Our region has some of the most spectacular and historic buildings in France and some of the most beautiful gardens.
Guided tours are usually in French but notes in English are often available.
Fénelon Our local chateau is well worth a visit. Dating from the 14th century, this impressive chateau was briefly held by the English during the Hundred Years War and in 1651 was the birthplace of Fénelon, later Archbishop of Cambrai.
The present owners have undertaken a meticulous restoration, and rooms open to the public now include the tiny chapel, armoury, kitchen, and Fénelon’s study and bedroom. Tours are self-guided with notes in English available. There are great views of the river and surrounding countryside from the ramparts.
Open every day in high season (Jul-Aug); closed on Tues in Mar, Apr, May, Jun and Sep-Oct. Closed from Dec to Mar.
T 05 53 29 81 45
Montfort Between Carsac-Aillac and Vitrac north of the river near Sarlat. It has a magnificent position and great views of the river and nearby countryside. Parts of the chateau and garden are now open to the public.
Beynac et Cazenac One of the most famous, most photographed and most impressive of the river castles, Beynac offers recent restoration work and stunning views over the valley. There is a range of eateries in Beynac, some overlooking the river. Busy in summer. Open every day, all year.
Castelnaud 12th century castle across the river from Beynac. Occupied by the English during the Hundred Years War, it fell into decline for the next couple of centuries but is now partly restored and open to the public. The ‘self-guided’ tour makes it much easier than Beynac to visit with kids. It has an interesting exhibition of medieval weaponry and some good audio-visuals and stunning views over the river. The ‘unescorted’ freedom to wander is a pleasant change from more regimented visits. The cobbled lane of the village clinging to the castle walls has several eateries; there is also a café on the ramparts, or you can picnic on the riverbank below. Highly recommended, especially for children old enough to appreciate medieval arms. Open all year, closed Tues, closes for lunch.
Les Milandes, near Castelnaud, is the grand ‘house’ once owned by Josephine Baker, the black American dancer who held lavish parties for her show-biz friends, and whose dream was to raise a ‘family’ of orphans from around the world in the peace and tranquillity of the Dordogne valley – to the consternation of some of the locals. The task proved too much for her and some say she ended her life penniless in a Gourdon hotel. The house (still largely as she decorated it, with gold taps in the bathrooms, etc. and Baker memorabilia) and grounds are stunning on a sunny day. There are displays of falconry in high season. Closed Nov – Mar. www.lesmilandes.com
La Treyne Just south of the river on the eastern side of the D810 beyond Souillac, another spectacular riverside chateau. While it has its own excellent restaurant, it is also close to the Pont de L’Ouysse restaurant.
A couple of our favourite churches are within a few minutes’ drive:
Carsac This Romanesque church dating from the 11th century is situated in a leafy dell on the other side of Aillac, just off the Sarlat to Gourdon road. It was severely damaged by the English in the Hundred Years War and restored during the late 15th century. Recent restoration work (1940s and 2000s) has preserved traces of medieval paintwork and Renaissance woodcarving, as well as adding some modern stained glass window panels and engravings.
Souillac Off from the main road, in the old quarter, is a 12th century multi-domed church with lively Romanesque carvings. The church was originally attached to a Benedictine abbey that was destroyed by Protestant bands in 1562 during the Wars of Religion. As with many buildings in the region, it suffered during the Hundred Years War, but saw major restoration work during the 17th century.
There are some spectacular gardens to visit within easy driving distance of Mercadiol, some attached to grand manor houses (Manoir d’Eyrignac), while others are on a more modest scale, exploiting the natural beauty of the area (Cadiot).
Les Jardins de Cadiot (7 km) is a whimsical collection of 10 small themed gardens (English, Tuscan, rose garden, herbs) in a peaceful setting near Carlux on a valley hillside above the Dordogne river.
There is a permanent collection of sculpture in a wooded section. Seasonal displays in Spring and Autumn are the most spectacular, but there are also some special events in summer.
T 05 53 29 81 05
Jardins d’Eyrignac (18 km) Laid out in the 18th century to an Italian inspired design, these gardens feature immaculate lawns, topiary and plantings of hornbeam, cedar, cypress and plane trees. There is ample car parking, a restaurant and well-marked botanical walking paths (2.5 and 4.5 km).
T 05 53 28 99 71 www.eyrignac.com
Marquayssac (29 km) Spread along rocky spur jutting into the Dordogne Valley at Vezac, near Beynac these gardens of clipped box and rosemary are reached by winding pathways and cliff-top walks that offer vantage points for views up and down the valley. There are two playgrounds and also a ‘train’ (Apr-Oct) for those with young children or who are unable to manage the well-surfaced main track.
Every Thursday night in July/August the gardens are lit by candles for an evening walk (with music). Open every day of the year with longer hours in summer. Guided tour in English at noon. Highly recommended.
T 05 53 31 36 36 www.marqueyssac.com
The secret gardens of Cahors (60 km). For many centuries the town’s citizens have kept city gardens for pleasure. Some, planted and cared for by monks, were for medicinal purposes only while most were simply to celebrate life and the art of living. Each summer the gardens of Cahors, big and small, are enhanced with new plantings, sculpture—with both care and imagination. A walking tour of the city takes in 25 of the best.
T 0565 22 09 15 www.mairie-cahors.fr