DOMINATING THE HORIZON
There is a lovely viewpoint at the top of a rocky promontory that is accessed by a short but pleasant path next to the small municipal cemetery. We contemplate how the Dordogne River flows, creating a lush and fertile valley with its castle as the undisputed protagonist.
The Dordogne River has always been a fundamental resource of the region and the engine of its economy. The river´s ecosystem has earned its recognition as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
From ancient times to the present day, its habitat has maintained a very close relationship with
humans. This river is one of the largest and longest in the country and has served as the border between France and England for a long time. Then, the problem began with the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Enrique de Plantagenet. Between them, their territories occupied the entire western third of France. Henry also inherited the crown of England, and all these properties became English sovereignty. The continued presence of the English in French territory triggered the famous Hundred Years War that lasted one hundred and sixteen years.
From this vantage point, we have an excellent perspective of the impressive feudal castle, a prototype of a defensive military construction that served as the setting for such blockbuster French films as "The Visi-tors", a film that consecrated the actor Juan Moreno, better known by his artistic pseudonym, Jean Reno. The other great movie shot in this location was Joan of Arc, heroine and martyr of the 100 Years War.
This castle represents, like few others, the idea of a medieval fortress, with its drawbridge and its keep that seems to touch the sky. What we always saw in the movies we have before our eyes. Did you know where the word feudal comes from? The political, social, and economic system that characterized the Middle Ages is of Latin origin and refers to Rome´s contract with the barbarians who became "federated" or allies against other barbarian peoples.
Le Haut Lookout
Place du château, 24220 Beynac-et-Cazenac, France
The Perigord region is the leading producer of foie, and France is the world´s leading consumer. The culinary star of the area is a duck. Linked to the most exquisite and distinguished cuisine, it is part of its cultural and gastronomic heritage.
A gesture with the thumb on the breast of the duck is used to know the size of the liver, like a ritual, as its consumption dates back about 2,500 years on the banks of the Nile. Before undertaking a long migration, the ducks were fattened to the shore of the Nile and thus accumulated in their liver the fats that would allow them to survive their long journey, thus doubling their weight and size. In this way, the Egyptians discovered the fattening technique, but yes, they did not eat the liver. They wanted to obtain more giant birds with more tender, fat and tasty meat.
Men interrupt this process by feeding the bird by hand, with corn boiled three times a day and thus fatten its liver for about twelve days before being slaughtered. Once the animal is sacrificed, we wait between 12 and 24 hours to extract the liver. Nineteen thousand tons of foie gras (fatty liver) are produced in France alone. The production of foie gras is legislated to guarantee its quality. The Protected Geographical Indication foie gras du Sud-Ouest guarantees its authenticity.
We suggest tasting the fresh grilled foie gras, round and round, almost raw. If we leave it on the grill, the dough is quickly consumed and turns into natural liquid fat. It is usually accompanied by something sweet, some jam, plum or stewed dried apricot. It is widespread to eat it for Christmas because it is an exceptional or luxury dish. But, don´t wait for Christmas. We encourage you to taste this delicacy of the gods.
You will find foie de canard in the restaurants that abound in Beynac-et-Cazenac.
For some years now, a liquid condiment widely used has reappeared and has once again occupied the place it deserves in regional cuisine.
This natural product, without colourants, is made with native grapes of the region harvested before ripen-ing, usually in mid-August. The grapes are hand-picked, and the must is extracted by crushing and press-ing the grape. Filtered, then it is kept at a low temperature and pasteurized at the time of bottling. The variety of grapes will give the "Verjus" diversity in acids and its aroma richness. The "Verjus del Perigord", as it is known, is a fruity condiment with a milder and more delicate taste than wine vinegar and less acidic than lemon vinegar and even more distinguished than white wine.
It allows the preparation of dressings and the preparation of authentic old-fashioned mustard or intensifies the flavour of mayon-naise. The kitchen gives a unique flavour to all kinds of meats. It is used to season mushrooms, marinate fish dishes such as mackerel, and provide a special touch to all dishes. It can even be used as a cocktail or added to sparkling water to quench your thirst.
Since the Middle Ages, the "Verjus" was used daily in the kitchens of the region´s countryside to the point of being popularly known as the "Great Cook". It was obtained from very green grapes, and each farm grew its vine and other acidic berries such as currants. Flavoured with herbs, watercress, bitter orange or lemon juice, it was sold in the kingdom´s capital, Paris, as a distinguished product for the kitchen before it suffered a long decline and almost disappeared after the last world war.
Today, the Verjus du Perigord enjoys renewed popularity among restaurants in the region. Its flavour gives lightness and originality to the dishes. They are made in traditional and family farms, and you will find them packaged in glass bottles in the gourmet shops and typical products of the town.
POSTCARD FROM BEYNAC-ET-CAZENAC
The best picture of the fascinating Beynac-et-Cazenac is obtained at the cliff´s foot that falls to the riverbank. We can see how the mountainous flank has been colonized by one of the most beautiful villag-es in France. At the top, finishing the scene, his fantastic castle emerges like a vigilant eagle.
