid double west door. Between the doors is a small carved figure of a bearded monk with a rosary. The door has a series of narrow curved arches set under a curved portico with pinnacles with small carved cherubs at the top.

Inside, the nave has side chapels set back under pointed arches with a pattern of embossed flowers. Small round wall pillars with carved capitals continue to form the ribs of the vaulted ceiling.

The side chapels have marble altars. That at the back of the north wall is separated from the nave by a wrought iron rail. This has a small reredos with integral host box and a carving of the pieta above. On either side are memorial stones with the names of the dead from World War One with a statue of Joan of Arc and a kneeling angel.

The elegant vaulted apse has carved choir stalls round the walls with misericords. There is a free standing wooden altar with a gilded host box on the back wall with a crucifix above.


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Belvès, four miles south of the Dodogne river, is a typical small market town with a range of shops and services for the local area. It lacks the tourist attractions of Beynac and La Roque Gageac to the north and sees few tourists. Tourist Information produce a good leaflet in four languages with a town plan and details of a walk round the castrum and town. Armed with this, we set off to explore.

Belvès was a fortified village (Castrum) built on top of a hill surrounded by ramparts and towers. As the settlement grew, a second rampart was built in the C12th and this was extended at the start of the C13th. This included what is now Place d’Arms and rue St Felix follows the line of the C13th rampart.

The hospital occupies the site of the original castle. The outside of the building follows the wall of the ramparts and is cleverly designed to look like them.

The guided walk begins in Place d’Arms which contains the C15th covered market hall, supported on wooden pillars on stone bases. The height of the bases varies reflecting the different lengths of timber used.

The narrow streets of rue J manchotte and rue Foncastle run down hill from the place d’Arms. Rue Manchotte is the main shopping street lined with stone and half timber frame houses. These have small shops at the bottom which spill out into the roadway which is closed to traffic after 10am.

It ends at Place Croix des Fréres with a C14th chateau.

Tourist Information is in the large stone Maison des Consuls on the corner of Place d’Armes and rue des Fillols.

It was rebuilt in the C15th after the Hundred Years War and was the home of the Sergeant. Next to it was the goal. On the first floor was the meeting room for the magistrates.

Next to it is a large square stone belfry tower, Tour des Fillols, which was one of the original towers of the C12th fortifications.

The only entry to the fortified town or Castrum used to be through the narrow archway at the left hand corner of Place d’Armes which leads to the very narrow rue Rubigan. This is too narrow for cars and the only access for cars to the Castrum is along rue des Fillos.

Rue Rubicon is lined with tall stone houses. A small gap is left between each to try and prevent fires spreading.

Of special note is the ‘Gothic style’ house on the right hand side. This was built in 1882 as a homage to the temporary Lord of Belvès who became Pope Clement V in 1305. It is a fancy stone and brick building with pointed arched windows on the ground floor and double windows above with carved pillars and surrounds. Dormer windows have a carved round arch above them and chimney pots are brick.

At the end of Impasse St Nicholas was the original chapel for the Castrum dating from the C12/13th. It disappeared in the C17th when the rampart it was built against collapsed.

At the corner of rue Rubigon and rue des Templars is the C11th Tour de l’Auditeur, the former castle keep.

Place Biraben at the highest part of the castrum was the original market place. The hospital is now built along the side of it.

Returning to Places d’Armes along rue des Fillols, takes you past hôtel Bontemps, a large plain stone building from the C12th with a C16th facade. This has a triangular portico above the door with a carved lintel. Windows are large with carved surrounds.

Off Place Croix des Frères is the large stone built Marie. This used to be Couvent des Frères Prëcheurs dating from the C14th. The octagonal bell tower, a feature of the Belvès skyline, is all that is left of the monastery church.

Église Notre-Dame de Montcuqis a short walk away and is built on top of a hill at the other end of the town to the Castrum. It is all that is left of a C9th Benedictine Monastery. The choir is C13th and the rest was rebuilt in the C15th, having been badly damaged in the Hundred Years War. The church has been recently restored when C16-18th wall paintings were discovered.

It has a very tall nave with chancel apse and buttressed walls. The square tower with a pyramid roof is built above a big porch with pointed arches and big corner buttresses. The west door has a twisted rope arch above it.

Across the back of the nave is a dark wood balcony on stone pillars with the date 1823 carved on one.

The nave is huge with large protruding side pillars with pointed arches. On them are smaller pillars painted to resemble marble which continue up to form the ribs of the barrel ceiling.

Between the arches are murals. The four at the back of the church have paintings of Moses, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham about to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The next four have representations of the four pillars of faith; Religion, Charity, Hope and Faith. The four nearest the chancel have images of the four Fathers of the Church; Ambrose, Jerome, Augustus and Gregory.

