Périgueux is the chief town situated along the Isle valley. The Tour de Vesone in the town, 25 metres high, is a rare example of a round temple, and you can see where the amphitheatre used to stand in the Arena Gardens. It has streets full of Renaissance houses and a lovely cathedral.
Nontron is situated on the tip of a promontory overlooking the gorges of Bandiat. It was once a medieval fortress which fell during the French Revolution to leave only the attractive ramparts and old streets.
Brantôme known as the green Venice of the Périgord is one of the département’s leading tourist and cultural centres situated on the banks of the Dronne river. The Benedictine Abbey founded by Charlemagne in 769 bears the marks of its repeated destruction over more than twelve centuries.
St. Jean de Cole is a picturesque medieval village much chosen as a location for historical films. The magnificent 12th century towers of the Châteaux de Marthorie dominate the main square of the village.
Château de Puyguilhem in Villars built at the beginning of the 16th century is undoubtedly the most beautiful of the Renaissance châteaux in the Périgord, very original and full of fine sculptures.
Château de Jumilhac a combination of 15th and 17th century architecture which overlooks the Isle valley near a Romanesque church and is a mass of imposing slate rooves, sharp pointed turrets and watch towers.
The south-east of the department is called the Périgord Noir because of the chestnut tree coppices and the everlasting leaves of the holm-oak trees which form a black carpet in winter. This is the most popular region of the Dordogne as its wealth of caves offers a veritable valley of prehistory and there is a magnificent variety of châteaux to visit, dating from the 12th to 17th century.
Sarlat-la-Canéda situated in the heart of this region evokes the past when it was once the home of merchants, scholars, clerks and law students. Much of its charm lies in its narrow streets, secluded courtyards and old buildings, in particular the materials used to construct them: yellow ochre building stone, white limestone roof tiles or thick grey slates from the Corrèze. Today the protected town centre offers remarkable architecture like the Maison de la Boetie, the cathedral, la Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs and la Lanterne des Morts. The layout of the town lends itself to street entertainment and shows in July and August.
Lez Eyzies-de-Tayac is one of the leading world centres of prehistory, the number of its archeological findings making it unique. It occupies a pleasant position surrounded by green-topped cliffs, at the confluence of the Beune and the Vézère. The first finds were made here during the 19th century and further research uncovered 15,000 year old human remains and stunning cave paintings, drawings and carvings.
Beynac is unique because its fortress was built beneath a rock overhang halfway up a cliff and houses the Musée National de Préhistoire. The river formed the dividing line between the French and English armies during the Hundred Years War, with the French holding the highly fortified feudal fortress on the cliff top at Beynac, and the English, the gloriously situated 12th century castle at Castelnaud directly opposite. The view from Beynac is well worth the climb up from the village.
Limeuil is one of the prettiest villages in France. It occupies a unique position on the confluence of the Dordogne and Vézère rivers and is a great spot for canoeing and swimming. As a prehistoric site, its rocky terraces overlooked the rivers making it an important defensive position. You can visit L’Eglise de Sainte-Catherine with its black virgin, the Chapelle Saint Martin which bears witness to the fact that Aquitaine was once under English rule and walk through the Marquisat gate which spans one of the narrow cobbled streets.
Rocamadour is a delightful village perched precariously on a limestone cliff. It is a shrine that tells a story of religious belief and human endeavour. Looking out over the gorge of the River Alzou, this city devoted to the Virgin Mary has remained for over nine hundred years a symbol of faith and hope.
There are numerous fascinating caves in the area:-
La Grotte de Font-de-Gaume is famous for its many multi-coloured paintings often superimposed on one another: all the drawings of horses, bison, mammoths, reindeer etc are of great artistic skill.
La Grotte de Lascaux II is a technological masterpiece: the wall relief of the original cave closed to the public due to disease caused by humidity has been reproduced in great detail and the paint colours have the same natural colourings as 17,000 years ago.
Les Grottes du Roc de Cazelle a cliff cave city is particularly good for younger children as it shows reconstructions of the life of prehistoric man in the actual places where
La Gouffre de Proumeyssac has been christened the “crystal cathedral” and is the largest cave area in Périgord.
La Gouffre de Padirac is a great chasm said to have been created by the Devil as he returned to Hell looking for souls on earth. A visit of the huge caves of stalagmites and stalactites is by boat and on foot.
The star of the Périgord is of course the Dordogne River itself. There are a number of places where you can hire a canoe for full days or half-days. One of the best and most popular stretches to paddle is from Carsac south-east of Sarlat to Les Milandes. This will take you past Domme perched high above a loop in the river and then to La Roque-Gageac, the prettiest riverside village on the Dordogne and almost built into the cliff. The river then carries you past Castelnaud and Beynac, both châteaux much more impressive from the water. There are plenty of places to stop for a drink or a picnic on route. You will then be met at a pre-arranged point and transported back to your starting point. The Dordogne river is good for swimming but is only easily accessible and safe in a few places. Canoes can also be hired on the quieter Vézère.
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