Famous women of the Dordogne Valley


Breaking through the cultural and gender barriers of their time, the fame of these four women travelled beyond the borders of France and their inspirational lives shaped the country.



Coco Chanel, the world renowned French designer is synonymous with chic. Ruling the Paris fashion world for decades, she introduced her pre-feminist avant-garde sensibilities to the catwalk. Predominantly working in clean lines with black and white colours, her influence was global. What is lesser known is that she spent six years of her childhood, raised by nuns in the hilltop town of Aubazine.

Abandoned by her father after the death of her mother, aged 11, she was brought to the abbey orphanage.

Coco Chanel’s experience of living there had a profound influence on her later work. This is where she learnt to sew and the pious sobriety of the abbey environment influenced her choice of colour (the black and white garb of the nuns for example). It led her to famously proclaim that the sober clean lines she created for women were infinitely more chic than the frilly clothes of the time. The stained glass windows of the Abbey were the inspiration for the world famous Chanel logo itself. They clearly contain the design elements that make up the interlocking ‘C’s of the brand. www.abbaye.aubazine.com

A visit to Aubazine is not complete without walking the remarkable 12th century Canal des Moines (Canal of the Monks). This 1.5km walk follows the engineering feet of a canal that the Cistercian monks built literally into the cliff- face in order to bring water to the abbey monastery. www.visit-dordogne-valley.co.uk




The most famous American woman to live in France, Joséphine Baker was born in Missouri but died a decorated French Resistance fighter in 1975. In between she was a world famous singer, actress and cabaret dancer. After moving from the Broadway stage she became lauded throughout Europe and this pioneering black woman was later to adopt French citizenship and France as her home. She was awarded the military French Cross by De Gaulle after her heroic service to the Resistance in the Second World War. In her retirement years she bought the fabulous Milandes Château, near the castle of Castelnaud. Today this château is open to the public with 14 rooms dedicated to her extraordinary life, filled with memorabilia celebrating her pioneering and fascinating story. www.milandes.com/en




One of the most famous international novelists of French literature,Colette was nominated for the 1948 Nobel Prize for Literature and was the first woman in France to receive a state funeral. She spent several years living in the Dordogne Valley in the Corrèze area in the villages of Varetz and later in Curemonte during the Second World War. The Jardins de Colette near Brive pays homage to this literary genius with a five hectare garden themed in her honour. Dedicated to her love of nature that infused both her writing and her life (she was an avid gardener), it is open for visits from April to October. It is also possible to overnight in the ‘Colette Suite’ in the Chateau de Castel Novelwww.lesjardinsdecolette.com




Madame de Pompadour wielded enormous influence at the court of Versailles and also over her lover - Louis XV, King of France. Born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, she became the King’s favoured mistress. So much so that he gifted her the title of Marquise and also the Château de Pompadour in which she built a private horse stud farm in 1751. Today, Pompadour harbours the national stud farm and remains at the heart of national French horse racingwww.terresdecorreze.com