There are more murals between the arches on the north and south walls. On the north wall is Frances de Salles under a portico supported by pillars. He was a Bishop of Geneva and noted for his deep faith and gentle manner.

Next to this is a scene of St Peter preaching (la prédication de St-Pierre) set in a portico supported by barleycorn twisted pillars.

This has been carefully restored since we visited, and pictures of it look stunning.

The mural on the south wall was in poor condition and difficult to see, although images on google suggest it has been restored since we visited. It is described as the Liberation of St Peter.

There are also murals on the west wall but in 2013 they were very fragmentary and it was impossible to make out details.

In the chancel has been restored since we visited and now has wooden panelling round the base of the east end.

Belvès gets fewer tourists than Beynac. It hasn't got a château, but there is a lot more to see and enjoy in the town, especially now the church has been recently restored. This is a place that repays exploring on foot.
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We had seen this described as one of the most scenic parts of the Dordogne with large areas of forest and several pretty villages but with few tourists. It had to be on the list of places to visit.

PRATS DU PERIGORD is a small village on the D60 about 30 miles south of Borrèze. It is in pleasant wooded countryside and gets 1* in Michelin. We thought it would merit a stop.

It is an attractive and well cared for village of neat C17th and C18th stone houses clustered round the church. It must be a popular place to live as there are many new house appearing.

Église St Maurice was fortified in the C15th and is most unusual as the fortified room was added above the chancel. A large flat wall was built up at the east end of the nave and the semi-circular apse extended up against it.

At the west end is a rectangular belfry with four bell openings. The east side is timber frame. The nave sandwiched between the two has a lauze roof.

The church is rather disappointing inside. It was looted by the Protestants during the Wars of Religion and all the contents taken.

The small nave has a wooden balcony at the east end. There is a huge round chancel arch. Beneath is a modern stone altar. A round bench seat extends round the walls and there are chairs for the celebrant and assistants behind the altar.

The north side of the chancel arch has a large crucifix with Christ wearing a gold circlet and red and gilt loin cloth.

The south transept has a wood altar painted turquoise. On the base are three arches separated by red and gilt pillars. The small retable has a host box with Christ Crucified on the door with cherub heads above. Above is a small statue of Mary and Jesus set under a shell with scrolls on either side.

On the south wall is a painted statue of a Roman Soldier who could be St Maurice.

Prats du Perigord is a pleasant small town but we are not quite sure why it merits the 1* rating in Michelin. The guide books refer to a C14th Templar Castle. It wasn’t signed in the village and we couldn’t see any sign of it.
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Besse is a small village in the middle of nowhere, about 33 miles south west of Borrèze, in an area rarely visited by tourists. It is set in a valley with mixed deciduous woodland. The area has been settled since Roman times but there is little farming now and pastures look neglected.

There is a small lavoir at the start of the village. Buildings are stone with pantile roofs and are lovingly looked after with flowers.

The C11th fortified church of St Martin is built at the top of the hill and was part of a Benedictine Priory. It has a very tall nave with steep pitched roof. This was increased in height during the C14th when a room with arrow slits was built above it for use by the villagers in time of siege. During the Hundred Years War wooden hoardings would have been erected along the sides of the nave to attack the enemy storming the base of the church.

It is a cruciform building with the transepts and choir added in the C15th and C16th.

The church is reached through a small archway in a wall topped by a stone cross.

Steps lead up to the west door with its round pillars with carved capitals and beautifully carved arches above. It is set in a triangular portico of paler stone with carved corbels beneath. This has pillars on either side with carved capitals of figures and foliage.

The outer arch is carved with a looped spiral design. In the centre is the carved figure of God the Father, flanked by two angels.

The arch inside this is carved with Biblical figures. At the top are the clothed figures of Adam and Eve in Paradise with the tree of knowledge and the serpent. There are angels on either side of them.

On the left they are being banished from Paradise and covering their nudity with their hands.

Below is an image of the prophet Isaiah surrounded by seraphs and listening to the voice of God, represented as a trumpet.

On the right side is a carving of a huntsman on a horse holding a cross bow and chasing a deer with antlers. It represents the legend of Eustache.

At the bottom is St Michael killing the dragon, which looks remarkably like a serpent.

The inside arch has carvings of two beasts at the bottom. At the centre top is the Lamb of God with a cross. Between are rows of four carved shapes which look a bit like ears of wheat, but are described as ‘Palms’.

Inside, steps lead up into the nave. At the back, stone steps lead up into a wooden gallery at the west end. This has a wooden ladder which would have given access to the defensive room above and could be pulled up in times of siege.

