France // The Limousin, Dordogne and the Lot //


The picturesque old town of Brantôme sits on an island in the River Dronne, whose still, water-lilied surface mirrors the limes and weeping willows of the riverside gardens. The countryside that surrounds the town, along the River Dronne, remains largely undisturbed, though Brantôme itself is firmly on the tourist trail. This is one of the most tranquil and beautiful parts of the Dordogne, best savoured at a gentle pace, perhaps by bike, on a boat trip, or even by canoeing along the river.

Brantôme’s former Benedictine abbey has been the town’s focus ever since it was founded, possibly by Charlemagne. Its most notorious abbot, Pierre de Bourdeilles, was the sixteenth-century author of scurrilous tales of life at the royal court. The first monastery on the site is thought to have been troglodytic in origin, and the caves against which the later abbey was built were initially very important for worship, but over time were relegated to outhouses and storage. The caves here are arguably the most fascinating feature of the abbey; they’re hugely atmospheric, not least the Last Judgement Cave, where the origins of the huge bas-relief remain an enigma, but is thought to date back to the fifteenth century. .

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