France is one of the best countries in the world for visiting castles, or châteaux in French. There are an estimated 45,000 castles, each holding a special place in the country’s history. Dordogne, a rural department in the southwest of France is famous for its medieval castles and fortified towns. In this article, you’ll discover the best castles to visit in Dordogne, some of which are located in France’s most breathtakingly beautiful villages.
The Dordogne Valley is said to be home to 1001 castles. Not as refined as the ones you can visit in the Loire Valley, which were built as decoration for kings in more recent times, the fortresses and châteaux in Dordogne were built for defense and as lookout points. Instead of lavish, gold interiors, picture knights in armor and medieval feasts.
Summers at the castles are wonderfully festive as many of them host events, child-friendly adventures and games, night markets, musical evenings, and even candlelit picnics. Whether you’re looking for romance or family fun, the châteaux of Dordogne have it all!
Just a bit of history before we start – fortresses and châteaux in Dordogne
The chateaux of the Dordogne were mostly built around the 10th and 11th centuries. The sites for these castles were chosen because of their natural geographical advantages. Many of them were built near rivers for easy transport and to make passing boats pay tolls. Others are found on high ground to look out for enemies.
The Hundred Years War between France and England heavily impacted the region in the Late Middle Ages and castles were built all over the Dordogne Valley for defense purposes.
Fun fact: the Dordogne department is referred to colloquially as the Périgord and is divided into four parts, named by color after each one’s resource. This article breaks down the castles worth visiting by area, making it easier for you to plan your vacation.
some practical informatiion
One thing to know before your trip is the fantastic Périgord Pass – an electronic pass that gives you a 20% discount at all the top tourist sites in Dordogne, including castles, gardens, and caves. It’s definitely worth it if you plan on doing multiple visits and outings, especially in groups or with the family.
Importnat- most of the castles in Dorodgne require a car to get to, so be sure to book one advance to get good prices.
Now let’s discover some of the most impressive castles to visit in Dordogne!
Châteaux to visit near Sarlat-la-Canéda – Perigord Noir
Château de Beynac: the most famous castle in the Périgord
First on my list is one of the most impressive medieval castles in the region, Château de Beynac. Located about 20 minutes from the famous village Sarlat-la-Canéda, this imposing château originated in the 12th century and is perched high up on a cliff. Sweeping views overlooking the river and castles on the opposite banks as well as its historical importance make Château de Beynac a must-see.
The castle is open all year long, every day from 10 am – 7 pm with audio guides or solo visiting options. You can do a 15-minute walk up through the breathtaking village of Beynac or drive to the castle where parking is available. If you’re visiting with babies, be sure to take a carrier with you as there are quite a lot of stairs to climb.
If you’re staying in Sarlat, take advantage of a fantastic guided tour for you and the whole family. One of the best views you’ll get of Château de Beynac is from the river if you’re doing a kayak tour! You can also do a little stop in Beynac and enjoy the town during the tour.
Château de Castelnaud
Located just down the river from Beynac you’ll find the magical Château de Castelnaud in one of the most beautiful villages in the region. With a history dating back to the 12th century and having changed hands between the French and the English during the Hundred Years War, it’s the perfect home for the Museum of Medieval Warfare.
The museum was created with the aim of preserving and educating about the military history of the region. There are incredibly interesting displays of all kinds of medieval weapons, creepy dungeons, and armory.
It offers an immersive experience that transports visitors, including kids, to the tumultuous times of medieval warfare. The Catelnaud castle is one of the best places to visit with kids in Dordogne.
In summer they host special medieval plays about the history of the castle and the region as well as free guided tours in English, old-fashioned trébuchet (catapult-like) firing displays, blacksmith demonstrations, and evening performances.
Château de Castelnaud is open every day of the year. It’s recommended to get tickets online ahead of time as this is one of the gems of the Dordogne, with many tourists visiting in the summer months. You can get a discount if you buy it as a twin ticket with the Jardins de Marqueyssac, one of the most beautiful gardens in Dordogne.
