Guided Southern France

If you are seeking the provincial France of the past – with narrow country lanes, authentic village life, buzzing markets and gothic cathedrals, look no further.

Thursday/Friday June 9-10th Day 1-2: Upon arriving at the Toulouse airport, a private driver will be waiting there to escort you to our hotel for the evening. Toulouse is a small and walkable city. With its elegant squares, atmospheric old town and lively covered markets, there are few cities which feel quite as authentically French as Toulouse – it’s like a southern version of Paris only smaller, cheaper and friendlier, with fewer crowds.

Saturday June 11th Day 3: After breakfast we will leave Toulouse and journey two hours to our accommodations for the next four evenings. Located less than a mile from Beynac-et-Cazenac and the Dordogne River, our B&B offers rooms with views over the garden, each individually decorated. Also included is a private bathroom with a bathtub or a shower and a hair-dryer. Breakfast is served daily.

Before arriving at the B&B, we will stop in the charming small town of Domme for lunch overlooking the Dordogne River.

Domme is a fortified town (Bastide) founded in 1281 by King Philippe III during the Albigensian Crusade. The village was built on a hill above the Dordogne River. Contrary to old walled towns, a bastide usually had a rectangular layout. However, that of Domme is actually trapezoidal in shape, due to the natural abruptness of the site of the village. It is an excellent example of medieval military architecture. The streets are consistent with the geometrical layout of Domme and its ramparts are right at the edge of the cliff.

Sunday June 12th Day 4: Wake up to a leisure breakfast, stroll the grounds before beginning a day of seeing beautiful landscapes & charming medieval villages.

The strategic position of the village of Beynac-et-Cazenac is a point of interest in the Dordogne Valley. The village will charm you with its cobbled, steep little lanes and stairways which climb up to the formidable castle, where the view is simply breathtaking, with its houses clinging majestically to the cliff-face.

The castle at Beynac is one of the best-preserved and best known in the region. This Middle Ages construction, with its austere appearance, is perched on top of a limestone cliff and has dominated the town and the north bank of the Dordogne River for centuries. Richard the Lionheart, King of England, once walked the halls of this place, gazing out at the Château de Castelnaud.

Just done the road is another charming town. La Roque-Gageac is arguably one the most beautiful places in Périgord Noir. This riverside town is built along the right bank of the Dordogne River against a towering limestone cliff. This unique setting of narrow, peaceful streets and cliff-dwellings also enjoys a subtropical microclimate.

It is believed that the site of La Roque-Gageac has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and developed particularly during the Gallo-Roman period. Confronted with the threat of Viking invasions and numerous wars, the protection of La Roque-Gageac was greatly enhanced by the development of a new sort of fortification. Being nestled into the high, south-oriented cliff face means the fortress is naturally impregnable.

Later in the afternoon, we’ll drive ten minutes up the road to the beautiful Gardens of Marqueyssac. Surrounding a stone-tiled château from the early 19th Century, overlooking the valley of the Dordogne, is a truly magical place. The gardens of Marqueyssac have been designed for walking with more than four miles of paths lined with 150,000 hand-cut century-old box trees, and embellished with waterfalls, belvederes, and rock gardens.

Monday, June 13th Day 5: After breakfast, we’ll take an hour boat ride on a Gabares. The Gabares are traditional flat bottom boats in the style that were used to transport goods along the Dordogne river, especially wine from the vineyards which run along the length of the Dordogne .

A trip on one of the Gabares offers a relaxing way to enjoy the sight of some of the many Dordogne chateaux and villages from the perspective of the river. Various sights and wildlife are pointed out to you as you meander slowly down the river as well as the history of the Gabares.

Tuesday, June 14th Day 6: The village of Les Eyzies is a small Dordogne village with typical golden stone houses and a stunning position under a deep overhanging cliff and next to a river. A great number of prehistoric caves and drawings can be found here.