The nave is plain with two small Romanesque windows. There are two round wall pillars which continue as a big arch across the ceiling. On the south pillar is a statue of Joan of Arc with a memorial to the dead of World War One on the wall next to her. Opposite is a small uncarved wooden pulpit.

There is a small apse at the east end with a wrought iron altar rail. There is a rather battered plaster covered altar and retable with host box. The stained glass windows are C19th. The small wall pillars on the chancel arch and walls are painted red. The arches of the vaulted chancel ceiling and the arches above the windows are painted red and yellow. Between the ribs, the ceiling is painted blue.

There are two small transepts. The north has a wooden altar and retable picked out in gilt with grapes and leaves on the corers and a gilt M. There is a statue of Mary and the Christ child on the host box. Above is the remains of a painting with St Paul, St John and the Virgin. On the wall opposite is an oil painting of the Annunciation signed by N de Chaunac and dated 1894. Ceiling ribs are painted the same as the chancel but the ceiling is pink.

The south transept has a white painted wooden altar, with a crown on the base and leaves and grapes painted at the corners. The retable above has a host box with a monstrance carved on the front with Egyptian style figures on either side. The side panels have gilded figures on a blue background with ears of wheat and grapes and leaves down the sides. Above the host box is a painted statue of St Louis wearing a crown and holding a red cushion with a crown of thorns on it.

On the walls are the remains of C16th frescoes. These still retain their colours but remains are fragmentary and we were guessing at the details.

To the left of the window is a scene of the burial of Christ with the three Marys.

On the right is what could be a scene of the betrayal of Christ when he was kissed by Judas.

Across the wall is a black funerary band with two small shields with the figures of two animals on each. Above is a gold crown. On the west wall is a picture of Christ in a loin cloth being presented to the people before his crucifixion. Below is what could be Christ ascending into Heaven with disciples on either side.

On the north side of the transept arch are two angels holding a shield.

The pillars, ribs and ceiling are painted in similar colours to the chancel, although there is the remains of a yellow pattern on the red arches and ribs.

Not only is it an excellent example of a fortified church it has a beautifully carved doorway and some nice frescoes. Guide books mention the carved doorway but ignore the frescoes.


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Villefranche du Perigordabout forty miles south of Borrèze, is well off the tourist beat. The small bastide town founded in 1261 is built on top of a ridge.

It has a large stone market hall with a wood beam ceiling.

Buildings to the north of the market place date from the C13th and still have their huge arcades with round vaulted arches.

The main street has a reasonable selection of shops aimed at the local shopper. There are two parallel streets lined with big stone houses, many with metal balconies. Dormer windows have a shell above and scrolls at the base, typical of the region. Some of the houses have rounded corners to facilitate movement of animals and carts.

Steep narrow alleyways run between these two streets.

The church is on one side of the market square and has a splendid west front with two square towers on either side of a bell cote. Above the door is a small walkway between the two.

Inside, it is a plain and simple church, rather lacking in character, possibly the result of the C19th restoration.

There is nothing special about the town to attract the tourist. It is a typical and very pleasant small market town serving the local community.


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Rocamadour must be on everyone’s tick list. A cluster of buildings dominated by Basilique St-Sauveur, cling to a vertical limestone cliff above the River Alzou. At the top is the château.

Set above a deep wooded gorge, this has been a place of pilgrimage since the C12th as the statue of the Black Virgin was supposed to have miraculous powers. In 1166, a perfectly preserved body was found in rock hewn tomb beside the Chapelle Notre-Dame. This was thought to be that of an early Christian hermit St Amadour, and Rocamadour was firmly on the pilgrim map. In the Middle Ages over 30,000 people would arrive on days of major pardon and plenary indulgence.

The town was repeatedly sacked during the Hundred Years War and its treasures plundered. It was laid to waste by Protestants during the Wars of Religion when only the Virgin and the ‘miraculous’ bell escaped. It was in ruins by the Revolution. There was a major restoration in the C19th by the Bishop of Cahors in attempt to revive the pilgrimage. Now it not only attracts pilgrims but also tourists in their hordes.

Rocamadour is divided into two main areas, the medieval town which includes Cité Religieuse and the plateau with the château and the hamlet of L’Hospitalet, site of the C13th pilgrims’ hospital, one mile along road to east. The Tourist Office here. The château is private but you can pay for entry to the ramparts for the views.

The city is pedestrianised and vehicle access limited. There is some parking along the bottom of the valley where a road train shuttles pedestrians between car parks and the city. Most parking is on the top of the plateau. From here, it is possible to follow Chemin de Croix, a shady path with small shrines on the bends, down to the religious complex. From here, steps drop down to the main village with the shops. Alternatively, there is a funicular.

