In Terrasson, Les Jardins de l’Imaginaire, created by the Franco-American landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson and her partner, Philippe Marchand, are a contemporary evocation of fragments of the long history of this partnership between Man and Nature, and make allusions to universal myths about the natural world. As the name implies, the 13 garden rooms stimulate the imagination as well as the physical senses. There are water gardens, a rose garden, a fine display of fuchsias, literally thousands of trees and shrubs... A unique and special place to visit.
On the cliffs overlooking the Dordogne Valley about 10 kms from Sarlat lie the gardens of Marqueyssac. This were once the grounds of a small château, now seen in its 18th C. form, and were laid out in the 19th C. There are three main paths, all leading towards the belvédère, a magnificent viewpoint overlooking the river, and on certain evenings in summer, the gardens are illuminated by thousands of candles, with musical entertainment provided.
Touring around this part of the country is one thing, but if you go to Lostanges, you can do a world tour just by walking round the Parc Botanique. These botanical gardens occupy 2 hectares, and as you follow the marked path, you go past various beds, each representing a climatic region within the world’s temperate zones. Wander botanically from Canada to Patagonia, Siberia to New Zealand, from the jungles of Asia to the deserts of America, all in the space of one afternoon.
In Varetz, just north west of Brive, stands the Château de Castel Novel (now a four-star hotel) where the famous French author, Colette stayed on many occasions between 1912-23. Les Jardins de Colette, close to the château, are a contemporary evocation through plants of six different landscapes she knew and loved during her life. There is an intricate labyrinth in the shape of a butterfly, named Bel Gazou for her only daughter. Be literary and botanical all at once.
Les Jardins du Manoir d'Eyrignac, a perfect example of topiary art, these magnificent, verdant gardens - comprised of hornbeams, yews, boxwoods and cypress - change throughout the seasons, and welcome you every day of the year. Every effort has been made to bring an exceptional quality to the garden: skilful traditional hand-pruning, meticulous lawn finishing, and overall horticultural mastery. Eyrignac is an exceptional family estate that has belonged to the same family for 500 years.
Lascaux is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art. These paintings are estimated to be circa 17,300 years old. The cave contains nearly 2 000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories: animals, human figures, and abstract signs from a complex multiplicity of mineral pigments. In 1979, Lascaux was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list along with other prehistoric sites in the Vézère valley.
Further south, on the other side of the Dordogne, lies the iconic Gouffre de Padirac, a truly spectacular natural chasm which forms a gaping 75m deep hole in the ground. Open to the public since 1899, the visit includes a short trip on a punt along the underground river which formed the whole system, and a walking tour of the vast internal caverns (the second largest open to the public in Europe), which are geologically interesting, with beautiful, unusual concretions.
This small town is famous for its castle, offered by Louis XV to his mistress Jeanne Le Normant d'Etiolles. Pompadour is also renowned as the home of France's National Stud, as well as a Mare Farm, unique in France. The cradle of the Anglo-Arab breed, Pompadour has been the headquarters of an Equestrian Institute since 1976, and is the venue for several famous horse races. Horse-racing, cross-country racing and steeple-chases take place here from May to September.
A short drive from Padirac, modern-day visitors, like the countless hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who came this way in the past, find themselves looking over the edge of a narrow canyon that suddenly opens up in the Causse to reveal the little village of Rocamadour, clinging by its fingertips to the side of a sheer cliff. Many en route for Santiago de Compostela in Spain passed this way, and although most people now come for the beauty and interest of the site itself (designated a “Grand Site”, one of the major attractions in the Midi-Pyrénées region), the pilgrimage still draws the faithful.
Set in the Cuze valley and surrounded by green hills, the beautiful town of Sarlat, another worthy ‘Town of Art and History’, also grew up beside a Benedictine monastery probably founded in the 9th C. The settlement developed next to the monastic enclosure, and by the 13th C. was a thriving, bustling town peopled by merchants, shopkeepers and craftsmen. Naturally, the well-off members of the bourgeoisie wanted their houses to reflect their wealth and status, and these elegant buildings in honey-coloured stone – many of which received a Renaissance ‘makeover’ in the 16th C. - still line the narrow, winding streets. The old quarter is extraordinarily well-preserved, thanks to a law passed in 1962 under De Gaulle which led to the creation of France’s first Conservation Sector here.