Apart from the village itself having been built on top of still visible prehistoric shelters, the buzzing little town is home to a host of interesting and interactive archaeological sites. These sites convey how our ancestors lived 12-35,000 years ago with some of the world’s finest sanctuaries of the upper-Palaeolithic era right in front of your hotel’s doorstep.

In the afternoon, head to the medieval village of Martel for train ride. A robust diesel engine will pull us on a fantastic journey. The old-fashioned railroad is built into the cliff above the Dordogne River.

Enjoy the 16 mile round trip along the cliffs, with its strikingly beautiful panoramas of Dordogne Valley, places that are not accessible by car or on foot.

Wednesday, June 15th Day 7: Our day starts with an hour drive to Turenne, a pretty village which sits on the edge of a small hill. Enjoy lovely views from the top of the village across the Limousin countryside and forests to the mountains beyond.

From Turenne, we’ll visit the village of Collonges-la-Rouge, with its medieval turrets and towers that 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. Have lunch before driving to the cliffside village of Rocamadour.

As we follow the bend in the road, the picturesque village of Rocamadour clinging to the side of a cliff will appear before us. Since the 1100s, pilgrims have been coming here to pray from all over Europe. It has been a renowned Christian pilgrimage site since the Middle-Ages. 

Our accommodations for the next three evenings are at a 15th century hunting lodge. Irish couple Sarah and Steve, stumbled upon the lodge and fortified farm in need of restoration in 2007. It took 7 years to transform the unique property, retaining features such as the vast stone fireplaces and ancient stone sinks, gun slits, original beams and stone floors.

Thursday, June 16th Day 8: Relax and enjoy the surroundings this morning. Later, we’ll drive to nearby, Saint Cirq LapopieThe town situated in a cliff over the Lot River, once built for protection, has a great viewpoint of Dordogne. Surveyed by the fortified church, the houses with their sloping, brown-tiled roofs are a harmonious partner to the picturesque alleyways. This stop has attracted both artists and writers such as André Breton who used to take up residence in the village during the summer season.

Brought to my attention by MaryMartha & Louis, Saint Cirq Lapopie is the former home of the noted painter Pierre Daura, who taught at Randolph College (formerly Randolph-Macon Woman’s College), and later retired to Rockbridge Baths, VA.  Also, of local note, it was at RMWC, where Queena Stovall, took her first art class under Daura, thus inspiring her to paint. 

Friday, June 17th Day 9: Built a thousand years ago on a gigantic rock, the 11th century Château de Belcastel, a magnificent fortress, rises above one of the most beautiful villages in the Aveyron region of France. A self-guided tour, rich with historical information, leads visitors over the moat and throughout the castle and its grounds. Only recently was this private chateau, with its lush courtyards, medieval chapels, prison, and superb views, opened to the public.

For several centuries, the castle was home to various noble families until it was abandoned in the 16th century. It remained empty until it was acquired and refurbished from its own funds in the 1970s by the architect Fernand Pouillon. The famous French architect Fernand Pouillon (1912-1986) discovered the castle in ruins in 1974. He decided to reconstruct the fortress, which had been abandoned since at least the 17th century. Pouillon himself carried out the restoration by hand along with a dozen Algerian masons and 10 stained glass experts, lasting only eight years.

Saturday, June 18th Day 10: Today we will drive 1.5 hours to the unique town of Bozouls. Built on a limestone plateau, the river Dordeau de Conques runs straight through it.  Over the years, the ebb and flow of the water has slowly eroded the rock, creating a huge gouge in the landscape.

The hole is more than 1,000 feet in diameter and 300 feet deep, displaying gorgeous limestone as well as lush, green trees and colorful flowers. The stone buildings directly on the edge of the canyon match the colors of the exposed rock, and the buildings look as though they belong in nature as much as the surrounding trees.

We’ll journey back to our Toulouse hotel to prepare for our flights home in the morning- Sunday, June 19th.