By Rick Steves and Steve Smith
The feudal village of Beynac (bay-nak) tumbles down a steep hill from its majestic castle to the river far below. You'll have the Dordogne River at your doorstep and a perfectly preserved medieval village winding, like a sepia-tone film set, from the beach to the castle above. It comes with a big, foreboding bonus: one of the most imposing castles in France yet sees fewer tourists than its big brother, Sarlat.
Except for the castle, there's nothing to "tour." The purely stone village — with steep streets that still have their Languedoc (old French) names — is just plain pretty. The floodlit village is always open for evening strollers.
The brooding, cliff-clinging Château de Beynac soars 500 feet above the Dordogne River. During the Hundred Years' War, the castle of Beynac housed the French, while the British set up camp across the river at Castelnaud. From the condition of the castles, I'd say France won. This sparsely furnished castle is best for its valley views, but it still manages to evoke a powerful medieval feel. (These castles never had much furniture in any case.)
Even if you pass on the castle, hike or drive up to the town lookout for a commanding top-of-the-village view, which overlooks several castles and the river. Castelnaud's castle hangs on the hill in the distance straight ahead; Château de Fayrac (owned by a Texan) is just right of the rail bridge in front of Castelnaud; it was originally constructed by the lords of Castelnaud to keep a closer eye on the castle of Beynac. The Château de Marqueyssac, on a hill to the left, was built by the barons of Beynac to keep a closer eye on the boys at Castelnaud. More than a thousand such castles were erected in the Dordogne alone during the Hundred Years' War (1336–1453).
Three exceptional views of Beynac lie far below. The first is along the riverside path opposite Hôtel Bonnet. A second viewpoint is about a half-mile drive toward La Roque-Gageac. For the best (and easiest) village view, climb the short wall between the parking lot and the river — just try fitting it all in your camera's viewfinder.
Steve Smith is the co-author of Rick Steves' France.