We arrived early to void the crowds and drove to the parks at the top of the hill. We had a brief stop along the esplanade to take the ‘classic’ photo of Rocamadour and then parked at the opposite end by the château and funicular. We took the funicular down which is a steep drop down through a rock cut tunnel.

From the exit it is a short walk to Porte St Martial, a double arch through the old walls with a crest above and battlements. A long covered alleyway leads to the flagged courtyard with a tourist shop at the centre of the religious complex.

The mass of the pale coloured stone Basilica of St Saveur built up against the rock face, dominates all the other buildings.

A flight of stone stairs leads to a big wooden door with shields and scroll carved in wood. The nave is very tall with carved corbels beneath the roof and Romanesque windows. To the side of the door is a huge buttress with a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top.

Dating from C11-13th, it is a fairly plain building inside and rather disappointing. The double nave has large stained glass windows with Biblical scenes. Two big pillars support the vaulted ceiling.

On the west wall is a two tier wooden balcony.

There are two small stone apses on either side of the high altar. Four wooden pillars with carved capitals hold up a carved portico which extends over the side apses and high altar. This forms an arch around the east window with modern stained glass of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

The high altar has with pillars with a gilt diamond pattern and gilt vine leaves between them. In the centre is a small mise en tombeau.

On the north wall of the nave is the processional bier which has a wooden carving of a boat with a replica carving of the Black Madonna.

There are many stories of sailors imploring Notre-Dame de Rocamadour for help during storms or shipwreck. There is another small sailing ship beneath the balcony at the back of the church.

A door at the back of the nave leads into Chapelle Notre-Dame or the Chapelle Miraculeuse. Alternatively, it is reached by stairs from the courtyard to a doorway set in a stone portico with pinnacles and a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Next to the chapel is the cave in the rock where the body of St Amadour was found.

On an external wall set under 3 small arches with carved bases is a brightly coloured fresco.

Inside Chapelle Notre-Dame, multi-angular stone pillars with carved low round arches, support a stone balcony round three walls with a carved balustrade. There are C19th stained glass windows and a mosaic floor.

The altar has an elaborate retable painted deep blue with gold fleur de lys and has carved wooden angels at the top corners. At the base is the host box set in a panel with a carving of a basilica. Above, set in a Gothic arch with pinnacles is the Black Virgin, a beautiful carving of a seated crowned Virgin with the crowned Christ Child on her lap. Behind is a red/beige tapestry with a series of roundels with pictures and shields.

The vaulted ceiling is painted pale gold with red stars. Two small boats are suspended from the ceiling and old leg irons on the back wall.

An archway from the religious complex leads to a viewpoint of the lower town. Narrow streets are lined with tall stone or timber frame houses with terracotta tiled roofs.

L’escalier des Pélerines drops down from La Porte Sante to the lower town. This is a wide stone staircase with over 200 steps. Devout pilgrims would climb this on their knees. There is a small metal statue of St Jacques de Rocamadour on the wall above the stairway.

Rue de la Couronnerie is the main street lined with shops with a firm eye on the tourist trade. Some sell local produce like walnuts, biscuits, cake, patés, sausages, cheese and wine. Others sell hand made soaps and table linen as well as china and clothes. There is no tourist tat and prices are reasonable. It is narrow and very busy.

Only authorised vehicles are allowed. At one end is Porte Hugon and the other Porte Salmon.

Once outside the gateways, you lose the shops and the tourists.
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Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne is a delightful fortified medieval town on a bend of the River Dordogne. The town grew up round a C9th Benedictine Abbey and the old town is a maze of narrow streets with C17th timber frame houses.

Boulevard Rodolfe de Turenne follows the line of the medieval walls and is lined with timber frame and stone buildings. It still retains two gateways into the abbey enclosure.

Outside is a large square with plenty of parking and a range of shops including small supermarket, baker and butcher. All were shut on Monday afternoon.

Chapelle des Penitents is by the river. I had seen pictures of this on google which looked really attractive. What I didn’t know was that pictures showing it reflected in the river are taken from the opposite bank...There are however nice views of the old houses and the gabares on the river.

The chapel was built at the end of the C12th for parishioners who were not allowed to worship in the Abbey, and was called as Notre-Dame du Port-Haut. It was partially destroyed in the Hundred Years War and rebuilt in the C14th. It was sold during the Revolution and was bought by the Brotherhood of the Blue Penitents to pray and do penitence. According to the website it now houses temporary exhibitions but was locked when we visited. It is a small cruciform building with a bell cote at the west end and steps up to the west door.

There has been a monastery in Beaulieu since the C9th. All that remains of the abbey is the Abbey Church, Abbatiale Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, although there are tantalising glimpses of the remains of the cloister wall on the north side of the church.

