Beynac-et-Cazenac is officially one of the most beautiful villages in France. The country maintains a list of such places, much like Australia has a list of tidy towns. To make the list in France means the village really is stunningly pretty.
The village’s toes dip into the Dordogne river as it meanders through green fields and forests. Its head is a thousand-year-old castle that once housed Richard the Lionheart and has featured in numerous movies thanks to its amazing preservation. In between is a village of golden sandstone houses and tiny cobbled streets that sprawls up the hill mirroring the caves that were the original settlements. When we visited the amazing Roque de Saint Christophe yesterday we wondered what it would have been like if it hadn’t been destroyed in the 1500s – in many ways Beynac provides an answer to that question.
There are castles and chateaux all around here – we can see several from our windows. The area was a major contributor to the crusades and then the front-line in the 100 years war between the French and English. The castles tended to fall through treachery, rather than force of arms, and are remarkably well-preserved. We explored Beynac castle this afternoon and agreed it’s one of the best we’ve been to. It’s a little like an interactive versin of some of the books we’ve read on how castles were built and developed: an almost perfect example of defensive architecture and great insight into how people lived back then. It even has the armour of one of the earliest Barons de Beynac – 900 years old and just chained to the wall for anyone to touch. We did, of course.
Our house is half way up the hill up a tiny cobbled street that could only be driven by someone in a small, small car with no care for their paintwork and nerves of steel (we parked down by the river and carried our stuff up). We look out over the river and the surrounding valley through windows let into walls that are a couple of feet thick. At the other end of our street is a boulangerie with some great pastries and the usual wonderful bread.
This may be heaven.