The southwest region of Dordogne, France offers a beautiful glimpse of just about everything the country has to offer. From bustling little towns to more remote areas perfect for escaping the busy pace of everyday life, whatever your reason for visiting Dordogne you’re sure to feel right at home. The lush, peaceful countryside boasts a variety of finds from medieval towns and villages to prehistoric caves just begging to be explored. But perhaps the thing that most attracts visitors to this lovely region is the abundance of magnificent castles which dot the landscape and provide a fascinating glimpse back in time to the area’s rich, sordid past. Here are five chateaux you’ll want to add to your Dordogne itinerary.
Chateau de Castelnaud
Built back in the 12th century, this fantastic castle is located along the beautiful Dordogne River. The chateau boasts a long and interesting history, having changed hands between the English and the French an incredible nine times over the centuries. Located within the castle as it stands today is the Museum of Medieval Warfare, which contains a unique collection of arms and armor. The castle also features several pieces of furniture from the period inside as well as reconstructions of war machines, such as siege catapults, in actual size on the outside grounds. Additionally, you can enjoy a number of reenactments and live demonstrations of how things were done back when the castle served as a medieval fortress.
Just opposite the Chateau de Castelnaud, on the other side of the Dordogne River sits the equally magnificent Chateau de Beynac. Inside this feat of architecture are a number of interesting things to explore, including kitchens, living quarters and even eerie dungeons. Ever see a 13th century toilet? You will here! The castle’s church is presently the Beynac church, a popular village in the Dordogne area. Chateau de Beynac affords spectacular views of the river as well as the Chateaux of Fayrac, Castelnaud and Marqueysssac and the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Chateau de Commarque
Centrally located between Sarlat and les Eyzies, this imposing castle was originally constructed as a defense against the Beynac family and to protect the valley of the River Beune. During the War of Religions, however, the chateau was destroyed and remained in ruins until relatively recently (the 1970’s). It has since been restored and is now open to the public. Of particular note is the incredible stone keep, which was built in the 16th century and is still standing today. The surrounding village includes knights’ towers and houses carved into the rock, and provides a fascinating glimpse back in time. As a bonus, below Commarque castle you can also find some troglodyte caves in the rock.
Chateau de Hautefort
Considered to be one of the most prestigious châteaux in all of Dordogne, the Chateau de Hautefort is a tremendous testament to the area’s long, rich history. Sadly, at one time this incredible structure had fallen into disrepair until the Baron and Baronnesse de Bastard made it their life’s work to reconstruct and renovate the castle. They weren’t even deterred when a fire burned the building to the ground. Nowadays the fully renovated castle boasts exquisitely decorated rooms and is home to an impressive collection of paintings and tapestries dating back to the 17th century. It remains one of the most popular and frequently visited castles in the area.
If it’s history you’re after, a visit to the Chateau de Fenelon is in order. The impressive structure served as a stronghold during the 12th and 13th centuries and played a critical role in the infamous Hundred Years War. The castle was named for the owner’s son, Fenelon, who was in charge of all the renovations that took place during the 16th century. Today the chateau features a number of intriguing rooms and items, including a chapel and a large reception area which contains tapestries and furniture from the Renaissance era, as well as an impressive collection of arms that dates back to between the 15th and 18th centuries.
Of all the beautiful areas in France, the lovely region of Dordogne is among the most incredible. The magnificent scenery and peaceful atmosphere are sure to relax even the weariest traveler and with so much to do, from exploring ancient caves to canoeing the Dordogne River to cycling through the vast unblemished countryside, you’ll certainly never be bored. One of the most fantastic things to do in Dordogne is to visit the many chateaux that can be found throughout the area. These five will get you started on your fascinating historical journey into the heart of this incredible French region.