Like something in a children’s storybook, a fairytale set once upon a time in a faraway land, the castle looms large above an idyllic, green landscape.
Travellers come from all around to gaze up at it in wonder, to climb atop the peak at which it stands and photograph all and sundry.
To say Chateau de Beynac is impressive would be something of an understatement. It is a fairytale come to life.
I’m on Workaway in the Perigord province of South West France. I finished my chores for the day – mowing lawns and doing dishes my raison d’etre – and now I’m taking some time out to explore rural France.
My first stop was Sarlat, an impossibly beautiful medieval town situated in the heart of the Dordogne department in Perigord Noir. It’s a town of great beauty and great historical significance, having more listed buildings per square meter than any other town in Europe.
Examples of renaissance and medieval architecture stand side by side, as hundreds of tourists explore the popular town’s cobbled streets. I stopped for coffee in the main square, below Sarlat Cathedral – and then cake in one of the town’s many wonderful patisseries.
I admire it from below before climbing to the top. Entry to the castle costs 7.50 euros but it’s free to admire the view from its fortress walls, taking in the lush, impossibly green, French countryside.
The view is spectacular. I can see a train in the distance, kayakers below and numerous other French castles and chateaus dotted across the terrain.
The castle was built in the 12th century by the Barons of Beynac (one of the four baronies – or noble landholders – of Perigord), the sheer 200m cliff face being deemed sufficient protection from would-be attackers from that side.
The fortifications failed to stop Richard the Lionheart, however, who conquered the castle by scaling the cliff.
It was remodelled and enlarged in the 16th and 17th centuries before it was abandoned in the 18th and restored in the 19th.
It’s a popular destination for domestic tourists but it’s seems as though it may be too far off the beaten track for international travellers – at least that’s the impression I get, as French accents pierce the air.
In the shadow of the castle, local people go about their daily lives. The Beynac-et-Cazenac township is but a sleepy hamlet, unremarkable except for its castle and the picturesque Dordogne River.
The French town of Hautefort is prettier, which is the town I visit on my way back to the bed and breakfast in St Michel, where I work in exchange for food and board for the next two weeks.
It also boasts a chateau from out of a French fairytale.
Overlooking the valleys of the rivers Beuze and Lourde, Hautefort’s chateau boasts immaculate gardens and a history no less fascinating than Chateau de Beynac’s. During the 12th century it was the site for countless struggles over royal recession and control.
More recently, the Chateau de Hautefort was featured in 1998 film Ever After starring Drew Barrymore.
Which brings us full-circle: from fairytales to movies, this part of rural France is so beautiful, so striking, and so fantastic that it beggars belief.