La Min-sú de Terrasson

retreat, reflect, refresh

Coly valley hikes

ust to the South of Terrasson, the Coly stream cuts through steep hills with a remarkable geology: Jurassic formations to the north and Cretaceous to the south. Small streams drain some 170 km2 of undulated forestland, scattered with rich agricultural valleys, grasslands, walnut groves, villages and small hamlets.

map_location_coly-watershaedIncluding Saint Amand de Coly classified as one of France’s most beautiful villages and the hamlet of Chapelle Mouret protected Architectural, Urban and Landscape Heritage Protection Zone (ZPPAUP - Zone de Protection du Patrimoine Architectural, Urbain et Paysager).

The Causse de Terrasson is a large natural area of ecological interest (ZNIEFF: Zone Naturelle d'Intérêt Ecologique, Faunistique et Floristique) encompassing representative environments of the Périgordian causses: to the north the hills are covered with a mosaic of pubescent oak forests, juniper heaths and lean grasslands. To the south forest of chestnuts and hornbeam.

The Coly stream falls into the Vézère at Condat-sur-Vézère, once the principal seat of the Hospitallers with dependencies in La Cassagne and Ladornac. Upstream, the Chironde tributary supports a series of watermills, on its upper reaches the village of Saint Geniès with its remarkable concentration of vernacular architecture and its typical lauze (dry stacked natural stone) roofs.

Introduction to the landscape

As this area is easily accessible from Terrasson it allows for in depth exploration of the landscape through one of the many hiking trails. The landscape is shaped by the interaction of the underlying geology, topography, biology, contemporary culture and deep historic factors. Celtic people build their ‘oppodia’ (large earthworks), castles like that of Montmège were later build on them. The Roman empire left its traces in roads and villas with mosaic floors as displayed in the Patrimony House of Terrasson.

The Merovigian and Caroligian ages left fewer marks as they lacked the political organisation and largely build in wood, though some sarcophagi can be seen of Place de Genouillac in Terrasson. And the VIth century hermits: Amand, Cyprien and Sour left their marks by founding monasteries. But a lot of what is visible in the landscape today finds its origins in the XIIth century renaissance.

From the XIth century onward new hamlets and the extension of agricultural land began changing the countryside. This population growth was accompanied by large social changes, were in the Xth century slaves were still common, the practice had practically disappeared in the XIth. The emergence of feudal system replaced the legal inferiority of the non-free with the economic dependence of the peasant.

The peasant gained an interest in the management of ‘his farm’ as he could transfer improvements to his children (though the land was not yet legally his to sell). Relative autonomy and autarky (ability to survive and function without external assistance) shaped a ‘peasant mindset’, still shaping to landscape today (see below).

Though; ‘what the lord gives with the one hand, he takes with the other’. No longer ‘hands-on’, the feudal lordship starts taxation through the exploitation of banalities; the banal press, the market hall and the banal oven…etc., that can still be found scattering the landscape. Water mills start multiplying on the watercourses milling flour, oil, tannin, malt, powering forges, crushing fibres for textile or beating iron.

Because these activities are easily taxable, they increase the income of the lordship, opening new social perspectives to the aristocracy, as well as new investment opportunities ‘for the benefit of all’. It contributes to the resurrection of a monetary economy, neglected in the times of village self-sufficiency since the fall of the Roman Empire.

In Aquitaine, castles build in local natural stone become the focal point of a lordships: Prestige, profit and protection go hand in hand, as dungeons, pigeon towers, bridges and large stone enclosures circling the ‘bourgs’ are constructed. Far from the old cities, ‘bourgs’ (big villages) are created at the foot of a castle or monastery, attracting and protecting activities that could further enrich the lordship. However, the ‘free people’ of the bourg (the bourgeois), taking advantage of the rivalries between the local lords and authorities, had to be given various franchises to encourage their settlement.

The same period also sees the growth of pilgrimages to Rome (the tomb of St. Peter), Compostella (the tomb of St. James) and Jerusalem (the Holy land). The ideal lord, the knight of chivalry, goes on a pilgrimage (or crusade metaphorical or for real) for his eternal salvation.

The orders of chivalry; the order of the Temple and the order of St. John of Jerusalem (better know as Knights Hospitalier or Hospitallers for short) emerge in the aftermath of the first crusade. Their support networks of commanderies become effective land exploitations and important actors of economic development. Condat-sur-Vézère was the seat of the principal commanderie of the Hospitallers which had authority over the network of commanderies of the Périgord.

Fortress-like churches in the Romanesque style appear with their massive walls, round arches, small windows and arch framed portals. Exterior decoration of Romanesque churches is relatively simple, inside walls often adorned with frescoes, but few survived as stucco pealed-off and was removed. The bare natural stone walls, clean lines of the arches and domes resonate with the contemporary mindset.