The chancel, south transept and much of nave are C11th and are very elegant Romanesque work with carved corbels, round apses and a variety of roof lines.

The south door is C12th and the west front is C13th. The massive square tower at the west end was built in the C14th and was also the town’s belfry. It now serves as the town’s clock tower.

The abbey declined in importance during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. It was dissolved during the Revolution and destroyed apart from the church and chapter house.

Entry is through the South door set under a massive stone porch.

This is dominated by the superb carved tympanum above the doorway. Set under semi circular arches, it is a scene of the Second Coming. In the centre is the figure of Christ in Majesty with arms wide to welcome the blessed. He is surrounded by the twelve apostles. Angels above him carry the crown of thorns, cross and nails. Other angels sound the trumpets to summon the dead who can be seen pushing open their coffin lids.

Beneath, the lintel has a double row of carved monsters and snakes. The door jambs are carved with figures and there are more figures carved between the pillars on the side walls of the porch.

Steps lead down into the huge church which, after the bright sunlight outside, felt dark until our eyes had time to adjust. Big multi-angular pillars and arches separate nave and the wide side aisles which have a series of round arches along them. The nave is very tall and the pillars continue upwards to form the ribs of the barrel ceiling. The side aisles have plain glass Romanesque windows. Above the arches in the nave are very small double Roman windows, now been blocked in, with a central pillar. The west end has two large Romanesque windows at the bottom with three narrower pointed windows above, all with stained glass.

The wide side aisles and the ambulatory around the chancel were designed to help the movement of medieval pilgrims. There are three apses off the ambulatory, each with altar and retable. The north apse has a retable with a painting of the crucifixion. Above is a smaller painting of two knights kneeling below a Sacre Coeur with a crown of thorns above.

The centre apse has a wonderful retable with gilt pillars and a red portico. In the centre is the C17th reredos of the Assumption of the Virgin with the Virgin surrounded by cherubs. Above, the Virgin being crowned by God the Father and Christ. Beneath is a painted marble altar with gilt decoration and M monogram.

The south apse has a stone altar with a small marble reredos with gilt scrolls and a host box. Above is the remains of an old reredos with fluted pillars and a very old and dark oil painting.

The transepts have round top arches and there is a wooden table altar in the middle of the transept. On the pillars is a crucifix, statue of Mary with the Christ Child with a sacre coeur on his chest. There are old choir stalls with misericords.

The north transept has a crucifix on the west wall. Off it is a small apse with a cloth covered altar and small reredos. On the north wall is the small treasury in a glass fronted cabinet. This contains a C13th gilded Virgin who is holding the Christ Child on her lap. He has a book in his left hand and is giving a blessing with his right hand. Both are wearing filigree crowns set with stones.

There is a beautiful chased enamel chest from the C13th with the three kings on horseback on the lid and presenting their gifts to the Christ Child on the base.

There are two C13th reliquary arms, one of St Félicité and the other of St Emilien, made of wood and covered with silver. There are also chalices and communion plate.

A tall carved wood balustrade separates choir and ambulatory. On top of this on either side of the high altar are the carved figures of two praying priests. The high altar is painted to resemble marble and has a gilt host box.

The south transept has a splendid altar and reredos. The altar has gilt panels with two angels in the centre holding a shield. Standing on the altar is a large gilded host box with the faces of Mary and Joseph carved on the doors. Behind is a large reredos. Barleycorn twist pillars have vines with gapes twined round them. In the centre is a gilded carving of the risen Christ being worshipped by his disciples. Above a cherub holds a crown and three bar cross. At the top is a dove representing the Holy Spirit. In the portico above standing on a cherub head in a blue niche with gilded scallop shell, is a gilded figure of God the Father holding a book.


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Carennac is a lovely setting above the River Dordogne, just below the main road. The area has been inhabited since Gallo-Roman times as it was a favoured site by the navigable river. It grew in importance from the C11th after a priory was founded by the powerful Abbey of Cluny. A monastic settlement grew round the priory. The town was ravaged during the Hundred Years War and was eventually rebuilt in the C15th. The cloisters and many houses date from this time. The Dean’s residence (château) was built later along the north wall of the church and was protected by two lines of fortifications. During the Revolution, the monastic buildings were sold off for agricultural purposes.

It is an attractive town of C15th & C16th timber frame or stone houses with steep terracotta roofs huddled round the church and chateau. Streets are narrow. There is a variety of roof lines and many houses still have stone steps up to the living quarters on the first floor.

It still retains a ring of houses round the priory enclosure entered through a gateway in the walls.

The C16th château is a large tall building with round towers at the corners with pointed roofs. Now it houses a free exhibition on art and history of the Dordogne valley. We didn’t have time to visit this.