Château de Milandes
This charming, dainty, Gothic château was built in 1489 by the Caumont family, who were also the owners of Château de Castelnaud. The Milandes castle, with its stunning stained glass windows and Renaissance architecture, became their permanent residence as it was more appropriate and beautiful to live in. This was in contrast to Castelnaud’s austere, fortress-style architecture.
However, it became very famous thanks to another resident. In the 1940s, American-born dancer, entertainer, WWll resistance agent, and civil rights activist, Josephine Baker, bought the castle. She lived there with her husband and grew her family, adopting 12 children and working for the French resistance movement during the Second World War.
Today, you can see incredible displays detailing Joséphine’s life at Milandes, including stage costumes and stories about her life. That’s what attracts most of the visitors to the impressive Château de Milandes.
There is also a magnificent garden, a very pretty chapel, a parakeet aviary, and fantastic birds of prey shows. Children can do falconry workshops and feed exotic birds, play with swords in a musketeer workshop, and feed goats while adults can also participate in a range of fun, educational activities all summer long. For more ideas for things to do with kids in Dordogne, click here.
The castle is open daily from February to December (and the first week of January), see the opening hours here. There is a restaurant onsite and various shady areas with picnic tables if you want to bring your own lunch.
Château de Hautefort
Way up in the northeast of the department, you’ll find what is often referred to as the most beautiful castle in the entire Dordogne. Château de Hautefort, overlooking the Beuze and Lourde river valleys.
Built in the 12th century for military purposes, the castle became more suited to everyday use after a series of renovations to modernize and beautify it in the 16th century. During the French Revolution, Hautefort was used as a prison for suspected rebels and thus saved from destruction.
In 1929, after a period of neglect and abandonment, the Baron de Bastard and his wife, Simone, fell in love with the castle and decided to restore it to its former glory. Simone moved in as a widow in 1957, but a devastating fire almost destroyed the castle once again in 1968.
That didn’t stop Baroness Simone – she started fixing her home up again almost the very next day! It’s thanks to her passion and the foundation she created that the Château de Hautefort is what it is today.
Visiting the castle gives you a good idea of the mix between defensive fortress architecture and gorgeous Renaissance architecture. It’s a great outing for children who enjoy exploring the castle interiors with its perfectly-preserved rooms and furniture.
The castle of Hautefort is open every day from April until November, see the opening hours here. In the summer the chateau offers different evening events, such as Theatrical nights this year, these must be cooked in advance. There is a great café for food and drinks and you can also picnic in the stunning, manicured gardens.
While you’re there, you can discover the small but charming village of Hautefort and for children on hot days, a water park nearby. Also nearby is the charming village of Excideuil.
Château de Commarque
Situated high on a rocky hill, about 15 km from Sarlat, Château de Commarque allows you to travel back in time. This unique gem of a castle is far less renovated than the others on this list and therefore plunges you back into the Medieval, or even prehistoric, times.
The building itself dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries, but mankind had settled there long before. During the visit, you can see how they lived in caves carved out of the rocky cliffs nearby. You’ll also discover the troglodyte houses, pushed underground by centuries of soil deposit build-up, a testament to ancient life in the region.
It was during the Wars of Religion that the Château de Commarque fell into ruin and abandonment, swallowed up by lush green forests and almost disappearing completely. The castle was neglected and forgotten for four centuries, from the 16th to the 20th century.
In 1962, the descendant of the Commarque family, Hubert de Commarque bought the castle back and made it his life mission to bring the castle its glory back. Since then he has been working on restoring and renovating the castle and in 2011 it was opened to the public.
As you arrive for a visit you park your car under big trees, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and walk along a path until the castle suddenly stands tall, majestic, and breathtaking in the clearing right in front of you. The parking near the chateau is reserved for people with reduced mobility.
There are plenty of fun activities taking place in the summer, such as evening visits with lights projected onto the castle, outdoor plays, and music concerts. The chateau offers cool activities like an escape game and adventure-seekers and kids can even abseil down the castle walls to the dungeon. Check out even more activities and games on their website.
*I find it a perfect chateau for a bit older kids but personally, I wouldn’t recommend it to families with very young kids. There are a lot of stairs there that feel a bit unsafe for very small kids.