The Romanesque style is a diverse expression of the vernacular, sometimes divided into regional schools of architecture. The Ecole du Périgord typically has a line of cupolas/domes and often a steeple-wall (Un clocher-mur; vertical flat architectural element constructed at the front containing the main entrance and church bells). The most impressive among the Romanesque churches of Périgord is the abbey church of Saint Amand de Coly.

Geology and topography

The Coly watershed is divided by the La Cassagne fault that separates the Jurassic formations to the north (the Causses) and Cretaceous to the south (the Sarladais).

The diversity of the landscape is a reflection of this geological diversity, as different types of soil support characteristic vegetation and land-uses. This is amplified by the dramatic changes in solar-exposure and hydrology resulting from the topography, creating a mosaic of micro-climates. You can hike-up the north face of a hill in a beech forest, cross dry grassland, and go down the southern side through a pubescent oak forest.

The Causse, with its Jurassic limestone, is an extension of the larger Causse of Quercy with its limestone plateaus. The Périgordian Causse is divided into the Causse of Cubjac-Thenon, the Terrassonnais hillsides and the Causse of Terrasson. Causses are characterized by alternating arid plateaus and hills with stony soils, the aridity combined with the exposure to the sun, generate micro-climates favourable to thermophile vegetation with Mediterranean affinities. To the east the Causse of Terrasson connects to Corrézian Causse, to the south to the Causse of Martel and on to the larger Causse of Quercy.

Cultural factors: a peasant landscape

Humans have shaped the landscape for centuries to suit their needs and way of life. As late as 2001 an author caricatured the Périgordian forest as: ‘Une forêt privée, morcelée, essentiellement paysanne.’, resonating 1970’s concerns about the ‘lack of a forestry spirit’. ‘Peasants hardly think to maintain forests’, ‘bear little interest in it’, see it as ‘part of landscape’ but do not tread it like a ‘real resource’.

The forest continued to provided the litter and nourishment for a flocks of pigs (acorns), firewood, lumber and materials for building and agricultural uses like fencing poles and stakes. It continues to support hunter-gather attitudes: hunting for deer and wild boar, picking mushrooms, gathering truffles. It is a relatively liquid source of cash: wood harvested or the sale of a parcel allows for the purchase of agricultural equipment and helps to keep afloat deficit agricultural holdings.

The Dordogne department might be characterized as ‘forested’ (about half the land area is under forest cover), but hardly supports any ‘forestry’. With over a 100,000 forest owners, 99% of the forest of the department belongs to natural persons (not corporations), resulting in an average size of less than four hectares per owner. There are only 3 very large properties (> 400 ha). This fragmentation is the result of sharing inheritances and the sale of small plots to city dwellers for whom it is a ‘privileged natural environment’.

The Périgord landscape is now more forested (thicker and more closed) than ever in recorded history. This closure occurred at the expense of marginal spaces that are not productive and neglected by their managers or fell prey to the utilitarian productivity drive of the 1960s/70s, to give ‘marginal’ or ‘wastelands’ new uses (‘waste’ as in ‘wasted’ because not optimally used). Compartmentalization of management (specialized forestry and agriculture departments), and even within agriculture a move away of ‘mixed holdings’ combining animal husbandry and cultivation. Paradoxically this increase in forest cover supports lesser biodiversity, as the diversity of forest structures decreased.

Historic factors

As seen earlier, the peasant’s mindset goes back a 1000 years and is hard to change. Whiles the utilitarian mindset of the 60s and 70s caused friction, the Washington consensuses of the 80s and 90s simply no longer tolerated relatively autonomous groups and transformed peasants into citizens, producers and entrepreneurs (de-peasantisation).

If we accept that the ‘professional’ society is based on a radical separation of business and family, division of labor, amassing of capital, rational calculation and the concentration of workers in the workplace. It is not hard to see why the ‘European museum of Agriculture’ was such a mismatch.

Between 1885 and 1890, vineyards were decimated by the Grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae), an insect pest of the vine. The term phylloxera is also used for the disease of the vine spread by this insect. Where possible winegrowers replanted their vineyards by grafting local varieties onto resistant grape varieties. But the new root-stocks did not like dry soils, resulting in the relocation of vineyards to the plains and foothills. As the dry lands that did not support any other cultivation. Farmers abandoned them, and little by little, the lands were recolonised by forest.

Following the development of farm bookkeeping in the 1950s, Centres de Comptabilité Agricoles (Agricultural Accounting Centres) were set up in France to guide the peasant to become ‘efficient agricultural exploiters’. But what a shock; ‘on the books, nearly all farms were running a perpetual deficit. Despite this, and to the amazement of the economic advisers, those farms continued to function and provide livelihoods to entire families. Following good capitalist logic, the farmers should have been made to declare bankruptcy, or at least to sell their landed property and invest the capital elsewhere, to make it more profitable.’

