La Min-sú de Terrasson

retreat, reflect, refresh

La Vicomté de Turenne

Visit Rocamadour by driving through the Corrèze and Lot départements; swim, hike or just hang-out at the Lac du Couze's beach, visit historic Turenne, Martel, the natural red stone village of Collonges-la-Rouge, picturesque Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, Autoir, Carennac, the vin paillé vineyards or the underground river at Padirac.

Pick any three destinations for a fascinating day out.

Today Terrasson finds itself on the border of the Périgord and Limousin. Historically it was part of the independent Viconté de Turenne. The viconté emerged during the Carolingian empire, first references date back to the 8th century, the first known Lord of Turenne dates back to 823.

The vicompté occupied a strategic location on the borders of the Périgord, Limousin, Quercy and Auvergne. Controlling the Dordogne, Vézère and Corrèze rivers (bulk transport wood, metal, wine, grain and salt), the old roman roads Lyon-Bordeaux and Paris-Toulouse important for communication as well as the pilgrim routes to Rocamadour and Compostela.

Map of la Vicomté de Turenne

This fiscal paradise avant la lettre did not pay taxes to France nor its kings, had its own army, its own currency and was ruled by a parliament representing the different states. The vicompté perfected the game of remaining neutral in wars, playing the ‘French’ (Capetian) and Angevin (‘English’) out against each other and welcomed protestants fleeing persecution in France.

At the beginning of the 17th century to cultivation of tobacco was banned in France to favor the Compagnie des Indes with a monopoly. As the vicompté was not part of France it became the source of high quality tobacco smuggled into France.

Overtime the viscount ran into debt and by 1738 the then king of France Louis XV acquired the vicompté as his private property. It was not till after the french revolution the local parliament was abolished (1802) and the area absorbed into 3 french departments. Bringing a 1000 year independent history to a close.

Today the area is dotted with some of the most beautiful villages of France. The abolishment of the vicompté brought the privileges (and economy) to an abrupt end, freezing much of the area in time. The villages conserve the memory of a prosperous economy based on tolls, tolerance and tax (evasion).

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Beautiful villages of the Corrèze


The table mountain of Turenne has been attractive for its natural defensive position, fortifications date back to the 8th century when it became the centre of the Carolingian land of Tornés, over time giving birth to the 'Vicomté de Turenne'.


After the reformation Turenne became a protestant stronghold becoming a safe-haven for protestant artisans, continuing to enjoy a privileged position well into the 18th century, when it became the property of Louis XV and the catholic Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Pantaléon church (7) was reconstructed.

After the revolution the castle and defence works were largely dismantled, leaving the round tower of Caesar (1) and square donjon (2) ornamenting the plateau, whiles scattering stones and ornaments are across the village. Walking around you will spot windows, doors, cornerstones and statues ornamenting unexpected places. The Capucines chapel (3) hosts exibitions in summer and has a metal viewpoint sticking over the 13th century defence wall, walk through the port de la ville (4), find the cazemate du virage (5) and the tour dite du Calvaire (6) parts of the 16th century defence works.


The village headquarters the french association of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, created by its mayor in the 1980's. The Rouge (red) in its name refers to the red sandstone that was used in the construction of the village. Formed millions of years ago the stone is found naturally to the north of the village. The deep red colour, that becomes especially contrasting with the green hillsides after rain, is caused by the iron oxide within the stone.


A first church was build here in the 8th century and Collonges-la-Rouge developed into a prosperous little town with six 'chateaux' and became a renowned wine producer, till the Phylloxeria epidemic wiped out the vines in the 19th century. The village switched to the production of walnut and walnut oil. The population dwindled from almost 2000 in the 16th century, to just 500 hundred today.

During 1930's the architectural integrity of the village became protected and restored including the church, mansions, castles, houses and pilgrim’s hostels. As a result, it is possible today to walk through the 15th century defence wall gates and well preserved streetscapes in a deep red colour.

A visit to the Saint Pierre church (3) will puzzle you with a wealth of symbolism and a quite unique 'double nave', that divided the church for use by the two different 'cults'. The green in the coloured glass windows contrasts with the red walls, and a sky-well illuminates the centre.

Walk through the village and admire the Castel de Maussac (1), Castel de Vassinhac (2), Halle and four banal (4), Maison Boutang du Peyrat (5), Castel de Benges (6), Maison de la Sirene (7), Manoir de Beauverie (8) and the Town hall (9) along the way.


Hugging the rocky ridge line overlooking the Maumont and Sourdoire valleys, Curemonte was build on a strategic defensive position. Six towers dominate the skyline build by three lords united to defend the village. One of the lesser known ‘most beautiful villages’ of the Corrèze, with 7 noble houses, 3 castles, 3 churches, a market hall, fountains and other small heritage, this village is really worth a detour.


