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The Dordogne Valley is home to many picture-perfect villages and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne stars at the top with all of France's provincial delights condensed into one.
A place in the sun
Set in a wooded valley on the banks of the Dordogne, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne's rich rural heritage and wide range of activities make this charming riverside town a great starting point to explore the upper Dordogne Valley.
Offering a taste of the Périgord county in the Limousin, its microclimate and almost year-round sunshine has lent it the nickname 'Limousin Riviera'.
Visitors can access Beaulieu's historic centre and its numerous restaurants, bars and historical sights through the Porte Saint-Catherine, a small but charming gateway in the town's medieval fortifications. Its network of pretty streets are filled with attractive stone and half-timbered houses, many of which are decorated with interesting statues or ornamental stonework.
A remarkable abbey and tympanum
Thanks to the 12th century Romanesque church and the remains of its Benedictine monastery, Beaulieu has become a crucial stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
Dominating the market square, the most notable feature of Abbaye Saint-Pierre is its elaborately sculpted south portal. Instead of the usual Last Judgement, the tympanum depicts the Resurrection with a 7ft sculpture of Christ surrounded by the 12 Apostles.
Besides the portal, the chapter house, several reliquaries and a Virgin and Child sculpture covered in silver and gold leaf are all that remain of the abbey. The Gothic-style belfry and the central tower were later added in the 14th century.
The river banks
Beaulieu's other church, Chapelle des Pénitents, takes centre stage by the river and has become one of the town's most iconic landscapes. To appreciate the gorgeousness of the site (and squeeze in a nice quiet stroll at the same time), cross the pedestrian footbridge to the other side of the river.
Not fare from the chapel, visitors can hop on a 'gabare', a traditional flat-bottomed boat once used to transport goods along the Dordogne. These trips are a great way to enjoy Beaulieu's landscapes as well as learn about the fascinating history of the region's inland shipping. The ride lasts just over an hour and is commentated in French.
The town boasts one of the most prolific fishing spots in France, attracting visiting and local anglers with its many wonderful species found in the river. Canoeing is also a biggie in Beaulieu. Keen canoeists can start further upstream where the water's faster with a few rapids to play on. Others can set off from Beaulieu where the water's calmer and there are pretty places to throw down your oars and watch the world go by.
Beaulieu's full of charming places to tuck into lunch like the riverside restaurant 'Les Flots Bleus'. There are also tons of grassy banks ready to welcome hungry picnickers. If you're looking to picnic somewhere different, head 2km upstream and turn right at the car park for a good view of the village.
Mouth-watering strawberries : a local speciality
Most French towns are lively on market day and Beaulieu is no different. Regular markets are held every Wednesday morning and the 2nd and 4th Saturday morning of each month. During summer, a popular evening market takes place every Monday where up to 600 people get together to try local delicacies and listen to live music with the added bonus of a stunning riverside setting.
In May, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne celebrates its annual strawberry festival with tons of different market animations and a 128 stone strawberry tart to tuck into. To mark its 25th anniversary this year, the festival served up the world’s longest ever fraisier pâtissier measuring a mouth-watering 32 metres.
Visitors will find everything they need to know about visits and events organized in Beaulieu at the Tourist Office on Place Marbot. A multimedia trail in English is also available here and will take you to 13 different stops in the town with the help of a tablet.