The most beautiful villages of France


To the traveller, the Dordogne Valley appears like a never ending stream of quaint hamlets, majestic castles and picture-perfect villages - no less than 16 of them. All have been awarded the prestigious label ‘Most Beautiful Villages of France’. Recognising select villages for their exceptional charm and beauty, the label was created here in Collonges-la-Rouge, when the village was the first to be awarded it in 1982. There are now some 160 ‘Most Beautiful Villages of France’throughout the country.



The medieval turrets and towers of Collonges-la-Rouge define the skyline of this unusual 14th century village. The distinctive deep red sandstone of the buildings (rich in iron oxide) sets it apart from any other and is at its most striking at dusk. The village became a stronghold of the Viscounts of Turenne in the 14th century, one of the largest fiefdoms in France. A wander through the narrow cobbled streets leads to an impressive church, artisanal workshops, lovely restaurants and small boutiques selling local wines and decorative objects.

The centre boasts many impressive 15th and 16th century houses such as the Maison de la Sirène, with period interiors and a small mermaid sculpted in a stone outside. A visit to the Château de Vassinhac, owned by the former feudal Lord of the town, is now fully refurbished with antique pieces including the former bed chambers of the famous French writer Colette.



Domme, with its golden yellow stone, distinctive lauze roofs and impressive architecture is one of the best preserved fortified Bastide towns in the Dordogne Valley. Perched on a hilltop, 150 metres above the river, it was built in 1281 at the behest of the French King Philip III and was a key point of defence for the French in the 100 Years War. With its hilltop vantage point, it has extraordinary panoramic views over the valley. In the old prison, still visible to this day, 14th century graffiti has been etched into stone walls by some 70 Knights Templar, before they were sentenced to death.



Nestled at the base of an imposing limestone cliff and bordering the banks of the Dordogne River, La Roque-Gageac is a highly picturesque medieval village characterised by its ochre stone houses. In the cliffs above the town, the remains of a 12th century troglodyte fort still stand. First occupied by early humans, these dwellings were later fortified, turning La Roque-Gageac into a real medieval fortress. When coming from Beynac, the imposing Château de Malartrie stands at the entrance of the village. If it looks like a 15th century manor, it was actually built in 1901 by the French ambassador to England. La Roque-Gageac really has it all : the perfect setting but also a unique micro climate, sustaining plant life usually not found in the region. Near the 14th century medieval church, part way up the cliff is a garden full of exotic Mediterranean palms, fig trees and banana plants.

Below visitors can board a replica gabare barge for a scenic boat tour. These flat bottomed boats were sailing from Argentat to Bordeaux at the height of the bustling river trade from the 17th to 19th centuries.



Set on the banks of the Dordogne River, the 11th century village of Carennac is built around the Romanesque church and cloister. The abbey was part of the Cluny monastic network. The powerful Cluny abbey, founded in 910, went onto control over 1,400 religious sites throughout Europe from the 10th to the 18th century. The church here is renowned for the ornate tympanum - a carved stone portal depicting Christ and the twelve apostles above its entrance. The adjoining half-Roman, half-Gothic cloister of the monastery is now home to the most enchanting Christmas market.



The hilltop town of Turenne overlooks the countryside in all directions. Atop the hill there remain the ruins of the 13th century medieval Château de Turenne. This castle served as the feudal powerbase of one of the most powerful dynasties in medieval France - the Viscounty of Turenne. They reigned over the regions of Limousin, Périgord and Quercy for almost 10 centuries from the early Middle Ages until the 1700s. The 14th century Keep and Guard’s room of the castle remain intact and when exploring this listed monument, a climb up the spiral staircase of the fortified towers is rewarded with truly spectacular 360 degree views. In the village below, the 17th century Church of Our Lady of St. Pantaleon is acclaimed for its magnificent stained glassed windows.