As the rural population steadily declined (the rural exodus), the need for cash forces the peasant to ‘pork-chop’ his land. Selling for housing development became a real ‘alternative cost’. Gradually, by the end of the twentieth century the population trend turned. Unprecedented suburban (or neo-rural) development started invading, and changing the countryside.



It is difficult to describe this varied vegetation; variously translated as grassland, savanna, tundra, heath or even lawn. It conjures up pastoral associations of a romantic, bucolic or rustic life that dominated the Périgord Causses till the middle of the 19th century. The pelouse of the Causses consist of a mosaic of exposed rock, lichens, grasses, small shrubs, juniper heaths and thickets of pubescent oak.

To preserve the transitory state of forest succession continuous human interference is needed; grazing, mowing and cutting. The disappearance of traditional managers makes the conservation of these heritage spaces difficult and expensive.

The regional and departmental governments financial support local network building to re-establish management. L’Association Foncière Pastorale Libre, Lo Randal, (a Pastoral Land Association) is a legal entity of local pastoral-, wood- and marginal land owners.

Lo Randal is a ‘free’ or private association constituted with the unanimous consent of the partners (as opposed to the ‘authorized’ association that are public institutions established and controlled by governmental decree). It can solicit, generate and management funds for its maintenance and development, construct and maintain fences, drinking troughs, clearings and, facilitate grazing agreements between animal herders and its members.

The commune of Condat-sur-Vézère entered into a management agreement with the ‘Conservatoire d'Espaces Naturels d'Aquitaine’ (Conservatory of Natural Areas of Aquitaine), an NGO, that provides technical support to public and private managers of natural sites.

Every July, Lo Randal organizes a ‘transhumance’ , reviving an ancient tradition of moving grazing animals to summer pastures. The event provides an opportunity to the public to interact with the landscape and animals through a 7-8 kilometres hike. Better understanding the work of the herders by observing the animals up close and through demonstrations of the sheep herding skills of the dogs. It would not be France if there was no opportunity to taste the fruits of this labor through a shared lunch!

The Coly stream

From its source at the La Douce watermill the Coly drops 40 metres over its 10 kilometres length before it falls into the Vézère river at Condat-sur-Vézère. The natural series of cascades has long providing power to a series of mills. The 1889 annals recommend it for its fish; raving about the trout, salmon and chub (Le chevesne, locally know as le cabot – Squalius cephalus) a kind of carp.

Today fishing is regulated and allowed in season and by permit only. Most common fish species are the minnow (Le vairon), bullhead (Le chabot), gudgeon (Le goujon), brown trout (La truite fario), northern pike (Le brochet). Rare are crayfish and brook lamprey (Le lamproie) a weird primitive 'jawless fish’.

On the waters edge you find water loving tree species like the Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Willows (Salix sp.), European oak (Quercus robur), Black poplar (Populus nigra nigra), Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra italica), other varieties of Poplar introduced for the production of wood (Populus x euramericana) as well as field Elm (Ulmus minor). With an undergrowth of Elder (Sambucus nigra), Hawthorn (Crategus monogyna), Spindle (Euonymus europaeus), Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) and common Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). These linear forest form important ecological conduits in the landscape.

'Water is life', and hiking or cycling down the Coly you will be able to enjoy grasslands with Aquitaine and Limousine cattle, observe the dragonflies, damselflies and mayflies (only in may), kingfishers among many kinds of birds, aquatic plants, irises, narcissus and orchids…etc., on the banks.


The hornbeam forest

The lower parts of valleys ('combles') and slopes with little exposure to the sun, are relatively cool and moist. This environment suits the hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) easily identified by its smooth patchy grey bark, often accompanied by European oaks (Quercus robur), the Spanish maple (Acer campestre) and wild cherries (Prunus avium) whose white blossom makes them stand-out around April. The undergrowth has a thick carpet of mosses, many early flowering herbaceous plants spring-up before the leaves of the tree canopy block the sunlight!

Hornbeam has been favoured for its firewood qualities from the 17th century onward and more recently its charcoal fed the appetite of 19th century iron-ore furnaces. The intensive use led to the development of typical coppices of charm ("charmilles") which fed the charbonnières (charcoal makers). Places where charcoal was produced can still be identified on slopes: they are flat areas, round, blackened, covered with moss; sometimes there is a ruin of a little cabanne or hut nearby.

Typically species with bulbs, rhizomes and tubers do well in the undergrowth like the wood anemone (Amemone nemorosa), dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis), yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon), wood sanicle (Sanicula europaea: traditional ingredient in so many herbal remedies, it was once believed that "he who has sanicle and self-heal needs neither physician nor surgeon), star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum pyrenaicum), Wild Hyacinth (Hyacinthus non-scripta) as well as its own associated mushrooms like the Le Bolet des Charmes (Leccinum griseum).

