Evidence of the Dordogne region’s prehistoric civilizations is hidden from view, but medieval châteaux positively litter the landscape. The Dordogne River became a front line in the Hundred Years’ War, and both the English and the French strengthened their positions with fortified towns and imposing castles. We toured three on our recent visit to the region. In addition to the ones listed below, I also recommend visiting the 15th-century Château des Milandes, once owned by Josephine Baker, with a collection of her costumes among the exhibits.
Although the best view of the steep medieval village of Beynac is from the west, the crenellated towers of its imposing clifftop castle can be better appreciated from the southeast. Richard the Lionheart seized the château from the French in 1197, holding it until his death two years later. In various states of renovation, the interior is austere, but the rooms still have ample atmosphere. The largest is the state hall, where nobles from the four baronies of Périgord would assemble, but my favorite was the kitchen, decorated with hanging wrought-iron lanterns, tables with sword holders, an immense hearth and a massive butcher block scarred with hundreds of cuts. Terraces afford sweeping views up and down the Dordogne for miles.
This 14th-century manor house between Les Eyzies and Lascaux IV occupies an extraordinary site, built into the side of a cliff. From below, it doesn’t look very spacious, because the depth of the abri (the indentation in the cliff) becomes clear only once you’re inside. Rooms have décor representing different eras of the house’s occupation, and some have walls and even ceilings made from solid rock. Avoid the exhibition on torture on the far side of the gift shop. It is truly the stuff of nightmares.
Hidden in the countryside about 15 minutes north of the Lot River, the Château de Bonaguil occupies a hilltop above a pretty medieval town, much like the Château de Beynac. But this castle, built mostly between the 13th and 15th centuries, stands in picturesque ruins, having suffered greatly during the French revolution. A few rooms have been partially restored, but I preferred exploring the unrenovated towers. In one, formerly ornate stone mantelpieces hung one on top of the other, the wood floors between them having long since disappeared. The tallest tower affords magnificent views of the castle’s hollowed-out turrets as well as unspoiled countryside in every direction.