Dordogne, France Part 4 (of 4): Sarlat, La Roque Gageac and Domme

 Sarlat-la-Caneda (commonly called Sarlat) is a great base for exploring the Dordogne Region.  The town is large enough to provide a variety of accommodation and restaurant options.


Sarlat and the Dordogne Region of France.

Sarlat France

Architecture of Sarlat.

There are several inexpensive hotel chains on the south side of Sarlat, on Rue de Cahors, which are within walking distance of the town center. While Sarlat does not have many “must see” sights, the whole town itself is quaint, and worth a walking tour to enjoy the unique architecture, narrow streets and atmosphere. It was a loyal French village in the Hundred Years’ War, and therefore was protected and did well economically, hence why many buildings are well-preserved.

Manoir de la Malatrie

Manoir de la Malatrie, at entrance to La Roque Gageac.

The village of La Roque Gageac, only 14 km from Sarlat, occupies a narrow strip of land between the Dordogne River and a towering cliff on the north bank, epitomizes the Dordogne. It is considered by many to be one of the prettiest villages in France, and it is not difficult to see why.  As one drives from Beynac east along the D703 road, the Manoir de la Malatrie (now a hotel) is the first grand building we see. The style fits the Dordogne perfectly, even though it’s a 20th century reconstruction of the 15thcentury original manor house. The village comes into view right afterwards.

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La Roque Gageac.

Every little street is picturesque. Homes are built right into the cliff, using the beige stone so common in the area. Take the time to explore the village and enjoy the enchanting setting along the peaceful Dordogne River.

Domme France

A gated entrance to Domme.

Domme is one of the many ‘Bastide’ towns established in the Dordogne during the Hundred Years’ War to provide strategic fortified population centers for strengthening the claims and position of both the French and English defenses. The Bastide towns are on higher elevations, which provided protection and early warnings of pending attacks and now provide great views of the valley. Domme is located just southeast of La Roque Gageac, along the D703.

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Village of Domme.

Beneath the main town square there is a cave system that can be toured. Some tour books say that the caves were used during the Hundred Years’ War for hiding, but on our tour of the cave we learned that is was not discovered until the early 1900’s. If you have been to many caves, it may not be worth your time, but if not, it provides another interesting thing to do. There is also a little train that takes you on a short tour of the town. On the north side of the town, next to the church, a plaza provides a good view of the Dordogne Valley.

Dordogne, France Part 3: Commarque Castle (Chateâu de Commarque)

Commarque Castle Map

Commarque Castle is 15 km NW of Sarlat.

Commarque Castle is slightly off the beaten path , near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil.  I wouldn’t have even known about it had I not received a large picture book of France as a gift, which had a picture of the castle at sunset. It is not listed in the guidebooks I have on France, probably because it isn’t accessible without a car.  We drove to the Castle from Sarlat, which is only 15 kilometers away.  From the parking lot it’s another 600 meter walk to the castle on a trail through the forest.

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Commarque Castle and Beune Valley.

Commarque Castle France

Village ruins, Commarque Castle.

As the view of the Valley of the Beune opens up, it’s a beautiful sight.  On the left hillside sits the castle and the village ruins, on the right side of the valley are niches carved in the rock wall, probably used as storage or possibly dwellings 700 years ago?  In the distance, nearly straight ahead, is another small castle, privately owned by an English person.  The Dordogne is a favorite spot of the English, and many have bought residences in the area.

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Commarque church ruins and private castle in background.

The castle’s early history is a bit uncertain.  It’s believed to have been founded in the 12th century, and to have been rebuilt in stone in the 14th century, with later additions continuing until the 18th century, when the castle and village appear to have been totally abandoned.  The English captured it during the Hundred Years’ War (1350’s – 1450’s) for several years.  This location was strategic—near the crossing of two main roads in medieval France and the site of a spring—essential for the village and castle life. Check out the castle’s website, for more information.

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Cave dwellings underneath Commarque Castle.

Commarque Castle is interesting for a several reasons.  First, it’s a quiet and peaceful setting in a secluded valley—we were there early in the morning, and had the castle to ourselves.  The sun was out, and the dew was just drying off the grass, with birds chirping and the sounds of a babbling brook nearby.  Second, there are several other buildings which made up the 13thcentury village that have been excavated fairly recently (1980’s), and add to the wonder of the site. Third, in the cliff directly underneath the castle there are living quarters carved out of the rock which can be visited.  Some of these dwellings are prehistoric, part of many which dot the Dordogne region. Fourth, it is possible to climb to the top of the castle keep (or donjon in French) for a great view of the village, and the private castle across the valley.

Commarque Castle France (9)

View of Commarque Castle donjon (tower keep).

If you love castles and sites that are less visited, take the drive out to Commarque, you won’t be disappointed.