Above: The impressive topiary landscape at Les Jardins de Marqueyssac in the Dordogne, France

A French Château's Surreal Clifftop Garden

Julien de Cerval, a magistrate from Sarlat, inherited the unremarkable Château de Marqueyssac in 1861, and he proceeded to transform its grounds into one of the most splendid gardens in France. Paths meander through some 150,000 century-old boxwoods, a surreal topiary landscape the likes of which I’ve never seen. From certain viewpoints, you can overlook acres of Seussian tufts, beyond which spreads one of the most spectacular sections of the Dordogne region.

To the northwest, the Château de Beynac looms in the distance, and to the east, the cliffside town of La Roque-Gageac curves along the river far below. In places, the topiary extends right to the edge of the bluff. I do not envy the gardeners who stand on the lip of the cliff, trimming boxwoods hundreds of feet above the Dordogne. A tearoom has outdoor tables overlooking Beynac, and on Thursdays in July and August, candles illuminate the paths throughout the evening.

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