The Dordogne is one of France’s most entrancing regions, with a cinematic beauty that seems almost too perfect to be real. Curving gracefully through a landscape of vineyards, pastures and orchards, the Dordogne River is often lined with steep hills and limestone bluffs riddled with caves. And on seemingly every convenient rise stands a château, sometimes alone, sometimes surrounded by a medieval village of golden stone.
The Dordogne valley looks like a fairy tale now, but it owes its appearance to having been the front line during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). Richard the Lionheart occupied the imposing Château de Beynac, and not far away at Castillon (now known as Castillon-la-Bataille), the English and French fought the final battle of the war. The region later prospered thanks to its wine, with the river acting as a conduit to the more populous north, but a vine pest and railroads conspired to ruin this trade. The Dordogne became a backwater, ensuring that its landscape remained more or less unmarred by modernity.