The chestnut forests

The chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) is a multifunctional tree, and has offered the Périgordians its many resources. Locally called the 'bread tree', chestnuts have ensured the survival of peasant populations in times of scarcity. The wood, which is rich in tannin, is naturally durable and used in timber, carpentry, for the manufacture of parquet flooring, paneling, barrels, pegs and stakes. In basketry, the young twigs are split into thin strips to make baskets and chairs. The long yellow catkin flowers, provide bees with a nectar that produces a dark honey.

Chestnut trees were widely planted and cultivated over the centuries to produce chestnuts or stakes for the vineyards. In the 19th century, ink disease led to gradual abandonment of the fruit trees giving way to heterogeneous forest that were exploited to meet the strong demand for firewood, stakes for the vines and tannin. Beautiful old chestnut trees have become rare but it is quite possible to find old trees lingering in the forest, their trunks infected, often hollow, with large white dead branches overhead. Remnants of old orchards often shelter a varied fauna with rare species, they thus have a great ecological value. As a result of tree felling and repeated cutting of the vegetative regeneration from the stump (every 20 to 40 years) the most common chestnut woods today are coppices locally know as: ‘Codre’.

The chestnut groves occupy extensive areas, especially in the form of dense coppices, sometimes shadowed by a high forest of oaks and maritime pines (Pinus pinaster). With the poor soil covered with a permanent acid carpet of badly decomposed hard leaves there is little space for herbaceous undergrowth. The coppice growing under oak and maritime pine offers more favourable conditions to the development of acidophilic plants. It is the typical forest to find Cèpes mushrooms (Boletus Edulis, elsewhere known as Porcini). Today, in new spacious orchards with well aligned chestnut trees, chestnuts are harvested by machine.

Forests of the Causses: pubescent oak

The pubescent oak (Quercus pubescens), also known as black oak, downy oak or truffle oak, is distinguished from other oaks by the presence of hair on the underside of leaves and young twigs. The pubescent oak is the most common spontaneous recolonization species of the Périgord limestone plateaus and slopes.

It often forms meager open groves of stunted trees with tortuous and tormented trunks and branches. Whiles exploring these forests, you often stumble upon remnants of ‘lauze’ walls, build with the local stones removed for wine cultivation, that were used to delimit parcels and build vernacular shelters known as ‘Cabannes’.

Often found in a pelouse mosaic, fragmented into small islands, a refuge for many orchids and rare Mediterranean plants. Among the shrubs accompanying the pubescent oak, you finds the Montpellier maple (Acer monspessulanum), the St Lucie cherry (Prunus mahaleb), wayfarer (Viburnum lantana), common juniper (Juniperus communis), dog rose (Rosa canina). Sometimes takes the shape of oak coppices locally known as ‘Garrissades’.

Production forests: Pine

Périgord forest cover decreased until the end of the nineteenth century, by which time the rural exodus, and the use of fossil fuels reversed the trend. The forest became under-exploited and its area and mass continue to grow, doubling in size the last century and a half. After the 1950s, the phenomenon of forest expansion accelerated and under the utilitarian mindset of the 1960s, rational forest management approaches started introducing conifer species, mostly maritime pines (Pinus pinaster).

Large continuous forest blocks were created in the Double and Bessède. The coppices of chestnut trees were also targeted to be replaced with canopies of conifers and hardwoods.

The pine forest have since acquired a bad image as the mono cultures weaken resilience and unbalance ecosystem, acidified the environment, eliminated competitors by sterilizing them, disrupted the flow of water and disfigured the landscape. Its continued association with the now discredited rational forestry approach of the 1960s and 70s did not really help either. Though undeniably an economic resource, by the 1980s and 90s only looking at timber production and smooth management, disregarding ecological and social functions was no longer acceptable, the golden age of pine was over.

Interestingly enough, with 99% of the forest in the private domain, and peasants remaining the principle decision-makers, pine does not seem to have caught on in the area. Outside Ladornac a patch of pine, abandoned after a storm blew most of the trees over, is a reminder of the days the government offered exemption of property taxes for those planting pine. Today only noteworthy for the interesting ‘exotic’ mushrooms.

The Villages

Saint Amand de Coly

The village of Saint-Amand-de-Coly is classified as one of 'France's most beautiful villages'. Explore the village and its surroundings on foot, or by renting an 'all terrain bike'.

A little history
According to the legends, sometime halfway the 6th century, during the reign of king Clovis I, a young noble man from the Limousin arrived to accept a monastic life. Amand followed Sore and Cyprien to the Merovingian monastery of Genouillac (now Terrasson) and after a long stay there, the three 'saints to be' decided to separate and live as solitary hermits. Amand found a cave not far from Genouillac in what was to become Saint-Amand-de-Coly.

