Quiet and tranquil now, the South-western part of France has had a tumultuous past. This history has left its mark all over the region. A plethora of historical villages and churches scatter the countryside around us – many within a 15 minute radius. The romanesque church with its magnificent XII façade in St Privat-des-Prés, Feseltemp’s fortified church with beautiful frescoes dating back to the Renaissance and St Aulaye, the only walled town in the Périgord. Below are a few more we thought we’d mention.
La Roche Chalais (5 minutes)
The old Protestant church was built between 1843 and 1845. The Gothic Revival church was rebuild between 1868 and 1871. Inside, the eagle lectern is one of only two lecterns classified in the Dordogne.
Aubeterre sur Dronne (20 minutes)
Habitually called the “Monolithic church” which implies it was hewn from a single rock, the French, église souterraine, provides a far more apt description of this incredible creation of the Church of St John. There are monolithic temples in five continents, but Saint Jean d’Aubeterre is certainly the only one in the world in which one can find, on one site, a baptismal font, a circular gallery, a mausoleum, an incredible burial chamber and an equally remarkable crypt. A true masterpiece! There are so many events and stories of the history of France which took place here. The Church of St Jacques, consecrated in 1171, was almost completely destroyed during the religious wars and restored 1710. The mixture of the signs of the zodiac, the natural world, gargoyles & griffins, mystical figures and human faces combine to create a symbolism that feeds the imagination. Both worth a visit!
Libourne (30 minutes)
The Château de Vayres was built in stone as early as the 11th century, as testified by a document from 1092. The castle underwent continual restoration and modification throughout the centuries. Today, only the châtelet (entrance) and the moat remain of the original structure. Nothing as opulent as Versaille, but with its own understated elegance it is worth a visit. Wander through the formal garden down to the banks of the Dordogne and stroll through the impressive medieval herb garden too.
Saint Émilion (30 minutes)
A magnificent medieval town surrounded by ramparts, famous not only for the quality of its wines, but also for its unique architectural heritage. History is omnipresent in Saint Émilion, and it all started with a modest hermit. In the 8th century, a monk named Émilion decided to settle in the village. He soon put the men folk to work to extract stone to construct buildings and nearby châteaux. This also accounts for the presence of some 200km of underground galleries and the larges monolithic church in Europe. The catacombs are remarkable as is the stone bed upon which Émilion slept
Echourgnac (30 minutes)
The beautiful building aside; the real stars here are the resident nuns who make jellies, jams and cheeses. Founded in 1868, cheese-making was soon established giving rise to the oldest Périgord cheese: Le Trappe Echourgnac. Still made in the traditional Cistercian tradition of centuries past – and simply delicious!
Angoulême (45 minutes)
This Romanesque giant was begun around 1101 and consecrated in 1130. The Cathedral of Saint Pierre was altered drastically during the 19th century by architect Paul Abadie. Fortunately his alterations to the west font spared the dazzling tour-de-force of statuary and bas-reliefs which are the great building’s crowning glory. This is just one of many historical buildings Angoulême has to offer. As you stroll along make sure to look at the town buidlings’ walls to discover the many wonderful murals that adorn its façades.
Bordeaux (55 minutes)
It is a condensed version of the history of France that you can find in the city’s streets and museums, from the remains of the Palais Gallien, a Gallo-Roman amphitheatre, to the very contemporary exhibitions of the CAPC. The 18th-century façades along the quaysides and the architecture in general in the large city centre offer exceptional sights to admire on walks. In June 2007, UNESCO approved Bordeaux’s application and added the city to its list of official world heritage sites. The UNESCO-listed zone covers the entire city centre within the boulevards and as far as the river Garonne: a total of 810 hectares, almost half of the city’s total surface area. Hop on a tour bus, take the bullet-like tram, board a little train or just do it on foot; whatever the means of transport….make sure to include the exploration of this beautiful city, steeped in history, during your visit with us.
Brantôme (60 minutes)
The “Venice of Périgord” is an island surrounded by the River Dronne and criss-crossed by narrow streets and linked by five bridges to the rest of the country. The bells of France’s oldest campanile ring proudly as visitors take romantic strolls along the river or walk in the peaceful monk’s garden. The original Benedictine Abbey was founded in 769. The Abbey was rebuilt in the 18th Century and now houses a museum with prehistoric remains.
Bourdeilles (60 minutes)
Continue west from Brantôme on the D78, some 10kms, and you will find Bourdeilles. Lying on the banks of the Dronne, this little gems boasts two castles side by side. Next to the feudal fortress is the superb 16th Century Renaissance palace, built and sumptuously furnished for Catherine de Medici, who never set foot inside it. Fortunately, the public can enjoy the fine collection of early Spanish, Dutch and Italian furniture and admire the décor in the lady’s bedroom.
Queroy Caves (60 minutes)
These caves were discovered by chance in 1892, when Lise Bosnot dug further into an existing hole to retrieve her dog who had been chasing a fox. What a wonderful discovery! The actual cave consists of thirty rooms and many passage ways. Archaeologists have unearthed many pieces of pottery, bones and artifacts.