The Dordogne features as many as 100 châteaux ranging from ruins to mansions that are still inhabited. Many have dramatic settings with splendid views over the river. The best are a few miles to the west of Sarlat at Castlenaud and Marqueyssac. The history is fascinating, dating back to the hundred years war where the French and English faced each other from their respective sides of the river!
Château de Beynac
Description: This incredibly located chateau is in one of the most dominant positions of any in the Dordogne. The interior is really quite remarkable – unspoilt and inspiring the imagination to what it must have been like during the 100 years war. This is due in no small part to the fact that the current 90 year old owner (who still lives in apartments there) has expressed a clear wish that it should not be turned into a tourist attraction and yet must be available for the nation to enjoy.
Location: Overlooking the Dordogne river valley at Beynac.
General Info: Open 10AM – 6.30PM in season. Tel. 05 53 29 50 40.
Our recommendations: Although you can drive up to the château from Beynac village (about 3km by road) we would suggest that you leave the car at the bottom of this road in one of the plentiful car parks, and then walk up to the château (a steep 10 minute climb).
For the children: Although this is a fascinating place for the children, it is made rather tedious by the fact that you have to follow a guided tour which is conducted in French and rather verbose at times – even the French adults started to tire of it by the end!
Description: This incredibly imposing castle was constructed in several stages from the 11th – 18th century by the Gontaut-Biron family. The château can be visited with the aid of a written English guide (guided French tours also available) which is informative and takes you round all the sections such as the incredible vaulted kitchens, the chapel, the keep and much much more.
Location: On the D53, approximately 8km south of Monpazier. This château just slips into the Dordogne region.
General Info: Open daily in high season but closed on Mondays the rest of the year.
Our recommendations: Well worth a visit – as castles go this has a lot to interest the children with hidden passageways, dungeons and towers to explore.
For the children: Our children loved it here – it is a really pleasant place to spend a morning or afternoon.
Château de Castelnaud
Description: This splendid château is a reconstructed medieval castle dating back to the 12th century and situated in a majestic position overlooking the Dordogne and facing the Château Marqueyssac. It is child oriented with nooks and crannies to explore, hands on opportunities with audio visual and computerised displays as well as demonstrations of medieval sword fights.Location: Situated off the D57 on the south side of the river, overlooking the Château Marqueyssac.
General Info: Opening 9AM – 8PM in the summer, 10AM – 7PM in April, May, June and September. At other times, tel: 05 53 31 30 00 or visit their website for more information.
Our recommendations: Buy a combined ticket which allows entry to both this château and the Château Marqueyssac (you may not be able to use this for the Thursday evening extravaganza at Château Marqueyssac – please check).
For the children: This chateau has been designed completely with the child in mind, so plan to spend a lot of time here! As an added bonus, the visit is free for the under 10s!
Description: Stunningly situated romantic ruins of a 12th century castle. There is a small car park which rarely gets too busy and then a short 10 minute walk down through the woods to the castle ruins themselves. The main tower of the castle is reasonably intact and you can climb to the top of it – not for the faint-hearted! Above you can see a picture of the view from one of the windows in the main tower. There is lots of natural shade under the trees around the castle as well as a drinking spring for those really hot days.
Location: Follow the D47 from Les Eyzies to Sarlat, turn left onto the D48 and follow the signs for Commarque Castle. This is a bit out of the way but if you follow the signs you will eventually reach it!
General Info: There is a nominal entrance fee.
Our recommendations: Ask for a set of English notes on the castle.
For the children: There is plenty of space for the children to run around.
Chateau de Hautefort
Description: Perched on a rocky promontory, this is a spectacularly sited castle in the northern Dordogne which can be seen for miles around. The castle interior is fascinating, particularly the ‘below stairs’ rooms created in and among numerous underground passages. The gardens are also superb, comprising both formal (box-tree walks) and informal elements (the English Park), offering plenty of scope for children to run around.
Location: In the village of Hautefort, to the east of D704, approx 25 km north of Montignac and the Lascaux caves.
General Information: Open from March to November with limited opening hours at either end of the season. Tel No: 0(5) 53 50 51 23.
Our Recommendations: This is more suited to older children but the grounds can be enjoyed by all, especially if you bring a picnic.
For the Children: There are activities laid on for children throughout the year, although these will be conducted in French. Check the web-site for details under the News section.
Château de Marqueyssac
Description: This château is superbly located close by the Dordogne river and has splendid views of the surrounding area. It is the gardens along the cliff top that draw the visitors – these are vast, with numerous winding paths, viewpoints and follies which lead to the Belvedere. Horse drawn Barouches, musical entertainment and a Salon de Thé add to the fun!
Location: Situated near Vezac. Approach from D703 or D49.
General Info: Extended opening on Thursday evenings in peak season, when the grounds are lit by candles (increased entrance fees apply). Otherwise open daily 9AM – 8PM in season, 10AM – 7PM in April, May, June and September. Tel: 05 58 31 36 36.
Our recommendations: Visit on a Thursday evening to watch the sun set over the Dordogne as you wander through the candlelit gardens. Or combine with lunch in the Relais de Cinq Château, then walk lunch off in the delightful grounds here.
For the children: The gardens are fun for exploring with a childrens’ play area on the walk to the Belvedere. Rockclimbing is offered to the over 6’s in the summer months.
Description: Visited and recommended by one of our friends. This château was owned by Josephine Baker of Les Milandes fame and is full of her personal memorabilia and artefacts – visitors are welcome to examine them.
Location: Follow the wooded D53 north of Castlenaud as it curves around the bank of the river Dordogne. You will find Les Milandes about 5km down the river from Castlenaud.
General Info: Open 1st April to Toussaint. In July and August the hours are 09.30-19.30. Check for other times. Tel. 05 53 59 31 21. For more information refer to the Les Milandes website.
For the children: In the summer months there are falconry displays each day and the lucky few will get the chance to handle the birds. You can get details on the times from the website.
There are some excellent websites on châteaux in the Dordogne including:
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to the Dordogne:
- Picnic Spots