The area surrounding Monpazier has too many attractions for us to offer a complete list but the following is a selection of some of its highlights. Two or three could easily be visited in a day’s outing from Monpazier. For example, a visit to Castelnaud could be combined with the gardens at Marqueyssac, with lunch either at Marqueyssac or nearby La Roque-Gageac. Or a visit to Domme, including lunch, could be extended to include Grotte du Cougnac in the afternoon. An hour or so enjoying the atmosphere of Cadouin's Abbey could be followed by a leisurely lunch in the village and a short drive Gouffre de Proumeyssac's limestone caves. To avoid disappointment always check on opening days and times (particularly out of season), as some attractions are not open every day and opening times vary.
The Dordogne has been referred to as the ‘Land of 1001 Chateaux’ and many fine examples are within easy reach of Monpazier.
Chateau de Biron is the closest, only (8 kms) away – for those seeking the exercise, there is a signposted walk from Monpazier. Construction began in the 12th century and the chateau was the scene of conflict during the Albigensian Crusade, initiated by Pope Innocent III to crush the Cathar heresy. Biron was seized by the Cathars in 1211 but lost again the following year. Today Biron retains a 12th century keep, 16th century living quarters and vaulted kitchens. Its chapel is on two levels, the lower one for commoners and the higher for the lords, bringing them closer to heaven during
Chateau des Milandes (36 km) was built around
1489 - until 1535, the lords of Caumont preferred to
live here rather than in the larger - but rather cold
and draughty - Castelnaud. Its main claim to fame
was its purchase by Josephine Baker, the American
entertainer who wowed Paris in the 1930s and 40s.
The interior is filled with Baker memorabilia.
Outside, there is a pleasant garden and very
good bird of prey show.
Chateau de Castelnaud (38 km), everyone’s vision of a fortified medieval castle, is perched on a rocky outcrop with commanding views over the Dordogne valley. The chateau features a Museum of War in the Middle Ages, with displays of weaponry including full size replica trebuchets (catapults), demonstrations of blacksmithing, videos on armour manufacture, etc.
Chateau de Beynac (43 km), established early in the 12th century, became a possession of Richard the Lionheart in 1189 when the lord of Beynac died without a direct heir. After Richard’s death it passed back to the Beynac family and was described in the chronicles of a Cistercian monk as “Satan’s Arch” because the family supported the Cathar heresy in the 13th century.
Chateau de Puymartin (46 km) was first established in 1270 but its present appearance owes much to a 19th century restoration in the neo-Gothic style. The present owner’s ancestor took possession around 1450 and the chateau contains many family heirlooms, including furniture, tapestries and paintings.
Maison Forte de Reignac (55 km) is the only fully preserved ‘chateau falaise’ (cliff chateau) in France. The chateau’s façade was built beneath the overhang of the cliff and its rooms excavated from the rock. The interior includes a grand hall, armoury, kitchens, a chapel and dungeon.
Chateau de Fenelon (60 km) was founded in the 13th century but most of what we see today is 16th century. Located on a rocky promontory and surrounded by a triple wall and terraces, the chateau features a chapel, large reception room and bedrooms decorated in Louis XIII, Louis XVI and Empire styles.
Chateau et Jardins de Losse (62 km) is a fortified 15th century chateau, complete with moat. Its Renaissance hall has a fine collection of 16th and 17th century furniture, tapestries, weapons, etc. The terrace and gardens overlook the river Vézère and English language tours are conducted.
Les Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac (65 km) is a family home but its grounds, labelled the most beautiful gardens in the Perigord, are open to the public. The property has been in the same family for more than 500 years and its magnificent French gardens were established in the 18th century. The White Garden is mostly given over to white roses, complimented by fountains.
Les Jardins de Marqueyssac (45 km) is more noted for its gardens than the 17th century chateau, which is attractive but relatively modest. The chateau’s grounds feature extensive manicured boxwood hedges and topiary, in the romantic spirit of the 19th century. The garden walks, together with the chateau’s very good café, offer wonderful views of the Dordogne valley.
Many picturesque and historic villages lie within easy reach of Monpazier, the following is a small selection of possible destinations. Most villages have markets at least once each week, which is an ideal time to visit – a list can be found under ‘Local Information’. Belves (16 km) shares Monpazier’s distinction in being listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Celtric tribes first settled here in 250BC but the present village was established as a fortified village (bastide) in the 11th century. Troglodyte caves, inhabited from the 13th to the 18th century, lie beneath the village’s central square. Tours are conducted in English.
Cadouin (16 km) is known for its Cistercian abbey, with its charming cloisters and central garden – ideal for those moments of meditation. The adjoining church dominates the central square of this tiny, and very pretty, village.
La Roque-Gageac (43 km) is strung along the base of a cliff on the Dordogne River. It’s difficult to imagine that this picture-book village was once a bustling port. It has flourishing gardens due to its micro-climate and is an ideal lunch spot.
Domme (44 km), is another member of ‘the most beautiful villages of France’ club. This lovely bastide has stunning views over the Dordogne valley and is also ideal lunch stop. In 1307, the Knights Templar were imprisoned in Domme’s Porte des Tour during their trial and the crucifixes they carved can still be seen. Caves beneath the village have more than 400m of stalactite-filled galleries.
