I visited three of the most beautiful villages in France yesterday. The ‘most beautiful’is an official title and there are certain criteria in order to qualify apart from looking attractive. It is an award started in the 1980’s to rejuvenate old villages, encourage renovation and bring in the tourists.
There were just five people on the tour which I booked through the Sarlat tourism office. The three ‘beautiful villages’ were Beynac, La Roque Gageac and Domme. They are all within a 15 km radius of Sarlat, so frustratingly close but so difficult to reach for the independent traveller relying on public transport.
The region is known as Perigord Noir and is hilly and thickly forested. There are now hundreds of châteaux and mansions dotted around the hills as it such a beautiful part of France but in medieval times there were only about a hundred castles and châteaux. They were sited on hill tops and had thick walls surrounding them. All the better to see the advancing English/French depending on who held power at the time. Names like Richard the Lion Heart, Simon de Montfort, the Knights Templar and Eleanor of Aquitaine all got a mention by our guide.
Beynac: The castle is surrounded by thick stone walls. It has commanding views over the valley. Beynac fell into disrepair after the French Revolution. It was bought by a family in the 1960’s who repaired it and still live in part of it. This village house looks a lot more comfortable than the castle.
La Roque Gageac: This is a tiny village on the banks of Dordogne. It once was a centre for ship building and wine trade. The village is dominated by the unstable limestone cliffs which collapsed in 1950’s and destroyed third of the village.
Domme: The town is known as a bastide – walled, planned village. The streets are built on a grid. The bastide offered security to its inhabitants. It’s a bit like a medieval gated community of today.
There is an interesting comment on the effect of awarding the title ‘Most Beautiful Village’to a place in this blog. Being a tourist I want to see these places but I can appreciate how things change once the coaches start arriving.