TRAVEL GUIDE: THE BEST CASTLES OF THE DORDOGNE RIVER
Arriving in the central Dordogne region will have you audibly gasping at every turn. Drive along the river and you won’t know where to look first. The mysterious Dordogne snakes its way through the rocks and trees on one side, while on the other, buttery villages emerge from the rocky cliffs inviting you to explore them. Then, raise your eyes upwards and you will see some of the most spectacular castles in Europe.
On a sunny afternoon we took our bikes from La Roque Gageac to explore some of the well known castles of the region:
First stop - Chȃteau de Beynac
This castle was our favourite. It’s one of the best preserved in the region and looks just as majestic and powerful close up as it does from the valley. The cycle here is the busiest of the route, as it’s along the main road, which is narrow and winding. Once you get to Beynac, you can either walk up through the town to get to the castle, or keep going along the main road which will take you up to the castle. Both options are steep, though if you choose to walk up through the town, your trek will be virtually vertical. We took this option because what’s the point in seeing the castle without also seeing the beautiful village it was born to protect?
We recommend getting the audio-guide at the castle, too, as it brings everything to life.
Second Stop - Chȃteau-des-Milandes
In order to get to Chȃteau-des-Milandes, first head up towards Bezenac and cross the river to Allas-les-Mines. Allas-les-Mines is far less than picturesque, but as you head from here down to Chȃteau-des-Milandes you’ll get a spectacular view of Chȃteau de Beynac. Besides, it’s not long before you’re in more beautiful, emerald green surroundings and occasionally an unmapped Chȃteau will peep through the trees.
Chȃteau-des-Milandes is less medieval and more ‘pretty’ than Beynac. It is surrounded by exquisitely landscaped gardens, houses a bird of prey display, and takes great pride in its history as the home of entertainer and resistance fighter Josephine Baker from 1947. This Chȃteau is the perfect place to stop for lunch either in the brasserie or the shady grounds.
Third Stop - Chȃteau de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle
The route from Chȃteau-des-Milandes to Chȃteau de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is fun. It’s quiet, lush, and steep in a way that gives you a great view of the rust-coloured rooftops of the village clustered beneath the Chȃteau.
Chȃteau de Castlenaud-la-Chapelle revels in being a well-preserved example of an active medieval castle. Siege machines such as trebuchets and giant crossbows are strategically positioned along the ramparts, which offer breathtaking views, while within the walls you can see authentic displays of armour and weaponry from the period. We loved the little gimmicky touches in the castle that were designed to appeal to kids (because we’re just adult-looking kids who drink wine, really). You could watch a blacksmith, try your hand at a crossbow, see a trebuchet fired, and learn how to load a medieval pistol. There are also regular free guided tours (mostly in French, though).
Last Stop - Return to La Roque Gageac
Complete the loop by heading back to La Roque Gageac. Pop into one of the many regional produce stores, get some cheese and a local beer or wine and relax on the river, toasting yourself on a day well spent.