There is a small jetty from where we are, reminiscent of what once became a port with intense economic activity. The "Barges", known as the wooden boats, were dragged by the river´s current, which allowed the exchange of materials. They went full of wine, flour, nuts and chestnuts, to the region´s great capitals and came back loaded with other construction materials, coal or different types of imported food such as coffee, salt or spices. They were very active transactions in which sometimes the barges without goods were sold as lumber. To save the solid currents or rapids that originated on their return, the boats were pulled by a pack of animals or, when failing at that, by the arms of their sailors. Today, the ships that ply the old waterway are replicas carried by tourists and rental canoes used by brave adventurers.
Settled on the rocky side of the cliff, the town rose, which was growing thanks to the booming port activity. Today, it is inhabited by about 500 neighbours. Steep, it preserves its architecture of yesteryear with its stone houses and its roof also made of that material known as "Lauze", giving that very "its generic" aspect. The population is divided into neighbourhoods according to the union they belong to.
At the end of the town, the castle emerges at the top, which seems to be hanging from here.
Imagine that this place was already populated since prehistoric times. Its strategic position was ideal for constructing the fortress surrounding the castle with its walls and the population that found refuge there in case of at-tack or invasion.
This point to contemplate the town is at the end of Carrer de la Balme, where it meets the river.
Rue de la Balme, 24220 Beynac-et-Cazenac, France
POET IN BEYNAC!
In the last house of an alley, a few meters from the fabulous castle of Beynac, one of the great French poets found refuge and inspiration who, with his style, started one of the great currents of 20th-century art. We refer to Paul Eluard.
Paul Éluard began to write after returning from Switzerland, where he was admitted for treating tubercu-losis. He would meet his first wife at the hospital, also in treatment. Her name was Elena Ivanovna Diákonova. Back in Paris, he rubbed shoulders with the great artists of the moment. He meets a young painter who invites them to his house on the beach. His wife falls in love with him and leaves Éluard with their daughter. She ended up becoming the muse of the promise of painting, consecrating with one of the great painters of our time. We refer to the painter Salvador Dalí and the one who was the great love of his life, Elena Ivanovna, who was better known as Gala Dalí.
Paul Éluard´s first great success came with the first poems during the First World War. He was always noted for his commitment to politics. A confessed communist, during the Second World War, he collabo-rated with the resistance with which he edited some writings that became a national song.
The surrealist poet arrived in the small medieval town of Beynac-et-Cazénac at the end of his life. Here he wrote his last book of poetry. His motto, "knowing how to grow old, knowing how to pass the time," agrees perfectly with his daily life in the place. That period corresponds to a later dark moment in his life: After the country´s liberation from the Nazi occupation, Paul Éluard was a happy poet: He had just met the one who would be his last sentimental partner. He is celebrated by all and invited everywhere. He sees his glory increase when his penultimate work is published. But unpredictably comes "the extra day": his faithful companion of the last seventeen years dies of a brain haemorrhage. The tragic episode plunges the poet into madness and on the verge of suicide.
In memory of the great poet, the street where he lived will be named after him: Rue Paul Éluard.
House of Paul Éluard
Rue Paul Éluard, 24220 Beynac et Cazenac
DESNIVEL VERTIGINOSO VERTIGINOUS SLOPE
One hundred meters separate the lower part from the upper part in the entirely steep alleys in the town of Beynac. You have to be fit to make such an effort. But it should not be so tricky when the inhabitants of Beynac-et-Cazenac can do it several times a day going back and forth.
Would you instead climb up or come down? It is always more fun to climb it because when you reach the top where the castle is located, you will still have to climb 50 meters to earn its keep as long as you have the strength, of course. The walk is worth it not only for the majestic views that you will find when you reach the top but also because of the walk. You will go through the old medieval neighbourhoods divided into the town.
The neighbourhoods are also known as "barri" in the language of Oc, a local language spoken in this part of southern France known as Occitania, where all the riverside towns of the Dordogne end in "ac". It is a Romance language like French, Spanish or Catalan, resulting in a mixture of the three.
In the lowest part of the town, we find the neighbourhood of the port that concentrated the sailors who unloaded merchandise from upstream at the dock. It was also where the fishmongers were installed where famous fishes such as salmon could be found. It was prevalent at that time to fish with a hawk.
The following neighbourhood, the "Barri del Soucy", is the one that served as a link between the upper and lower parts. Merchants, cloth weavers or basket makers settled here. It is interesting to observe the houses that do not have a flat. They are the ones that functioned as a warehouse and sale of merchandise.
Although the pavement is paved today, it was dirt until not long ago. On rainy days with such steep slopes, the streets became natural slides. Although darker, the yellow stone houses are topped by stone ceilings, resulting in a beautiful contrast where some of their flowery facades place the note of colour.
It is not surprising that Beynac-et-Cazenac is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France.
KING, GENTLEMAN AND TROBOR!