Sarlat-la-Caneda (52 km) has a medieval city centre featuring a central square with a striking covered market that was a church nave in a former life. Reaching out from the square is a maze of narrow streets and hidden courtyards with a plentiful supply of restaurants and cafes. These qualities have led to more movies being filmed here than any other place in France, other than Paris and Nice.
Other picturesque villages nearby that merit a visit, especially on market days, include Issigeac, Monflanquin, Beaumont-du-Perigord, Villareal and Villefranche-du-Perigord.
Prehistoric Cave Paintings and Limestone Caves
Gouffre de Proumeyssac (32 km) was known as ‘the Devil’s Hole’ as it emits a mist in winter, thought by locals to be smoke from the fires of hell. The cave is a huge cavern called the 'Cathedral of Crystal',
with remarkable limestone formations
including four huge stalactites.
Headphones provide a commentary in English.
The Grotte du Grand Roc (40 km) is a UNESCO
World Heritage site. Its main cavern has been
described as a fairy grotto with thousands of
delicate stalactites clinging to its ceiling.
Adjacent to the cave is the prehistoric shelter
of Abri de Laugerie Basse, first occupied by
Cro-Magnon Man 15,000 years ago.
Grotte de Rouffignac (48 km) also known as
the Cave of the Hundred Mammoths, is part of the most extensive cave system in the Périgord. Visitors take an electric train 2kms into the interior. The engravings and black contour drawings include 158 mammoths, bison, horses, woolly rhinoceros and humans.
Grotte de Cougnac (57 km) consists of two caves. The first contains limestone formations, including ceilings covered with tiny, delicate ‘soda straw’ stalactites. The second has prehistoric paintings from two distinct periods – 25,000 and 14,000 years ago. The painted figures include mammoth, deer, ibex and humans. The guides give an abridged commentary in English.
Grotte de Lascaux II (70 km) is an exact replica of the real Lascaux cave, which is closed to visitors to prevent deterioration of its prehistoric paintings. The reproduction took 11 years to complete and is very accurate, as laser measuring instruments were used to ensure absolute precision. The polychrome paintings are striking and tours are conducted in English.
A Gabare is a wooden hulled barge used to transport cargo on the Dordogne river in the 18th and 19th centuries. Several companies offer river cruises using replica vessels from towns along the river, including La Roque-Gageac. Audio guides are usually available in English. Filature de Belves (18 km) at Moulin du Cros near Belves is a wool spinning mill which was still in operation in the 1990s, producing quality yarn for the tapestry workshops of Aubusson. This example of the region’s industrial heritage has been preserved as a working museum and if you wish, you can try your hand at carding, spinning, weaving and felting.
Moulin de la Rouzique at Couze (24 km) is a paper mill established in the 15th century. It is now a paper museum with demonstrations of traditional paper making techniques.
To the South East: (both can be visited on the same trip - Recommended) Grotte du Pech Merle (87 km) contains remarkably well preserved prehistoric art, including depictions of mammoths, bison and horses painted some 25,000 years ago. Equally remarkable are the human footprints made when the floor of the cave was shallow mud, now a permanent record of our ancestors. The commentary is in French but notes are available in English. St Cirq-Lapopie (93 km) a tiny but iconic village recently voted the most beautiful in France. Perched on the cliff’s edge above the river Lot, picturesque Lapopie is a good place to stroll and have lunch when visiting Pech Merle. An alternative, and usually less busy, lunch option when visiting Pech Merle is the Hotel des Grotte in Cabrerets, only 3kms from the caves. With its terrace overlooking a stream it comes with personal recommendations and very good reviews on Tripadvisor (05 65 31 27 02). If you get an early-ish start and visit Pech Merle in the morning, you could stop in Cahors (63 km) on the way back to Monpazier. This regional centre of 21,000 people has a lovely tree-lined main street and an air reminiscent of towns further south, toward the Mediterranean. Its Pont Valentré is one of France’s most iconic bridges and the Cathedral St-Etienne is similar in style to Perigueux’s St-Front.
To the North East: (both can be visited on the same trip) Rocamadour (88 km) was France’s second most important medieval shrine after Normandy’s Mont-St-Michel, due to its miraculous Vierge Noire (Black Madonna). From the cliff-top château, a long staircase leads down to the old town, or you can take the cable car - pious pilgrims climbed these steps on their knees. Half-way down is a series of 12th to 14th century chapels holding the village’s most prized relics, including the Vierge Noir. Gouffre de Padirac (103 km) A 103 metre descent by lift or stairs takes you down to this cave’s subterranean river. Boat pilots ferry visitors along 1 km of the waterway, visiting a series of glorious floodlit caverns, including the soaring 94 metre high Grand Dome and a 27 metre wide subterranean lake. Audio guides are available in English. This is justifiably an extremely popular destination, so it is best to arrive early or book your ticket on line - the queues at the ticket office can be formidably long, especially in July and August. Opening hours vary, so check the web-site.
To the North: (both can be visited on the same trip) Chateau de Hautefort (100 km), originally a medieval fortress, was converted into an elegant chateau in the 17th century. In the 19th century, French formal gardens and an English-style park were created, offering village and countryside views. Notes are available in English for a self-guided tour. Perigueux (74km), with a population of 30,000 is the largest commercial centre in the Dordogne. Its Cathedral St-Front was built in the Byzantine style in the 12th century. The old city’s maze of narrow streets has numerous restaurants and cafes, and is a good lunch option.