Beaulieu sur Dordogne is a charming Medieval town ideal for a one day getaway. We found this town during a rushed August hotel booking as a boutique hotel in the center of Beaulieu sur Dordogne offered us a room at the peak of the holiday season. The sight of Beaulieu emerged as we passed a bridge across the Dordogne – one of the five biggest in France and the namesake river of this commune. It was a very hot day; the thermometer in the car measured 39degrees Celsius and the river was crowded with people taking a dip or pedaling their canoes under the shade of massive trees along the bank.
Beaulieu is a small commune with a medieval flair. The center area is small with narrow cobble stone streets and bulky stone houses. The roofs reminded me of the fictional Hogsmeade town in Harry Potter and that I should watch out for a sneaky spell. Made of gray beaver-tail shaped slate tiles, the top part rises high with a big slope and the eaves curves out elegantly. Wall dormer, tall chimney, and exposed beams speak of cold winters, which is strange given Beaulieu’s location in the south.
Big platanes (plane trees) give shade to the stone-lad squares and roads. When my mother visited France during winter and saw platane, at that time there were no leaves but only bulky trunks, she called them concrete tree. Who would have thought that such lifeless trunks would, in the summer time, give life to luscious green leaves that lend its shade to French social gatherings for over a century.
We stayed at the cute, shabby Le Beaulieu and right outside of our hotel is a small square with a busy brasserie nesting under the thick foliage of plane trees. A brasserie is the French equivalence of the Vietnamese bia hoi – a chill, informal, loud, down to earth and reasonably priced restaurant concept. We had a relaxing dinner, good food and local wine on plastic chairs and table. I asked one waiter to arrange a little dessert with candles to surprise my husband for his birthday; he said yes but never did, probably because he was too busy. Well, I needed to adjust my thought – it’s a brasserie we were in.
In the heart of the old town stood an impressive stone church bearing the aesthetics of Romanesque style: massive volume where cylinder and rectangular blocks intertwine, thick walls with small, arched opening, and an impressive portal with intricate stone carving. What stood in front of us, though grand, was the only remain of the great 9th century abbey of Saint Peter (Abbaye Saint-Pierre). The church itself survived from numerous local to big wars including the Hundred years’ war and the French revolution.
The church rose above a square where outdoor markets, street music and other types of social gatherings took place. This area is particularly busy during the month of August due to the influx of tourists. When we visited, there was a small market on the Southern side of the church.A band was playing under the vault of the Romanesque portal. Small booths selling cold cuts, honey, hats and clothes lasted until late. As the end of the day drew near, local vendors set up a tent to serve beer, sandwiches and freshly-grilled sausages. That’s where we grabbed a local beer, brewed some 10kms away, and strolled the cobblestone paths with a beer in hand – the non-exist open-drink policy in Europe I will miss once return to the US.