Most of the buildings visible today date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Towers, main buildings and the fortified enclosure of the castles of Saint Hilaire and Plas dominate. In the village, the Saint-Barthélemy church, patron saint of Curemonte, was built in the 12th century. Over time enlarged with a chapel, and a sacristy. In the 17th century, it was decorated with a painted wooden altarpiece which has recently been restored by the Friends of Curemonte into its original polychrome glory.

The rural exodus and First World War affected the village, bringing to population down from 1200 at the beginning of the 20th century, to only 216 inhabitants today. A walk through the village will reveal large architecture and interesting small heritage like the Grotto (1), Noble houses (2), St.Hilaire and de Plas castles (3) and the Saint Bartlelemy church (4). But the real attraction lies in looking back at the village, nested in the surrounding countryside, from the hiking trails. Every season has its charm, with poppies popping out in spring, autumn leaves, and gentile Limousin cattle year round.


The name 'Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne' is pretty self-explanatory, as it literary translates as 'beautiful place on the Dordogne (river)'. The village was the furthest stop upstream for the Gabares supporting a number of hostels for the shippers who plied the river until the 19th century. Especially chestnut and oak wood were collected upstream and send down to Libourne in the Bordeaux wine areas to serve as supports for the vines, and to make wine barrels.

The abbey of Saint Pierre in the centre of the village was constructed back to the 8th century under the stewardship of the vicomté of Turenne (see above). At first sight a pale gray building, but closer inspection of the entrance (considered a 'chef-d'œuvre' of roman art) and interior allow for some interesting discoveries.

The 'bourg' maintains a medieval atmosphere through its narrow streets and alleys paved with boulders from the nearby river, often re-used stonework and wood-framed upper-stories. Many houses date back to the 14th century and two of the fortified entrance gates to the bourg have been preserved. Walk away from the old centre in the direction of the river and discover a part of the village that faces the river, with the 'Chappelle des Pénitants' overlooking the river. A walled passage brings you to a causeway across the river with a dedicated fish passage to allow wild salmon to swim upstream. The opposite bank provides the best vistas of the village.


Driving towards Martel through the barrenness of the causse, seeing a skyline emerge dominated by 7 towers is a clear indication you are approaching a historic place.

“Martel” (french for ‘hammer’), was the name given to the great Charles Martel in the 700s. Legend has it the “savior of Europe” (and grandfather of Charlemagne), founded this garrison town, after defeating the Muslim forces that took over Aquitaine in 732, to block any future Islamic advance towards northern Europe.


The Palais de la Raymondie (1) at the center of town houses a small museum largely dedicated to the Puy d’Issolud, a Celtic archaeological site (to the west) which has been identified as Uxellodunum, besieged by Julius Caesar in 51 BC, legendary last stand of the Gauls against Roman occupation.

And Martel hosted an Angevine (‘English’) tragedy. When Henry ‘the younger king of England’, took refuge and died here in 1183. So estranged and antagonized from his father, the count of Anjou (and Henry II ‘the elder king of England’) only arrived after his death was confirmed, thinking the scene had been a trap set by his son to catch him.

The small town is densely packed with history, a weekly farmers market is held in the historic ‘Halle’ (2) every Saturday. Rich in local produce, and seasonal truffles and mushrooms gathered from the surrounding forests and causse. Strolling through the small streets admire the Maison Fabri (3), Hotel de Briance (4), Maison de la Vidalie (5), Hotel de Mirandol (6), Saint-Maur church (7) and La Tour Tournemire (8).

Towards the south of the town you will find the train station from which a steam train plies a historic rail line constructed on the Dordogne river cliff side.

Beautiful villages of the Lot




For the modern day tourist can nowhere experience the contrast between the plateau and the valley easily than by hiking the Autoire ‘cirque’ (circus) with its 150 to 200 m high limestone cliffs. Shaped by the Autoire stream, grinding its way into the limestone plateau of the Causse de Gramat through a 30 m high waterfall (7). Beautiful and impressive, this majestic waterfall is the first highlight on a 3 km (2 hours) walk. On your way to the waterfall, stop at the Chappelle Saint-Roch (6) and have a quick look at its frescoes through the grilled window.


From the waterfall a steep climb brings you to a viewing area (8) on the edge of the cliff with great panoramic views of the valley and waterfall. The hamlet of Siran is home to a farm managing a flock of adorable angora goats. The descend passes the Château des Anglais cliff-castle (9), a medieval construction enclosing a overhang in the limestone cliff. Long the home of ‘brigands’, it has commanding views and is naturally protected on all sides, a closer inspection reveals it is basically a facade, only two meters deep at the interior.

Nestled at the bottom of the forested valley is the village of Autoire with its elegant manor houses flanked by turrets, mansions, castles and half-timbered houses. The Romanesque church of Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul (1) was rebuilt by the end of the 11th and beginning of the 12th centuries. It was fortified towards the end of the Hundred Years War, and the bell tower was raised. Covered with a cupola it has interesting sculpted decorations.