The Priory Church of St Peter dates from the C11th and has a small bell cote at the east end. The porch under the tower was added in the C12th. The square bell tower with Roman windows has had its roof lifted. This now stands on large ashlar stones with square openings between them on each side. The cloisters and the chapter house were rebuilt in the C15th.

To the south of it is a long stone building which was the previous dean’s apartments and now houses the tourism office. Access to the cloisters is arranged here and they also have a very good leaflet in English with information about the town.

Stone steps lead up to the splendid west doorway. This has two side pillars and four central pillars with ‘water flower’ carved capitals supporting the semi-circular tympanum. Above it are round arches.

The tympanum shows Christ in Majesty set in an oval with the symbols of the four evangelists at the corners; the angel for Matthew, the eagle for John, the bull for Luke and the lion for Mark. The seated figures of the eleven apostles are arranged in two rows. On the lintel are small carvings of monsters, representing fallen kingdoms or the beasts of the Apocalypse.

Inside the doorway is a small porch with blank round arcading on the walls. The door into the church has carvings of animals on the capitals.

Inside it is a typical Romanesque building with a simple barrel ceiling with arched ribs. There is a cupola above the transept crossing. Huge pillars with round arches separate nave and side aisles. There are C16th side chapels off the north aisle with altars and statues.

Just inside the west door is a small round font. On the wall beside it is a wood carving of Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist, with a dove above.

The north apse has the remains of a fresco. On the north wall is the Annunciation, with a frieze round the top of the walls. The ceiling is painted blue with gold stars and angels.

The chancel is small, not much bigger than the side apses. It has a vaulted ceiling with heads carved at the bottom of the ribs. The free standing altar has a modern beaten metal design of grapes and wheat on the front. There is a small crucifix on the east wall below the large round topped modern stained glass window. This has a centre piece of Christ blessing the crowd round him.

A small wooden doorway in the south wall with a carved stone top with a shield and badly eroded figure would have lead into the cloisters.

The Cloisters are on the south side of the church and reached through a locked door beyond the tourism office. Entry is via the tourism office and costs €3 each. We were given a token to open the door.

The south wall is all that remains of the C12th cloisters and has round arches on round pillars.

The other sides are C15th and have larger pillars supporting Gothic arches. Ceilings are vaulted with carved bosses.

In the north west corner is a hexagonal stone building with a pointed roof. This contains a spiral staircase leading to the upper arcade of the cloisters.

The chapter house house contains a C15th stone carving of a mise en tombeau (the entombment). This was originally polychrome but is now pure white. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (portrayed as C15th nobleman and a pilgrim) hold either end of the shroud. In the centre is the Virgin Mary, supported by St John, Mary wife of Cleophas, Mary Magdalene holding an ointment jar and Mary Salome.

A series of C16th bas reliefs show the childhood and passion of Christ. On the top are carvings of the last supper, Jesus being arrested, the crucifixion and the resurrection (with Christ holding a cross stepping out of a sarcophagus). Below is the Annunciation, the nativity (complete with an ox watching), the angel telling the shepherds and the adoration of the magi.

On the walls are polychrome statues including a pieta, St Anne with the young Virgin Mary and St Catherine with the wheel used to torture her.


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Martel is an attractive town of old stone houses with lauze roofs, which have been carefully preserved to maintain their character. The small old town is surrounded by a ring of main roads around what would have been the line of the walls.

The town grew up at a crossroads for the Paris-Toulouse trade and an east-west route carrying salt and wine. Being close to Rocamadour, it was an important stopping place for pilgrims.

The original town, with a merchant quarter in the west, a religious quarter in the east and a fortified quarter in the centre, was surrounded by a C12th defensive wall. The C13th was a time of economic wealth for the town with the right to mint money and the Royal court of appeal based here. Many merchants houses were built inside the fortifications, often with attached towers with pointed roofs. Poorer townsfolk lived outside in the 'barris'.

An additional wall was built round the barris during the Hundred Years War. Henry, eldest son of Henry II, plundered the treasure houses of the abbeys, including Rocamadour, and died here.

Another period of prosperity followed in the C15th. Government servants, lawyers and others arrived and built nice houses with mullioned windows, spiral staircases, courtyards and ornate doorways. There were over 30 towers, turrets and watch towers in the C15th.

In the C19th, Martel was a major trading centre for truffles and many fine C19th houses were built round the edge of the medieval centre. It still feels a prosperous and thriving place.

The old fortified town has a lot of character. Small alleyways lead to the main road along the line of the old walls. The tall square Tournemire Tower was part of the original fortifications and has machicolations on its outer wall.

