I recall the tingling sensation I got when I saw Beynac Castle, as I looked up from the Dordogne River Valley high on the cliff above the river. To be in the Dordogne region, center of the Hundred Year’s war between France and England was for me surreal.
A short drive from the river takes one up to Beynac Village, which seems frozen in time. There is a small parking lot 50 yards from the village. Beynac Castle (13th century) is well preserved and commands a far-ranging view east and west along the Dordogne River.
In the distance to the south, the former English stronghold of Castlenaud (Château de Castlenaud) can be seen. We had the fortune of excellent weather in March 2009, giving us great views of the valley and also straight down to the Dordogne River from the Castle ramparts (don’t fall over!). The castle has been restored beautifully–the Great Hall contains some very large tapestries, and near the entrance is a restored workers kitchen, with many tools and cutlery of the day displayed.
The setting, size and beauty of Beynac Castle makes it one of my favorite in Europe. I’m surprised that most tour and guide books barely mention it, if at all.
The drive from Périgueux via Sarlat to Beynac is enchanting. As one drives south, small villages nestled against the cliffs, right off the sides of the road appear in greater frequency.
On our way to Sarlat, we stopped at a bit of a tourist trap, Les Grottes du Roc de Cazelle, where we took a walk through the woods and cliffs to take a trip through time, learning about the prehistoric people who lived in this region (who gave us the great artwork of Lascaux caves), farm life in medieval times in this region and more recently in the 1800’s. We learned how people used the caves and cliff overhangs as shelter. While some of the displays are tacky, the explanation of how villages were supported hanging off the cliffs (by holes being drilled into the cliffs for beams) was quite interesting.