The Dordogne Valley, France

Stage Four: Before arriving in Bergerac, our next stay, we visited St. Emillon, the Disneylandia for wine lovers. This perfectly preserved village now contains mostly wine stores, some of them works of art in themselves. We have now visited St. Emillon and Pauillac without buying one bottle to take with us back home! It was raining during our time in Bergerac, so it wasn’t the best way to see the town. However, having seen a lot, and knowing some of the one’s to come (Sarlat, Gageac, Beynac), it isn’t a “must-do” as far as we are concerned. Our stay was nice, however, at Chateau Les Farcies that is just outside of town in the Pechament wine area.

Dordogne River - 1
St. Emillon
St. Emillon
Approaching Chateau Beynac from the east
Approaching Chateau Beynac from the east

On the way to our next hotel we stopped at Beynac and walked up to the chateau at the top of the hill. You can’t miss it, not matter which direction you are coming from, it is sitting so high up and dominating the valley. It is a bit of a climb but well worth it. They provide tours at no cost and these are worth taking. Our guide was quite animative and certainly knew his history. At the time of the Hundred Years’ War, the fortress at Beynac was in French hands and the Dordogne river was the border between France and England. Not far away, on the opposite bank of the river, the Château de Castelnaud was held by the English. The Dordogne region was the theatre of numerous struggles for influence, rivalries and occasionally battles between the English and French supporters. Interestingly, as a result of the marriage between Alienor d’Aquitaine and the future king of England, Henri Plantagenêt, Beynac became English property, although it was controlled by the Count of Toulouse, a vassal of the king of France. Richard the 1st (the “LionHeart”), however, seized the castle in 1197, falling fully under the control of England. Richard’s army found shelter in the central tower of the castle for years, but when Richard was killed in 1199, the French quickly took back the castle.The chateau is often closed on Sundays and Mondays for the owner’s family use, we were told. You may see an open door during the tour into their apartments.

Gageac - 1

Manoir de la Malartrie is a wonderful chateau operated by a couple that supply their upper rooms for guests. B&B in luxury and style! Spacious and plenty of room in the chateau and the gardens around the property. It’s a very short walk to the village of Gageac, which we walked down to in the evening and have a splendid dinner at La Belle Etoille. Seems to be the restaurant in the village, so make sure you make reservations, which we had through the hotel before we arrived.

We drove up towards Sarlat and as it was a Saturday, took in the market. It is an amazing market, one of the best I’ve seen, at least as far as quality of food products. Lots of foie gras and wine! It got crowded quick so we left, headed west along highway D47 towards Les Eyzies. Along the way is the Chateau Puymartin, which I’ve read is well worth taking in, especially for the furniture exhibited, but it was closed when we arrived for a special event. We continued on, often seeing buildings and windows coming out of the cliffsides we passed. We stopped at Maison Forte de Reignac and decided to do the tour. It was amazing. On the site is a small chateau that is built into the side of the mountain. What is absolutely amazing is that humans have lived in this same location for thousands of years. They have dug up bones and artifacts from the meliolithic era and have them on display. That is on the lower level. As you move up to higher levels through five floors, each represents a different era of time and again, many artifacts are on display to show how they lived. By the time you get to the 17th century, the home looks as if someone still could be living in it. This is amazingly well done and worth taking in.

Inside Castle Reignac
Inside Castle Reignac
Maison Fort de Reignac - 6
Maison Forte de Reignac

The Castle’s current facade was constructed between the 14th and 16th centuries. It was the center of an estate where the lord of a stronghold lived with his family. The fort could withstand attacks from robbers and kidnappers, but with have had trouble against an army. But it could only be attacked from the front, as the rest of the castle resided in the caves behind the building. Archaeological excavations in and around the castle have found that the caves were occupied as far back as 20,000 years ago by Cro-Magnons, and examples found of their stay are on display in the castle tour. This makes it all the more interesting as this one place has seen a continual change-over of people living in this spot where the castle resides, with remnants left over from all periods of history, for 20,000 years!

We drove from there up to Montaignac, which is okay. Had lunch at Cafe Fany, which was wonderful. It’s on Place Carnet behind the church. From there we drove back into Sarlat, which had now calmed down and enjoyed a drink in one of the plazas while a group of troubadours entertained us. Very talented they were. We found a restaurant and had dinner. Good, but not worth noting more of. (Click on any photo below to see a slideshow).

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