During his life Amand evangelized the local population whom declared him a saint. After his death a monastery and village grew around his grave. The first known historic document referring to the monastery dates from 1047. Though there is mention of destruction here by Normans in 857, the year the Saint Sore monastery of Terrasson was plundered and raised to the ground. In 1101 it is decided to hand the monastery of Terrasson to the Benedictine order, prompting a core group of the monks to leave for Saint-Amand, where they established a Augustinian order.

We now enter the middle ages with its own wars and ravages. The construction of the outer walls was probably started during the 100 year war, it was during the wars of religion that the protestants sacked the monastery and sought refuge in 1575, when canons had to be brought from Brive to chase them out. Some of the resulting holes in the walls are still visible today. It was during this time the tomb of Saint Amand was destroyed.

The monastery becomes the milking cow of the Sauvebeuf family whom milked it dry for 182 years at the end of which little more then a ruin remained, by 1738 only three monks are left. After the revolution all monasteries were nationalised and sold-off, the village is renamed Amand-le-Vallon. The abbey church became the village church but it not till 1886 some serious restoration work starts.

With a total depth of 48m, width of 27m and height of 8m the impressive fortified church dominates the village. The construction took most of the 12th century. Based on a Latin cross layout, oriented east-west. The defence walls measure 300m and enclose an area of 5000m2. The church was converted into a fortress but despite its additional defences it remains a beautiful Romanesque church with simple lines and a simple interior. Its defences include very thick walls, exits for archers and several blind staircases.

The historical walk of about 1km starts by exploring the church (1), the guardhouse (2) and the defense walls. It then explores the heritage of the village; the former drying shed for tobacco (3; now community hall), the drying shed for wallnuts (4;now tea room), the 'romanesque house' (5), the village well, the presbytery, the former hospital (6) and its washing area. The walk then provides some good views of the village (7), before returning. Alternatively there is a 2,5km 'nature trail' (8) close to the village.

Hiking and biking
Saint-Amand is the starting point for the following hikes, which also double as 'all terrain bike' (VTT) trails (do not try these on a standard bike). There is an all terrain bike rental (VTT) available in the village.

Hiking trails starting from Saint-Amand
> Boucle Soleil et Ombrage; 4,2km – 1,5h.
> Boucle Bois et Près; 8km – 2,5h.
> Boucle des Rapiettes; 4km – 1h.
> Boucle des Murailles; 6,5km – 2h.
> Boucle Lauzes et Vielles Pierres; 14,2km – 4,5h.
> Boucle Vallées et Côteaux; 16,2km – 5h.
> Boucle Tunnel, Bois et Eaux; 12,5km – 4h.
> Boucle de Château de La Filolie; 16,1km – 5h.
> Boucle Entre Bois et Lauzes; 7,2km – 2h.

La Cassagne

This small commune in a well preserved landscape, has a 14th century church, and 15th century presbytery at its heart. La Cassagne has a 1.7km walk passing the bourg, fields, walnut groves and hamlets. It is also the starting point for a 11,7 km 'Boucle de la source de Coly'.

The small community invites you to explore its natural and cultural heritage. The church of Saint Barthélémy (1) and its presbytery (2) are superb examples of vernacular architecture with their impressive 'lauze' (dry stacked) roofs. The church, presbytery, cemetery cross and the adjacent 'grange' (XIIIth century barn marking the presence of the Knight Templars) are all recognized as historical monuments.

The trail leads you through the walnut-grove passing the walnut drying shed (3) and up to the departmental road. You could cross this road and walk up the to the hamlet of Jarnel (4). The marking in the key-stone over the gate: 1791 PPPP (Pauvre Plaideur Prend Patience) is a reminder of the leading position La Cassagne occupied after the revolution when the population of every 'chef lieu' elected in 'judge of the land' for its own tribunal. Until the creation of the 'Canton de Terrasson' in 1800, the surrounding villages of Archignac, Jayac, Saint Amand de Coly, Saint Geniès, Palin and Ladornac settled their differences here.

The walk however turns left, through the fields in the direction of the former castle. On the doors and windows of the small houses (5) on the right and left you will discover decorative stones that once belonged to the feudal castle. After the revolutions locals were encouraged to bring down these 'symbols of oppression' and serve themselves with whatever they could use. All that remains of the castle are the surrounding walls (with the base of a round tower clearly visible). In place of the castle a 'maison bourgeoise' was constructed in the 1800's (6).

The free standing pigeonnier (pigeon tower) is another beautiful example of vernacular architecture. Dating back to the 12th century you will find it has, halfway-up the side, a 'randière' to prevent small rodents from climbing up the wall to steal pigeons or their eggs. Inside there are 800 'pigeon holes' on 3 levels. Just under the roof (protected from the weather) you can make out some patterns painted in yellow and red, it is thought the whole walls was originally painted, and is still topped with a dry stacked 'lauze' roof.