Tourist Information is in the late C13t hôtel de la Raymondie which was the house of the town’s tax collector. It is an attractive building built round a courtyard with two archways onto the street.

The market hall with stone pillars supporting the timber roof is still used for the Saturday market which specialises in local produce with cheese stalls, butcher, charcuterie, dry smoked sausages, strawberries, honey, vegetables and paté. The bread arrives in an empty flour sack. It was very busy with locals shopping. We were the only obvious tourists.

To our amusement the fish stall seems to be banished from the market and is on a side street near hôtel de la Raymondie.

Église St-Maur is a large and impressive building at the western end of the old town. The C14th nave is very tall with a variety of roof lines and almost impossible to photograph. It is heavily buttressed at the corners and there are more buttresses along the nave above the side aisles.

At the west end is a huge square C16th tower with massive corner buttresses and a C19th hexagonal bell chamber with a pointed roof. A smaller round tower on the south west corner has a walkway giving access to the bells.

Under the bell tower is a huge porch with the west door. This has a beautifully carved C12th tympanum of Christ in Majesty with four angels, two with long trumpets. Below is a carved frieze with swirls, foliage and leaves.

Inside the door is a smaller porch with more doors and steps down into the church. On the inside of this door are huge barleycorn twisted pillars with vine leaves twined up them. They originally supported a balcony which was destroyed in the Revolution.

The church is an amazing sight inside as every surface is covered with painted geometric designs in every colour imaginable.

The nave is very wide with side chapels set back off it under pointed arches with latin script along the top. Wall pillars lead up to the elaborately vaulted ceiling. There is a C14th crucifix on the north wall and a carved wooden pulpit with canopy on the south wall.

Steps lead up to the chancel with a wrought iron altar rail and wooden choir stalls on the side walls. There is a small free standing altar with a painting of the head of Christ with a crown of thorns on the base. Behind is the high altar with a small gilt retable with host box, side panels and silver crucifix. On the east wall is a series of grey and gilt panels with oil paintings and Latin texts. In the centre is a painting of the Crucifixion with gilded fluted pillars on either side. On the north wall of the chancel is a massive mural with a cross and the figures of the eleven disciples below. The Gothic east window has a series of images of the Passion. On either side are paintings of angels.

The transepts have C17th wooden altars with small retables above them and splendid reredos on the back walls.

The altars in the side chapels are less elaborate and just have a small retable with a host box. In one is a beautiful painted and gilded pieta set in a frame with cherub heads and surrounded by scrolls.


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Collonges-la-Rouge is one of the most beautiful villages in France, and with 2* rating in Michelin and is popular with tourists. The old town is set off the D38 and there are large car parks at the edge of the town. These were busy and our hearts sank when we saw the coach disgorging its passengers. I wondered whether we had made a mistake coming here.

There was a steady stream of people into the town, but fortunately we soon lost them. We’re not quite sure where or how, but think it must have been into the tourist shops or restaurants.

We soon fell in love with Collonges. It is a delightful town with some large and very splendid red sandstone houses with lauze tile roofs. Many had round corner towers with pointed roofs.

There is a small stone market hall which has a wood fired communal bread oven, which still looks to be used.

Opposite is the Priory Church of St-Pierre. The earliest parts of the church date from the C11th and it was fortified during the C16th during the Wars of Religion.

The splendid tower above the transept crossing is one of the tallest in Limousin. It has a square base with open round top arches. Above are blind arches set inside triangles. Above these is the octagonal bell tower with a pointed witches hat roof. On the north west corner of the church is a later square tower with a cupola on the top.

The church is built of red sandstone apart from the tympanum and arches above the west door which are carved from gleaming white stone. The tympanum has the risen Christ in Majesty at the top flanked by angels. Below are the eleven disciples and the Virgin Mary.

Beneath are two wooden doors with huge metal hinges. Above each is a trefoil carved from white stone with a narrow carved rim. The round pillars on either side of the door have white stone capitals carved with grapes and swirls. The red sandstone arches have embossed studs.

The inside of the church has a timeless appeal. It is very wide and, at first sight, appears to have two naves and chancels. The C11th nave, transept and chancel are on the right. In the C16th a large side aisle was added to the left. This has two small chapels off the north wall with statues of St Ann and the young Virgin Mary as well as St Theresa.

The C16th nave/side aisle has a pointed arch into the chancel with has an elaborate green and gilt altar with a sunburst with IHS in the centre and gilded carvings of bishops on either side. Above is a carved and gilded retable with a small carving of the Last Supper along the base with scrolls and wheat ears on either side. The host box has an image of Christ on the door with cherub heads. The reredos has barleycorn twist pillars with gilded vine leaves and grapes. In the centre is a crucifix with gilded figures of Mary and St John at his feet. At the base is a sunburst with the Sacre Coeur at the centre. On either side are gilded statues of a bishop holding a crook with a panel with the instruments of the passion underneath. At the top of the reredos is another sunburst with God the Father at the centre.

