Jim described La Roque-Gageac as ‘Disney meets the Cotswolds’ (I wonder if the Dordogne tourist board want that one?)
It’s listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France for good reason and is definitely one of the most picturesque places we’ve been to.
Chocolate box houses overlooking the Dordogne river on one side, backed by a sheer limestone cliff on the other.
Like Disney, it’s probably best avoided in the school holidays. We’d seriously underestimated how busy it would be in August.
We were hoping to park at one of several aires or campsites along the river, so we could paddleboard and the kids could go for a swim, but every site was full. Jim found another potential spot at Château de Castelnaud, a castle a few minutes drive away.
We were relieved to find a space and although we couldn’t enjoy the river, we spent our Friday evening exploring the castle grounds and village of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle instead.
The castle has a really interesting history – during the Hundred Years War it was allied to the English Plantagenets and became a significant stronghold against the French.
The next morning we woke up to the amazing sight of hot air balloons flying above the castle.
We drove back down to La Roque-Gageac and managed to find somewhere to park, although being Saturday the river was even busier with canoes, kayaks and sightseeing boats.
We decided to explore the village instead. The kids were less than enthusiastic about climbing a really steep hill to look at some old houses, but the promise of ice cream and a swim later convinced them.
It’s only as you climb the steps and narrow pathways through the village that you really appreciate the scale of the limestone cliff above.
It’s incredible how some of the houses are actually built into the rock face. A few buildings are uninhabited and falling into disrepair, but many are still lived in.
The shelter from the cliff has also created a crazy micro-climate so there are exotic plants growing everywhere. The vivid green against the limestone is beautiful.
The village survived the Vikings and the Romans, as well as the Hundred Years War. During the 12th century, a fortress was carved into the rock, only accessible by 140 steps. Following a rockfall in 2010 public access is no longer allowed.
Then in 1957, a huge section of the limestone cliff fell, destroying around ten houses, killing three people and cutting off the road for several years.
The views from the top of the village, of the Dordogne river and beyond are breathtaking.
After all that walking we were all ready to cool off. By late afternoon the river was quiet – the canoe rental places had closed and the boats had stopped running, so we took the opportunity to get the paddleboards out. We didn’t have to go far to find a secluded little beach and the perfect spot to swim.
Result? Two very happy kids.