From here the walk leaves the paved road to follow the old gleigier path (7) (trail that served the hamlets of la Roche, Captus and la Rynie to get to the church). 'Gleigier' in the occitan language signifies 'of the church', along the path you will find 25 different trees and shrubs labeled with their occitan, french and scientific names. The trail passes through more walnut-groves and then steeply up to the hamlet of Genèbre (8).

Here you find the walnut oil mill (with direct sales), and two somewhat enthusiastic dogs. Walk around the buildings and get to the covered 'fontaine' and 'lavoir' (9). This well was enclosed with a little building during the 100 year war and has provided the village with water just until 1981. The adjacent washing area was used by the women of the hamlets to wash cloths and exchange information. From here you walk back to the church...

Currently the source of the Coly is found at the watermill of La Doux close to La Cassagne. Previously it was located close to Saint-Amand-de-Coly. Legend has it a local farmer could just save his life (and that of his oxen) when, whilst he was ploughing a field, the new source opened and started to spray out water.

The 10-meter deep spring has since attracted much attention, between 1965 when the first serious exploration took place and the 1980s when researchers managed to explore the underground river for 3km. In 1991 they passed the 4km mark (which was a world record at the time) and in 2003 they managed to swim 5,88km.

The hike will lead you through forested hills and past the source of the Coly:

Hiking trails starting from La Cassagne
> Boucle de la Source de Coly; 11,7km – 4h.


The Coly stream once powered two watermills in Condat-sur-Vézère before dropping into the Vézère through a little cascade. The village has been home to the Gaulois and the Romans and was a base for the Hospitallers whom left their mark.

The name Condat derives from the gallic word 'condate', meaning 'confluence of two rivers', in this case the Vézère and the Coly. The first writings evoking Condat go back to the Middle Ages. Today the village is known as Condat-sur-Vézère (occitan Condat de Vesera) to avoid confusion as the name is 'Condat' is quite common.

Condat was occupied by the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (also known as Knights Hospitalier or Hospitallers for short) from the 12th till the 18th century. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the first crusade, the organization became a religious and military order charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land. Pope Clement V dissolved the rival order, the Knights Templar, in 1312 and turned over much of their property to the Hospitallers.

The village was the seat of the principal commandery of the Hospitallers which had authority over a genuine network of commanderies of the Périgord. The commanders had the right on high and low justice and his authority was exercised over the many possessions in Périgord. From 1291 to 1790, thirty commanders succeeded one another in Condat. During the wars of religion the parish of Condat was devastated several times.

The commandery of Condat has conserved the majority of the buildings as they were (re)constructed under the command of François de Touchboeuf Clermont by 1540. The small watermill (1), large watermill with the common bread oven (2) (four banal), the church (3), prison (4), commanders lodge (5), noble house of Verdier (6), remnants of the ancient enclosure wall (7) and fishponds. The Hospitallers exploited the hydrolic power of the Coly through mills to work grain, nuts and hemp though this last 'fulling mill' has today disappeared.

From the Castle of Condat, the 16th century lodge remains and the 14th century prison tower, registered as historical monuments since 1948. The rectangular building has an adjacent square on one side, fishpond and ramparts on the other, and in the opposite corner a 16th century tower. The Romanesque church of Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Jean-Baptiste, dates back to the 12th century with its fortified flat bell tower with four bays, that is accessible through a staircase in the right buttress. The old residences include the noble house of the Verdier and some half-timbered (à colombage) houses (8).

The four banal (commune oven) is a reminder of the restrictions in feudal tenure in France which obliged peasants to use the facilities of their lords, until the 18th century. These included the required use-for-payment of the lord's mill to grind grain, his wine press to make wine, and his oven to bake bread. Both the manorial lord's right to these dues and the banality-dues themselves are called droit de banalité. The object of this right was qualified as 'banal', e.g. the four banal.

La Commanderie, former 13th century safekeeping post of the Knight Hospitallers, is a historic place that nowadays serves day menus inside its dining room with thick walls and vaulted ceiling, or outside in its parkland gardens.

You can walk around Condat in 30 minutes or hike one of the following trails:

Hiking trails starting from Condat-sur-Vézère
> Boucle de la Commanderie; 9km – 3h.
> Boucle du Pech; 2,7km – 1h.
> Boucle de Maurival; 11,6km – 3h.


Typical village located in the heart of the Périgord Noir, Saint Genies is located on the Chironde a tributary of the Coly. It is known for the important architectural ensemble of beautifully restored local stone buildings and lauze roofs.

On the central square a market is held every Sunday morning, in July and August, the Wednesday night market allows you to buy and consume on the spot. From December to February the Sunday morning truffle market brings together local producers.

In 1200 the village is acquired by Boson de Salignac and mention of the lordship of Saint Geniès appears towards 1282. In 1327 it is the co-lords of Val, Salignac and Saint Genies authorizes Gaubert de la Caminade to build the Cheylard chapel. The date the original castle was destroyed is unknown, the current castle (1) dates from the XVIth century, when several houses (elements of the XIIIth century) were united. Of the XIIth century castle only a vestiges of the dungeon (2) remain.

