La Roque-Gageac is my favourite village of all les plus beaux villages in France. After discovering it over 20 years ago, I’ve returned numerous times to savour its beauty and watch its transformation. Located in southwestern France in the department of the Dordogne, the village is perched against steep golden limestone cliffs with the Dordogne River flowing gracefully below. Its south-facing orientation captures the warmth and daylight. Words don’t begin to describe the village’s beauty.
La Roque-Gageac is believed to have been inhabited during Prehistoric times and still boasts the cliff-side ruins of a Troglodyte fort constructed in the 12th century. I was one of the fortunate visitors to climb the 140 steps up the cliff to the site to observe the dwellings. After a major rock slide in 2007, the site was closed to visitors but is still visible from the road below.
Medieval houses– constructed of creamy gold stone and topped with Perigordian lauze tile roofs– line the main street, la route nationale, that runs between the lowest row of houses and along the river. The remainder of the village rises up the steep slope and is connected by meandering cobbled pathways. Some of the houses at the highest point utilize the cliff side as their back wall. As you climb higher, the views become more dramatic.
Majestically perched at the eastern end of the village is an old Romanesque church, constructed in 1330, renovated and still in use today. Next to the church is le jardin exotique, a tropical garden paradise filled with over 20 plant species. Created in 1970 by Gerard Dorin, the garden continues to expand and flourish due to the micro-climate created by its southern exposure. At the western end of the village, the stately, privately owned Château de la Malartrie reigns. Constructed in the 12th century as a hospital to house lepers, it was transformed in the 19th century to the Renaissance style of today. (Editor’s note: It’s possible to rent out the chateau in its entirety.)
To experience the river and have a different perspective of the cliffs and village, take a ride on a gabarre. In the past, gabarres or flat-bottomed boats, were used to transport merchandise along the river. Now they’re used to transport tourists and offer guided tours with picturesque views. Canoes are also a popular way to navigate and explore the river and can easily be rented at several locations.
La Roque-Gageac is in the heart of the Dordogne near numerous interesting sites and villages. Several charming hotels and restaurants are available to choose from. Parking is no longer a challenge, with a new area available at the eastern village entry. The stunning villages of Beynac and Castlenaud are a few kilometers away, and the larger ville of Sarlat, only eight kilometers. There is much to explore, or just relax at one of the terrace cafés and contemplate your magnificent Dordogne surroundings.