Beaulieu’s bridges have a chaotic history. Its first stone bridge, built in the 13th century, lasted but a hundred years.
Its next bridge was built 6 centuries later, in the 19th century : it was a suspension bridge which collapsed twice. It was replaced in the 1920s by todays’ concrete road bridge, which was inaugurated in 1925.
In the Middle Ages, large wooden boats called « nau » were used to transport passengers, livestock and goods across the river. This tradition continued in Beaulieu until the 1970s, with a long line of what was then called « passeuse d’eau ». These women were in charge of helping passengers across the river : Clarisse, then her neighbor Adèle, then Adèle’s daughter who was also called Adèle… This tradition ended when a bridge was built to repair the embankment, and to allow access to the holiday village on the left riverbank.
The Dordogne is a dangerous and unpredictable river. Until large dams were built, it was only navigable in spring and autumn. For centuries, flat-bottom gabare boats called « courpets » were made in the Correzian villages of Spontour and Argentat, and they stopped over in Beaulieu on their way down to Libourne. “Courpet” boats only travelled one-way. They transported vineyard stakes and wood for barrel-making, and once they reached their destination, were taken apart and their wood was sold for heating purposes.
The river’s traffic reached its peak in the 1860s. It brutally declined with the appearance of the railway, a much safer and faster means of transportation.
Today, you can take a ride onboard the “Adèle and Clarisse” and enjoy a guided tour along the Dordogne river.
The Dordogne riverside
The Dordogne riverside is a lovely place to take a stroll, but for centuries, the river was an obstacle to be crossed, as well as a means of transportation for merchandise.
Step back in time thanks to this video and its many archival images, to discover the river’s history, its bridges, gabare boats and the people who worked here, such as the Dordogne’s « passeuses d’eau ».