Recently, I challenged myself to visit all the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” — France’s most beautiful villages. Perhaps I should have researched more before making such a statement. There are 156 official villages with the “Plus Beau Village” distinction. Even though France is only the size of Texas, it’s a prominent place!
Now that I’m a bit more realistic about the “task” (albeit a pleasure), it’s more feasible for me to do one region at a time.
Plus, Beaux Villages by Region
Dordogne’s Plus Beaux Villages
Three years ago, a hometown friend I hadn’t seen in 40 years visited me in France. While here, we entertained ourselves by driving from Uzès to Dordogne. Like typical tourists, we focused on the area around the Dordogne River: the “classic” Dordogne: picturesque villages, medieval castles, limestone cliffs, and caves with prehistoric drawings. The French call it “le Pèrigord.”
On the way back from my recent visit to the States, I intentionally stopped in Dordogne to see four of the beaux villages on my list: Beynac-et-Cazenac, Castlenaud-la-Chapelle, Monpazier, and St. Jean-de-Côle.
A Day in Beynac-et-Cazenac and Castlenaud-la-Chapelle
Because they’re so close together, you can visit both villages daily. Admittedly, I lingered over lunch in Beynac, so I didn’t see as much as I could have. But then, relaxing to enjoy your surroundings is part of the journey, too.
If you dream about France, like I do, you’ve seen Beynac-et-Cazenac in your dreams. It’s a fairytale French village perched above the Dordogne River, with narrow cobblestone streets, storybook houses, and a stately castle. You would expect Cinderella and her prince to appear at any moment.
Like all Plus Beaux Villages de France, Beynac is tiny. The maximum population for beaux villages is 2000. In 2015, Beynac had 552 residents.
Walking around town and through the castle takes only a few hours. You can find parking at several levels up to the castle if you’re driving. It’s a steep climb if you stop at the bottom and only want to visit the castle.
I strongly advise you plan to spend enough time in Beynac to stroll the streets and enjoy the medieval architecture. There are not many places that are as original and as well maintained.
They say the castle, “Château de Beynac,” is the most authentic example of a feudal fortress in the Pèrigord. Towering above the river and valley, it is a reminder of legendary conquerors like King Richard, “the Lionhearted,” who walked this very courtyard and within the stone walls. Likewise, it is a shrine to wars that raged through Dordogne for over nine centuries.
If you visit Beynac on a sunny day like I did, enjoy a lovely meal with a “to die for” view of the river at La Terrasse des Chateaux.
Literally down the road from Beynac-et-Cazenac is the plus-beaux village Castlenaud-la-Chapelle. The magnificent castle, Château de Castelnaud, soars above the Céou River valley as if to announce, “Look at me!”
Like its neighbor in Beynac, the proud castle was the site of numerous wars and confrontations, including the Hundred Years War. It changed occupants between the French and the English seven times. The castle was burned to the ground, rebuilt, abandoned during the French Revolution, then used as a stone quarry. During WWII, the fortress gave shelter to French resistance groups. Between 1974 and 2005, it was restored to its near-original state.
Today, the castle is one of the most visited spots in Dordogne, especially by families with children. A museum features medieval weapons from all over Europe. The village’s perigordine-style houses with high-pitched roofs are tightly terraced along narrow streets.
When visiting Castlenaud-la-Chapelle, there’s a large parking lot at the top. You can walk directly to the castle from there. That view alone will make your day!
Stay tuned for photos and an overview of the visit to Monpazier and St. Jean du Côle. To read about the earlier tour of Domme and La Roque-Gageac