Laid out on a rocky spur overlooking the Dordogne Valley between La Roque-Gageac and Beynac, the Marqueyssac gardens cover an area of 22ha. The charm of the terrace gardens has delighted its visitors for the last three centuries and there is no doubt that Marqueyssac has become one of France’s most beautiful Italian-style gardens.
The gardens of Marqueyssac castle consist of over six kilometres of shaded alleys, edged by 150,000 hand-pruned, one hundred year-old box-trees, and adorned with belvederes, rockeries, waterways, grassy clearings, dry-stone huts, rotunda, a Gothic chapel, and playgrounds for the children.
In front of the 18th century chateau, the main terrace is arranged in a geometric pattern which symbolises the symmetry of the two main bodies of the castle. Built with great simplicity, the chateau is topped by a roof made of ‘lauze’ (limestone slabs), typical of Périgord, and weighing more than 500 tonnes.
The spectacular bastion terrace is made up of numerous box-trees carefully pruned by the four gardening employees of the estate, with cypress trees also giving structure to the landscape. The box-trees are all sculpted in curves to mimic the roundness of the surrounding hills and it can be rather enjoyable to get lost along the winding paths of this green labyrinth.
Once past the bastion terrace, you have the choice of three walkways through the Holm oak woods, all leading to the belvedere. There, box-trees are left to grow more freely and various side pathways allow walkers to move from one track to another on the way to the belvedere.
While the gardens of Marqueyssac overlook the Dordogne Valley from high limestone cliffs, it is at the belvedere one can enjoy one of the most splendid panoramas of the meandering river running 130 metres below. From the lookout point, originally laid out by Julien de Cerval, the view emcompasses the whole valley, from the castles of Beynac, Castelnaud and Fayrac to the village of La Roque-Gageac.
It was Julien de Cerval who dedicated the last 30 years of his life to create a haven of peace in Marqueyssac by transforming the estate he inherited in 1861 into a beautiful residence and a Utopian garden. The former jurist from Sarlat was a passionate gardener and a great expert of Italian-style gardens and agronomy, which he marvelously recreated in Marqueyssac, with its terraces and ornamental trees such as cypress, elm, Judas, umbrella and lime. Julien de Cerval designed this garden for his own personal enjoyment, to write poems in it amongst this romantic site dominated by a soft, fresh green and the delicate perfume of box-trees, santolina, rosemary and lavender.
Visitors can stroll around the gardens without a guide thanks to illustrated signs and panels which provide information on the history of the site and the fauna and flora throughout the park. It is also possible to follow a guide for no extra cost between the months of April and September. The domain also features a boutique and a “salon de thé” (open from Easter to the end of October) which both offer spectacular views over Beynac Castle.
For more information about the gardens of Marqueyssac, visit: www.marqueyssac.com/