Château de Commarque is open from April to the beginning of November, see the opening hours here. Buy your tickets online to avoid disappointment. There are food trucks available for different snacking options.
Château et Jardins de Losse
Heading North along the Vézère River, you’ll find the Château et Jardins de Losse. The castle is perched on the river banks, overlooking the beautiful valley and boasting some of the most incredible gardens in the whole region.
Le Château de Losse was originally built as a medieval fortress with protective walls and a ditch. In the 16th century, a Renaissance Hall was built within the castle. The decor of the chateau is a testimony to the luxurious lifestyle of Marquess Jean II de Losse in the 16th century. Today the castle and its extraordinary gardens are listed as a French historical monument.
The famous Jardins de Losse consists of a rose garden, an arbor, manicured lavender fields, carefully trimmed, lattice-shaped hedges, various ancient fountains, and trees with magical blossoms. Taking a walk through the château gardens is like taking a trip back in time – you’ll be transported by the smells of fresh flowers, the sound of the river below and the birds in the trees, and the peacefulness of the lush greenery.
If you’re traveling with kids, there’s a variety of fun activities at the castle and in its gardens. The most unique and fun idea is the treasure hunt, which is perfect for kids aged 5-11 years old. You can book online ahead of time. Other activities include Chivalry shows, pony rides, and more. Be sure to check the schedule before going to see what activities are currently offered.
Château de Marzac
Sitting along the banks of the Vézère River is the stunning Château de Marzac, famous for its original escape game and breathtaking, manicured gardens. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits high above the valley and floats above clouds on gray days, making for a picture-perfect visit.
For 6 centuries, Marzac remained in the same family, until it was eventually bought by a Danish family in the 1980s and sold again in 2019.
The best-known attraction at this fairytale castle is an escape game that takes you on an adventure of the buildings and grounds while you race against the clock. There’s also a labyrinth for kids and adults alike and a murder mystery party adventure.
Château de Marzac is open daily in July and August, and if you’re planning on doing a game during your visit, be sure to book your tickets online. You can snack on the grounds with their yummy lunch options.
Château de Marzac is located just 15 minutes drive from Saint Léon sur Vézère, one of the most beautiful villages in Dordogne. And just a few minutes’ drive from Les Eyzies, the prehistoric center of the Dordogne.
Château de Fénelon
Situated on the border between the Dordogne and the Lot departments you’ll find the ancient, understated Château de Fénelon, perched on a hilltop near the village of Saint-Modane.
Originally built in the 13th century, this castle changed hands between the French and the English during the Hundred Years War and was renovated for residential living in the 15th century. One of this castle’s highlights is the view! it’s perched so high up that you catch a glimpse of the charming surrounding countryside out of every window.
While Fénelon might be a little more modest-looking than some other castles on this list, it’s by no means any less impressive. With its typical yellow stone walls and fairytale-like gray lauze (stone) roof towers, you can easily picture a Disney princess living here. In fact, this castle’s medieval architecture and interiors are so beautifully preserved, it’s been the shooting location for a number of Hollywood films, such as Ridley Scott’s The Last Dual.
It’s a great place to travel with kids as they have armory and weapons on display in the castle, as well as picnic spots with great views where the family can enjoy refreshments.
The castle is open for self-guided visits or tours with a guide from April to October, but be sure to check the website before you go as they’re closed on some days. Château de Fénelon is located in the east part of Dordogne, on the border with the Lot department. When there you can also visit the beautiful villages of Carlux and Carsac-Ailla.
Castles to visit in other parts of the Dordogne – Green and Purple Perigord
Château de Jumilhac
Another Disney-looking castle on our list is Château de Jumilhac in the very north of Dordogne in Périgord Vert (green). In fact, it’s sometimes nicknamed the ‘Sleeping Beauty Castle’! Sitting high above the Isle River valley with sweeping views of the countryside, Juilhac is breathtaking from every angle.
It was built in the 13th century and underwent many renovations through the centuries. The most notable one was by Antoine Chapelle, Count of Jumilhac, who turned it into a stunning Renaissance residence in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Between the French Revolution and the 20th century, the castle again passed through many hands before finally being bought by the descendants of the original family. Today Henry de la Tour-Du-Pin is in charge and continues the passionate work of his family.
