Plus beaux Villages
This association was founded in 1982 by Charles Ceyrac, who was then Mayor of Collonges-la-Rouge in the Corrèze. The purpose of the group is to preserve and enhance the heritage of member villages in order make them better known, so that they can attract more visitors and develop their local economy, thus helping to keep them alive and viable. There are currently 157 villages, located all over France, belonging to the Association.
South of the Dordogne River, in the Lot, lies Autoire, tucked into a deep gorge carved out by the Autoire stream. In the 15th and 16th C., this sheltered situation attracted wealthy residents who had the fine houses built which now make the reputation of the village. There is also an impressive fountain. The church, 11th C. Romanesque in origin with later alterations, has been beautifully restored.
High above the valley a little way downriver, the majestic mediaeval fortress of Beynac stands guard proudly, looking almost as though it grew out of the cliffs themselves. Once in the possession of Richard the Lionheart visitors are now assured of a friendly welcome! The narrow lanes of this charming old village climb steeply up from the riverside to the castle and church, turning into flights of steps as they go.
Carennac, in a perfect setting further down on the Dordogne, has its origins in a Benedictine foundation, and the old priory gate still opens on to the riverside road. Within the enclosure lie the 11th-12th C. church with its beautifully-carved tympanum, the cloister and the Dean’s residence, an elegant Renaissance building now an exhibition space. Stone-built traditional style houses line the quiet lanes around this complex - ideal for a leisurely stroll.
Collonges-la-Rouge in the Corrèze has impeccable credentials: in the past, it became the favourite place for nobles and officers from the nearby court of the Viscounts of Turenne to build their fine residences, which resemble small châteaux. Add to this the local dark red sandstone of which all the buildings are constructed and you have a village which really stands out from the crowd.
To the west, in the Dordogne département, La Roque-Gageac is built spectacularly into the ochre-coloured cliffs above the river. During the Hundred Years’ War, the Bishops of Sarlat had a residence and maintained a troglodytic fortress here, whose vestiges can still be seen. In more peaceful times, the village was a thriving centre of river trade, and nowadays you can take a trip on a ‘gabarre’, a replica of the flat-bottomed cargo boats of those days. The favourable micro-climate enables exotic plants (palms, oleander, citrus..) to grow outside along one of the old lanes part way up the cliff.
Loubressac, just downriver, is perched high on the edge of the plateau where it falls away to the valley. In the past, the village was fortified - remains of one of the gates still exist - clustering for protection beside a small castle (now a private house) which served as a look-out post for the nearby fortress of Castelnau-Bretenoux. You can see why, when you stand at the magnificent viewpoint overlooking the countryside for miles around. The stone-built village houses are decked out with lovely flower displays in summer.
Turenne is built on a conical hill crowned by mediaeval towers, vestiges of the mighty castle of the Viscounts of Turenne, who ruled this area for nearly ten centuries. Steep lanes lead down to the village houses built, like the castle, from grey-white limestone. Their quality reflects the social status of the original owners. There are wonderful views from the hilltop: you can see why feudal lords chose this spot.