The Fontaine aux Dauphins (2) build by ‘voluntary contributions’ takes center stage, pass L’Ancien Couvent (3) and the Chateau de Limargue (4) that obtained the right to build towers and machicolations after its owner was knighted by King Charles VIII. The door at the bottom of the tower is adorned with a toric arch carved in an accolade, typical of the late 15th century. The second tower, more imposing, served as a defence tower.

The Manoir de Laroque-Delpratas (5) deserve special mention; owned by a bourgeois family since 1605 (judges, notaries, lawyers), it preserves its 17th century characteristics: L-shaped plan, stairwell, large windows and decorated skylights. Small restaurants, and shops promoting local art and gastronomy, can be explored through small alleyways. Autoire deserves its “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” label.


Spectacular scenery

“ 'In descending from the plateau by the precipices that edge them, one is suddenly transported from parched wastes to pleasant pastures...
Above, on that stone table, are wind, cold, nakedness, poverty, moroseness, hideousness, - a void, for few villages are found aloft; below, orchard land, warmth, gaiety, abundance.
The startling contrast between some of the cañons and their causses forms one of the most phenomenal beauties of beautiful France.

Wrote Sabine Baring-Gould (an Anglican priest, antiquarian, novelist, folk song collector and eclectic scholar), in his 1894 book: The deserts of Southern France : an introduction to the limestone and chalk plateaux of ancient Aquitaine. He found the causses to be ‘veritable deserts: in winter a Siberia; in summer a Sahara…’

A year earlier (1893), compatriot Edward Harrison Barker, wrote in his book; Wanderings by southern waters: Eastern Aquitaine, after taking his ‘sheep-track up the arid steeps’:

'And yet, when I looked down into the bottom of this steep desert of stones, what soft and vernal beauty was there... just as if that strip of meadow, with its gently-gliding river, had been lifted out of an English dale and dropped into the midst of the sternest scenery of Southern France.'

Sadly the ‘epoch when everyone travels’ is over, but the modern day tourist can nowhere experience the contrast between the plateau and the valley easier than by hiking the Autoire ‘cirque’ (circus) with its 150 to 200 m high limestone cliffs.

Gouffre de Padirac

The entrance to the Gouffre de Padirac is a giant natural sinkhole that takes you over 100 meters down the surface of the earth. Take the stair down to experience the depth, take the elevators up for your convenience. Considered one of the most interesting geological sites in France, you stroll along the subterranean river before embarking on a boat trip to the 'lake of eternal rain' and the 94 meter high vault with breathtaking galleries.


The buildings of Rocamadour are built into the side of a cliff of 120 metres high. Walking from the lower town to the castle, you pass through the monestry half-way up the cliff including small chapels the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame. A small Benedictine community continues to occupy the small 12th century church of Saint-Michel. The pilgrimage church opens onto a terrace where there is a broken sword said to be a fragment of Durandal, once wielded by the Charlemagne's paladin hero Roland.

The interior walls of the church of St.Sauveur are covered, with paintings and inscriptions recalling the pilgrimages of celebrated persons. The subterranean church of St.Amadour (1166) extends beneath St.Sauveur and contains relics of the saint. On the summit of the cliff stands the château built in the Middle Ages to defend the sanctuaries.

Rocamadour is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO as part of the St. James’ Way pilgrimage route.

Next to the tourism office you find the entrance to the Merveilles cave with natural rock formations and 20.000 years old paintings depicting human hands, horses and bear.

AOC Correze - vin paillé

The lesser known AOC of Corrèze is located at the centre of the ‘Midi corrézien’ with its calcium and sandstone soils stretching between Turenne in the west and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne in the east.

Apart from the usual rose and red wines this area historically produces a very sweet white desert wine: the ‘vin paillé’ (or straw wines). After some battles with the wine makers of the Jura over the process involving the drying of the grapes on straw resulting in their ‘vin de paille’ (notice the absence of the accent on the last ‘e’), the historic use of the process in this area was established and recognised.

Branceilles 1001 pieres

Branceilles' 8 winegrowers are united under the 1001 pierres (1001 stones) banner. Cultivating a total of 30 hectares with principally merlot, cabarnet and gamay to produce some 150.000 bottles of wine a year.


We were told about half the production is certified ‘biological’ and noticed the difference whiles hiking around the vineyards, as some had strips of grass between the lines of vines and had clearly been sprayed to control the weeds under the vines. Whiles others had a combination of beans and grains grown in between the lines that was used to mulch the vines to both control the weeds and fertilise the soil.

Parking opposite the chai there are three walks: 2.8, 4.1 and 5.5 km, to explore the vineyards. After the hike a visit to the chai, with the oak storage barrels in the basement, sample (and buy) some of the wines. The straw wines are exceptional and the taste lingers for long.

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