During your visit, you’ll find plenty of magnificent, extravagant gems like grand fireplaces, a perfect reconstruction of a medieval kitchen, and a delightful garden overlooking the valley. There’s a salon de thé where you can stop for a sweet treat and a cold drink during summer.
Château de Jumilhac hosts plenty of fun activities at night all summer long. Picture the fairytale castle with candles, costumes, music, and food – it’s a fantastic experience. Be sure to check out their website for upcoming events and ticket sales.
On the way to the château stop by Thiviers, one of the best market towns in Dordogne.
Château de Biron
Located in the Purple Perigord, Château de Biron is a nearby option if you’re visiting Bergerac. You can see the majestic castle from far away, high on the hilltop overlooking the lush green countryside below.
Like many other châteaux on this list, Biron originates in the 12th century and was originally a fortress for defense purposes. After the Hundred Years War it underwent a makeover in the Renaissance style. Every century’s styles are still visible today in the mixed architecture of the buildings.
This official Historic Monument is publicly owned today and is home to vaulted kitchens, an ancient bakery, State chambers, and a beautiful chapel. The most impressive part of the visit is the panoramic views which stretch far out over the villages below, so be sure to snap some photos!
During the summer months, Château de Biron hosts fantastic events including evening concerts in the courtyard, exceptional art exhibitions inside the castle, and a musical festival. So be sure to check out their event calendar when planning your trip.
While you’re in the area you should head to Monpazier, one of France’s official Most Beautiful Villages. It’s only a 10-minute drive and the village is definitely worth a visit. If you’re planning to visit the castle on Saturday, don’t miss the lovely market in Villareal, one of the most beautiful villages in the region.
Château de Biron is open from April to the beginning of November, see hours here. You’ll find a restaurant and picnic tables onsite. You can also do a fun weekend out of it and spend a night in the delightful Le Prieuré du Château de Biron.
Château de Bridoire
If you’re visiting Bergerac in the Purple Périgord, this castle is a great place to explore as it’s not far away. Château de Bridoire is one of the best day trips for kids in the whole region. Start your visit with lunch in the stunning village of Eymet, just a few minutes away, before heading to Le Château des Jeux, the castle of games.
The fairytale-like castle is a private historic monument dating back to the 15th century. You’ll visit 15 different rooms, from the kitchen to the dining room and the working office, but what makes this château special is that it’s much more interactive than the others in the southwest of France.
For example, there’s the games room where you can touch and play with all the fun wooden games. The highlight of the visit is the garden where adults and kids alike can have fun with a variety of huge, human-sized games.
Today Château de Bridoire is a popular tourist destination but it also knew some dark times. In the 1980s the castle was left abandoned and for 22 years plenty of items were stolen, wrecked, and damaged.
Thanks to volunteers, the French state, the Guyot family, and lots of passionate, hard work, the castle was beautifully restored. It opened its doors to the public for the first time in 2012, drawing in 40,000 visitors in its first season.
Château de Bridoire is open from February to the end of October, but not every day, so be sure to check out the opening hours before going.
Other châteaux worth a visit in the Dordogne department if you have time
Château de Puymartin in Sarlat
If you’re visiting Sarlat, Château de Puymartin is an easy visit as it’s located only a few minutes away. The legend of the haunted castle is a fun one to explore and you’ll find plenty of activities, games, and shows happening all summer long.
Le Château Manoir de La Salle in Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère
Manoir de La Salle is an impressive 15th-century house that also has a stunning dungeon, both make a very enjoyable visit. The chateau is located in Saint Léon sur Vézère, a delightful little village sitting snugly in a curve of the river and is full of quaint, meandering lanes and charismatic old houses. It’s one of the most beautiful villages in Dordogne.
If you need more information about amazing stuff to do and see and Dordogne, check out my other articles about Dorodgne.
The most beautiful villages in Dordogne
The most beautiful villages in Purple Perigord
The most beautiful gardens in Dordogne
A family vacation in Dordogne
What to do in Sarlat
You can also get plenty of tips on things to do in the Southwest of France via lost in Bordeaux’s social media accounts and email list, check them out here:
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