Erected from its vantage point on a dizzying cliff, dominating the historic town of Beynac-et-Cazenac, the feudal castle of Beynac emerges as a stone sentinel guarding the Dordogne and as a witness to the incredible history of the region.
Magnificent defensive fortress, touring its keep dominating the horizon, its spiral staircase, the barons´ room, the exceptional barbican, the kitchen or the rooms of its most notable guest, is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in this exciting medieval structure.
Among the great characters who inhabited the castle and held its lordship is the prototype of the Christian knight, brave king and tireless warrior: the mythical Richard the Lionheart. War is the word that summa-rizes the life of Ricard, and most of them were against their father, brothers, and allies.
Although born in the famous university city of Oxford and being King of England for ten years, it is said that Richard was not English, since during his reign he only visited England twice. Educated at his moth-er´s court among troubadours, who extolled his feats, he was a creator of verses, a facet less known than that of restoring the outlaw "Robin of the Woods" into law.
The fourth son of eight siblings, his mother´s favourite, the queen of French origin, Eleanor of Aquitaine. A manipulative woman and always involved in political intrigues, she was first married to the King of France and later to the King of England against whom she conspired to favour her predecessor son by succession.
He was not a saint of devotion among the English historians who blamed him for being absent too long from his island of birth and denigrated Ricard: "If heroism is limited to ferocity and brutality, then Ricard occupies an eminent position." "A bad son, a bad husband, a selfish leader and an individual full of vices." "Without a doubt, the worst ruler England has ever had." They even accused him of being from the opposite sidewalk.
His death was "the Lion that the Ant killed." It was a child who wounded him with an arrow. The fatal thing was that the wound was complicated, and he ended up dying of gangrene in his mother´s arms on April 6 of 1199.
Château de Beynac
Route du Château, 24220, Beynac-et-Cazenac, France
Open everyday from 10h to 19h
There is nothing as pleasant as going on a barge in the Dordogne. These traditional boats are equipped to take tourists for a walk and make them discover the riches that the environment offers.
We will discover four of them in this stretch of the river known as "the Valley of the Six Castles".
Once the residence of the powerful barons of the Perigord region, it is understood and renowned today for its gastronomic excellence. Their challenging positions on the cliff served as a deterrent and a lookout.
Our journey begins in the direction of the current. Our boat is motorized, although you do not hear the noise. It is appreciated to listen to the sounds of nature and the comments that illustrate the visit.
From the river, we already highlight the imposing silhouette of the castle of Beynac, the first fortress erected in the valley that experienced first-hand the significant events of the medieval history of France, such as the crusade against the Cathars and other heretics or the very long Hundred Years War between the French and the English. During the War, the Castle of Beynac supported the King of France against those who, located on the opposite shore, supported the King of England. All opted for the Protestant side in the same way during the wars of religions.
The second castle is that of Fayre. Only its central tower remains from the medieval period. During the Hundred Years War, its primary function was to look for the English forces. Today, the complex is a sumptuous Renaissance residence and a private one.
The castle of Castelnaud is the great rival of Beynac, both of a great architectural spectacularism. It is the third that we will meet. Judge for yourself, which is more impressive. This castle is a museum of the Middle Ages and has a substantial collection of medieval weapons.
The more classically built Marqueyssac Castle is best known for its wonderful terraced gardens that look like something out of a fairy tale. They are classified as "Outstanding Gardens of France".
Four castles tell the history of this place and will make us travel back in time.
Gabarres de Beynac
Embarcadero, 24220 Beynac-et-Cazenac
9 €, Visit of roughly 50 min
PAUSE WITH SURPRISES!
Rue de la Balme, the town´s main street, is the vital line for Beynac, the main access point and almost a forced passage. Through it, the coming and going of locals and visitors passes, and it is undoubtedly one of the best places to see the life of this pleasant place go by.
There are many cafes and restaurants where you can taste the typical drinks of the region and savour the moment. At Beynac-et-Cazenac, you can discover surprising flavours and specialities such as walnut wine, its colourful liqueurs of chestnut, currant, almond or enjoy a pastis, the drunkest aperitif in France. A good option is also to enjoy this moment with a red Bergerac. This name will be familiar to you by the literary and libertine Cyrano, best known for taking his life to the theatre and the big screen. His surname effectively corresponds to a city in the department of the Dordogne that his grandfather adopted after buying some land with the profits of his fishmonger and thus entering the list of the local gentry.
Although Beynac-et-Cazenac is surrounded by lush vegetation, it does not have public gardens. However, they may be surprised to discover them inside some of the establishments on Balme Street.
Another pleasant surprise is discovering an archaeological park at the end of the street that recreates a life-size town from the Bronze Age.
Always in the same street de la Balme, there is an impressionist painting workshop gallery, Galería Pierre, where you can contemplate and buy this type of art that was established in Beynac by the hand of Georges Manzana-Pisarro, the third son of Camile Pisarro when he found inspiration in the town to im-mortalize the landscapes of the Dordogne.
Rue de la Balme, 24220 Beynac-et-Cazenac
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