The C11th nave has a vaulted ceiling and there are two disused chapels on the south wall. The back one has a rather nice carving of three cherub heads on the east wall. The second has a statue of the Virgin with the young Jesus, who is standing on a blue globe with gilt stars.

The round domed transept has round arches on round pillars with carved capitals. Above the transept arch is an old wood carving of a cross with two figures standing by it, one wearing a crown.

The high altar is wood and painted in green and gold. It has pillars with pointed arches on the base with MARIE in gilt spelt out under the tops of the arches. Below is a diamond pattern with scrolls and crosses. The small host box has gilt leaves and grapes on a rust background. Above is a small reredos with a pieta in the centre with a series of carved scenes on either side set in barleycorn twisted pillars with vine leaves and grapes. On either side, on a pedestal with a carved arch round are statues of Jesus with the Sacre Coeur and the Virgin Mary.

The walls and ceiling are plastered and painted. The walls are dark pink/beige with red and beige flowers. The ceiling is grey with small blue flowers. There is a red frieze round the vaulting ribs.

There is a small apse at the end of the south wall next to the chancel. This has a glass top coffin with a carved wooden effigy of the dead Christ lying in it with nail holes in his hands and feet. On the wall opposite is an old oil painting of the crucifixion.

The C15th Penitent’s Chapel close by, is a small rectangular building with a small bell cote above the west door. The inside is unexceptional and now houses a small exhibition.

Collonges-la-Rouge is delightful. It may be a tourist honey pot, but we are glad we visited.


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Turenne is dominated by its ruined château perched on top of the hill with a round tower at one end and square keep at the other. Between them is the remains of the curtain wall. Below, the houses tumble down the hillside to the main road, the D8. It is set in quite steep wooded countryside to the south of Brive-la-Gaillarde, with some pasture land.

A fortified town with three gateways developed round a strategic crossroads between Limousin, Périgord and Quercy. Once peace was established in the C16th, houses were gradually built outside the walls.

It is a very attractive town with well cared for pale stone houses with grey shutters and lauze tile roofs. Many have rambling roses growing up the walls.

Narrow streets climb steeply from the D8 to the Place de la Halle, which doesn’t have a market hall, and then to the ruins of the château. 

The C17th Collégiale Notre-Dame de Pantaléon is a large church set at the bottom of the hill surrounded by C17th housing. 

It has a square tower with an unusual double witches hat pointed tiled roof. There is a large round archway under the tower with a classical doorway into the church. This has square wall pillars with a triangular portico above. UNUS DOMINUS, UNA FIDES, UNUM BAPTISMO is carved in panels round it.

A small wooden porch inside leads into the church. At the back are round stone arches with a balcony above. This has a wrought iron rail across the front.

It is a cruciform church with a very wide and large nave and chancel. There are flat wall pillars and a vaulted ceiling. The vault arches stand out as they are a slightly paler stone than the rest of the building. Windows have modern stained glass.

The chancel walls have wooden panelling round the base with two rows of choir stalls. There is a free standing table altar with barley corn twist legs. Behind, the wooden high altar has a roundel on the base with the Lamb of God. Above is a massive gilt host box with Christ Crucified on the door with a cupola above supported on barleycorn twisted pillars with pinnacles and crown on the top. Side panels are carved with biblical scenes with cherub heads. On either side are small carvings of the Virgin with the Christ Child and a bishop.

Above, set under an arch is a painted bas relief of Christ on the cross with Mary and St John. Symbols of the passion are painted on the walls round it. On either side are massive barleycorn twist pillars carved with vine leaves and grapes. 

The south transept has a wooden altar with an effigy of a dead body in the base. The small host box has barleycorn twist pillars with a figure of Christ on the door. The wooden reredos above has a gilded figure of Christ with the Sacre Coeur in the centre with two gilded heads on either side.

On the south wall is a smaller altar with a reredos with the gilded figure of St Pantaléon.

The north transept has a wooden altar with a M monogram on the base. There is a wood and gilt host box with a chalice on the door. The panels on either side have a carving of the scourging of Christ and Christ carrying the cross. Above is a gilt statue of Mary and the Christ Child. On either side are gilded figures of St John the Baptist and St Joseph. 

There is a large crucifix on the north wall. Below is a list of names from the First World War with a carving of the body of a soldier at the bottom.

Outside the church is a large war memorial with the names of the dead from the First World War. There are two names from the Second World War and the names of four people killed in the resistance. There is a single name from the Algerian war.


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