From the Romanesque XIIth century church of Notre Dame de l’Assomption (1) only the apse remains. The side chapels date from the XIII, XV, and XVIth centuries, the bell tower near the end of the XVth century . The church was devastated during the wars of religion. The chapel of Cheylard (or Saint Catherine chapel) (3) has survived in its original form, its XIVth century frescoes are of particular interest. It was recognized as a historical monuments in 1899. The middle section of the north wall depicts Saint Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury between 1162 and 1170), a popular saint in the Périgord and Limousin during the Angevine (‘English’) empire.

Saint Geniès has an exceptional heritage of lauze roofs, thanks to a 'dynasty' of lauzier masters. Classified as an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICP) Mr. Chapoulie is also responsible for the upkeep of beautiful Perigord Noir castles like Castelnaud, Fenelon, Marqueyssac and even the Maison de la Sirène in Collonges-la-Rouge, Corrèze. The lauzes are between 2 and 6 cm thick and weight between 500 and 800 kg per m2, so a solid oak frame with chestnut slats is needed. When restored, a roof is first 'rissonnee' (hedgehogged) to check and clean the existing stone. Then redone from bottom to top on a 'bench'.

Saint Geniès is at the start of a number of hikes, the 50 minutes ‘Promenade the bourg’ offers some great views, whiles the 11/15 km ‘Boucle du Sireyjol et de la Chironde’ explores the Watermills and small cultural heritage like the lavoir (4), former railway station (5) and pigeon-towers (especially recommended during the European Mill days and National Heritage Weekend when mills are open for visits).

Hiking trails starting from Saint Geniès
> Boucle Pierres et Lauzes; 15,5km.
> Boucle des Moulins; 7,7km.
> Boucle des Etangs; 7,7km.
> Boucle des Combes; 15,4km.

Chapelle Mourat

Surrounded by forest this small hamlet was created by monks as a dependency to the monastery of Terrasson. The XIIth century chapel at it’s center, originally dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Maurès’, could accommodate fifteen people. Burned by the English in 1450, it was rebuilt and through a series of transformations the chapel grew into a small church. The monks original purpose for the settlement seems to have been the cultivation of vines.

The carte d'état-major (map produced between 1820 and 1866) shows vineyards surrounded the hamlet, just before the 1880 phylloxera epidemic decimated them. Having lost their purpose, the properties were sold to private individuals. By 1903 there was still a population of 137, today only 9 permanent residents remain, going up a little in summer as holiday makers occupy cottages or second homes.

By the 1990’s the local government of Terrasson recognized the unique authenticity and coherence ‘of the whole’ (ensemble) worthy of preservation. Constituting elements are: The forest clearing, ‘corderc’, romanesque church (1.), cemetery, enclosure and park of the old presbytery, wine maker’s houses with their typical exterior staircases ‘a bolets’ dating from the 17, 18 and 19th centuries, two stone crosses (3.), and walnut plantations. In the Occitan tradition, a couderc refers to the central square around which the village or hamlet is organized which often includes common facilities like the bread oven, fountain, ‘travail’ (2.) or place where animals can drink.

The challenge to preserve ‘the authentic image of the hamlet in the heart of a forest’ was included in Terrasson’s municipal council’s proposal for a Architectural, Urban and Landscape Heritage Protection Zone (ZPPAUP: Zone de Protection du Patrimoine Architectural, Urbain et Paysager).

Bringing together all heritage protection measures; the preservation of sensitive archaeological sites, historic monuments, buildings of architectural interest, homogeneous urban complexes, natural spaces and landscape heritage. The zone, covering nearly 1078 hectares, was created in 1995. Under the proposal the ‘travail’ , a device designed to immobilize horses and oxen during shoeing (métier à ferrer) and the bread oven of Chapelle Mourat’s corderc were restaured.

Walking around the hamlet a disused wine press at the back of the church and the ‘a bolets’ wine makers houses are reminder of the past wine cultivation. This type of houses are a signature for the peasant of the Causses with their living quarters located upstairs whiles the ground floor/basement, provided space for a few animals, workshop and wine making. Because the zone is a living landscape (not a museum) preservation measures do not exclude agricultural activity on the clearing nor the rehabilitation of residential buildings (though subject to certain limitations), they do excludes new constructions other than those required for farming.

Chapelle Mourat lies at the southern point of the 17.6 km / 6 hours (or the shortened 12.6 km / 4 h) ‘Boucle de Bouch’ hiking trail starting from Terrasson.

