“The Château de Castelnaud is a medieval fortress in the commune of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, overlooking the Dordogne River in Périgord, southern France. It was erected to face its rival, the Château de Beynac. The oldest documents mentioning it date to the 13th century, when it figured in the Albigensian Crusade; its Cathar castellan was Bernard de Casnac. Simon de Montfort took the castle and installed a garrison; when it was retaken by Bernard, he hanged them all. During the Hundred Years’ War, the castellans of Castelnaud owed their allegiance to the Plantagenets, the sieurs de Beynac across the river, to the king of France. In later times it was abandoned bit by bit, until by the French Revolution it was a ruin. Today the picturesquely restored château, a private property open to the public, houses a much-visited museum of medieval warfare, featuring reconstructions of siege engines, mangonneaux, and trebuchets. The castle is listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.” (Wikipedia)
The day of our visit the weather was overcast and foggy so we could not fully enjoy the scenic views from the chateau nor the quaintness of the village below it. The chateau is a complete museum of medieval instruments of war particularly early catapults. We spent hours going through all the exhibits but be warned there is a lot of steps some very steep and narrow. It is no place for people with a disability or young children.
After our visit we travelled to the village of La Roque Gageac where the fog prevented us from enjoying the dramatic setting for this village. It sits under a ridge of vertical rock and apparently has caves behind it but we could only vaguely see the stairs in the wall leading to these caves. Some adventurers could be seen through the fog abseiling down the cliff face. We did explore a walk amongst the houses and found a subtropical garden hidden behind the houses.
We returned to Sarlat for our final night. We dined at a small restaurant in the old city. The weather was turning very cold and it was uncomfortable to walk around the city so we retired to our hotel as tomorrow we travel to Lascaux Caves and then onto Dampierre Sur Boutonne.
After a delightful lunch in the village at the foot of the chateau (there is another village of the same name below the chateau) we made our way into Sarlat just in time for the Xmas markets and tens of thousands of people (well thousands anyway) making finding the hotel and parking impossible. An eagle eyed Nerida spotted La Couleuvrine (named after the culverins on the town walls which walls now form part of the hotel).
We reconnoitred around the old city and what a fabulous place full of ancient buildings and the old ramparts still exist around 3/4 of the town. “Sarlat is a medieval town that developed around a large Benedictine abbey of Carolingian origin. The medieval Sarlat Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Sacerdos.” (Wikipedia) We found the Cathedral in the heart of the old city with a modern Xmas tree featuring in front of it. I don’t know which attracted more people – the Cathedral or the tree. There are examples of old architecture everywhere you look. Inside the Cathedral you are overwhelmed by the organ hanging over the front door. Outside it towers like the fortifications we had seen at Beynac.
The alleys and old buildings jump out at you drawing you to look at their antique features. Our hotel was an excellent example of the early architecture. But like most of these building converted to a modern use there are oddities such as the stairs to our rooms. Arriving on the first floor there were another 5 stairs to climb to the room and the same for the Bishops.
“Because modern history has largely passed it by, Sarlat has remained preserved and one of the towns most representative of 14th century France. It owes its current status on France’s Tentative List for future nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage site to the enthusiasm of writer, resistance fighter and politician André Malraux, who, as Minister of Culture (1960–1969), restored the town and many other sites of historic significance throughout France. The centre of the old town consists of impeccably restored stone buildings and is largely car-free.” (wikipedia)
This is an area of historical significance as the English and French fought over it for centuries and the religious conflicts between the French themselves saw this area figure prominently. Hence the numerous fortified chateaus on high bluffs. Chateau Castelnaud is another example (and it was open at this time of year – many are not).
Although late to bed the next morning we were on the move early to travel to Sarlat la Caneda another 280 klms south. Unlike previous travel our Tommy took us along some very rural roads to Limoges before we journeyed on a freeway. This made a nice change as we were able to view the countryside and the vistas as we headed into the Central Massif. Also the weather took a turn for the better with the cloud breaking up and as we drove into the valley toward Sarlat we were in brilliant sunshine. On reaching a little town outside Sarlat we reappraised our itinerary due to the improvement in the weather and decided to travel to Chateau Castelnaud but fortunately we found Chateau Beynac instead.
This Middle Ages construction, with its austere appearance, is perched on top of a limestone cliff, dominating the town and the north bank of the Dordogne River. It is worth reading about this chateaux in Wikipedia but what Wikipedia does not tell you is that Richard I (Richard the Lionheart of England) captured the Castle and it remained in English possession for 10 years til Richard was killed and then recaptured and lost again during the One Hundred years war. There are some rooms in the chateau fitted out with Lionheart memorabilia. One of the features is the dungeon and torture implements.
I got really excited about this chateau. It is truly situated in a magnificent location and the views still astound me when looking at the photos.
Inside the chateau was like returning to that time with braod swords at the ready in the end of tables and the crossbow on the wall. Even the dungeon had that feeling of macabre with instruments of torture still in place ready for the next victim. Now I think this is off the beaten track for most Australian grey nomads.