La Dornac

La Dornac (officially, but also known as Ladornac), is a small rural community that is part of the communauté de communes of Terrasson. Population peaked in 1830’s at around 1000 inhabitants, dipped to 250 in the 1980’s, and has since increased to 400. This increase is mostly due to its position in the aire d'attraction de Brive-la-Gaillarde. The shift from agricultural (wine) production to a commute village is most notable in the bourg, which in 1830’s had 200 inhabitants but today only supports 20. Despite the small population a ‘multiple rural’ serves as bread depot and bar-restaurant with a terrace.

The bourg is small but has an interesting cluster of buildings surrounding the Notre-Dame Church (1), once the seat of a preceptory of the knights Hospitallers. Built on a steep slope in a number of phases. The paneled rectangular nave was added to the 12th century vaulted choir which supports the 3-levels defense tower. The keep had breteches and hoards allegedly strong enough to refuse to receive Bertran de Goth, future Pope Clement in 1304.

To the north side of the nave a smaller chapel covered with a lauze roof and, to the south, a large rectangular Gothic chapel were added in the 16th century. The capitals are carved with interlacing, foliage and figures. The bands of Caroligian tradition on two of them are reminiscent of Romanesque art from the second half of the 12th century. A belfry-wall, to the west, dominates a portal with three broken arches.

The main attraction of la Dornac is its access to the surrounding Causse Terrassonnais through a number of hiking trails. To walk the 2,5km sentier d’interprétation pick-up the booklet at the bar-restaurant. Or walk the 9,6 Boucle de St.Chaubrant (also known as Des bois et des pierres indicated in yellow), the 10km Orchidées sauvages et petit patrimoine (indicated in blue), or the 16 km A la découverte de la faune et la flore sauvage (indicated in red). The walks are exploring the natural and cultural heritage dotting the landscape including the drystacked walls and cabanes reminders of wine cultivation, the truffières (2) and traces left by the charcoal makers (charbonnières). Bring a pick-nick to the cabane de la Louise (3) or other dedicated pick-nick areas along the trails.

If you happen to be in the area during the spring (April-June) a visit to the wild orchid site (4) is a must. Local enthusiast Josiane Glaudon updates the indicators on the side, and will guide on request. An information panel does help the individual visitor. Please be careful not to step on the orchids, and do not gather flowers or plants. The community organizes or participates in activities throughout summer often using the community hall (5) to welcome and shield participants.

Hiking trails starting from la Dornac
> Sentier d’interprétation; 2,5km.
> Boucle de St.Chaubrant; 6,9km.
> Boucle des Orchidées sauvages et petit patrimoine; 10km.
> A la découverte de la faune et la flore sauvage; 16km.


Located right on the edge of the Coly watershed, Salignac commands a strategic position descending towards the Vézère river and the Borrèze valley which descends towards the Dordogne river on the other side.

First mention of a castle dates back to the turn of the millennium. Typically enough the original wooden structures start to be replaced by stone buildings in the 11th and 12th centuries, to which date back the two dungeons of the Salignac castle.

The Salignac family is a likely branch of the Viscounts of Turenne. Located on the border of the vicomté de Turenne, the Causse de Martel and the wooded hillsides of Périgord, the village of Salignac is a place of passage between Quercy, Limousin and Périgord. Summer highlights are its popular medieval festivals at the historic village, its events around the farmers market (Tuesday mornings) and Marché gourmand nocturne (Friday evenings) on the Place du champ de Mars (market square).

A walk around the village (promenade du bourg) takes a hour and passes Salignac Castle (1), the 17th century Halle and Hôtel noble des Croisiers (2), Eglise Saint Julien (3), village historique (4), a couple of lavoir (5), Market square (6).

The Salignac Castle has seen a lot of historic changes, reaching its height in the 15th century after which it slowly decayed. The castle suffered damages during the Hundered Years War and the Wars of Religion. During the French Revolution villagers took over the castle, broken it up and sold the lots. By 1910 the main building and guardhouse were still standing. By 1912 the Salignac family bought back the castle and turned the remains into a stately manor, leveling most of the ruins and guardhouse to create a garden around three terraces on different levels.

The castle was abandoned again, and by 2006 found new owners that set-out on a multi-generational journey to restore this historic monument. They worked 15 years to stabilize the site, replace structural beams and redo the ‘lauze’ roof. In 2021, 30 years after its last inhabitants left, the castle reopened its doors to the public. A visit gives you the unique opportunity to visit ‘a work in progress’. Much of the terraces are currently excavated, which allows for a sneak-peak under the surface. The spiral staircase provides access to the basement cut out from the rock, a room ‘left as they found it’, the central part currently under renovation, as well as a restored room with its ‘pisé’ floor and historic decor.

Hiking trails starting from Salignac-Eyvigues
> Promenade du bourg; 2km - 50 mins.
> Sentier des Etreilles; 2,5km - 1 h.
> Boucle d'Eyrignac; 13,7km - 4h30.
> Boucle des Moulins; 9,3km - 3h.
> Boucle de la Forêt; 12km - 4h.

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