It’s places like Château de Castelnaud (and the village Castelnaud-la-Chapelle) that make the Perigord one of my favorite regions to travel to in France. Alhough privately owned, it’s open to the public, and I highly recommend visiting the château and nearby countryside especially for the spectacular views from the castle/fortress of the surrounding area and the Dordogne River. From atop the fortress, you can see the châteaux of Beynac and Marqueyssac and the medieval village of La Roque-Gageac. NOTE: Like most smaller French villages I feature on this blog, you’ll need a car to get here and explore the vast Black Perigord.
Château de Castelnaud is a treasure trove filled with fascinating history and trivia as well as beautiful medieval architecture.
Château de Castelnaud (website)
Musée de la guerre au Moyen Âge
24250 Castelnaud-la-Chapelle France
Telephone: +33 (0)5 53 31 30 00
GPS :44°48’57.59’’ N
Here’s a slideshow of photos I took of Château de Castelnaud:
“I tip the torchlight and examine a wall in my hotel room. From a distance, the wall looks like vanilla frosting roughly applied. Up close, I see nuggets of caramel-colored stone, faint brown streaks…and an oyster shell. The wall before me is 100 million years old, the raw edge of a cave scraped into a cliff above the Loire River. The oyster was a much earlier guest here, a fossil left from the sea that once covered this part of France and left behind a thick bed of white stone called tuffeau.
Many buildings in the Loire Valley are constructed from this stone. On a trip to France four years ago, I stayed in an elegantly restored farmhouse near Tours, its walls made of tuffeau blocks, stacked like irregular sugar cubes. The farmers of long ago probably dug their own tuffeau. It’s just under the surface–unplanted fields gleam with tuffeau churned to pebbles by the plows. However, the serious quarrying was for the signature chateaus and other monumental architecture of the Loire Valley.
At the time, I was among friends who wanted to visit all the chateaus. The first few exhausted my taste for opulence. Then, near the chateau in Amboise, I noticed caves in the cliff, some with brightly painted front doors, windows, shutters and flower boxes. As we drove around the Loire Valley, I spied more of these domesticated caves, some with chimneys thrusting through scruffy vegetation at the tops of cliffs or new facades and courtyards. Oh yes, someone finally explained: after widespread quarrying of the tuffeau began in the 11th century and created cavities in the hills and plains, people moved in. Some to escape warfare, others because the caves made convenient, low-rent dwellings. Until the early 20th century, many people lived in these so-called troglodyte homes. Entire villages were underground. Some people still live in the caves, I was told, and others are …”
When you see the famous prehistoric paintings at the Lascaux Cave in Dordogne, you must purchase your tickets in the village of Montignac. (Ticket purchase is not available on-site.) You won’t feel inconvenienced by this because Montignac is beautiful and worth a stop to explore its two different areas located on both sides of the Vézère River. On the right bank, there’s a feudal town with medieval narrow streets with architecture from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. On the left bank, the suburb with a convent and priory is an indication that Montignac used to be a harbor town, a place of artisans, crafts, arts and other sell-able goods.
More information about Montignac is here (in French).
There’s an old comic strip by Gary Larson in “The Far Side” with two pictures. One shows a person receiving a harp with the caption, “Welcome to Heaven. Here’s your harp.” The other has a guy receiving an accordion with the text bubble saying, “Welcome to Hell. Here’s your accordion.” That is EXACTLY how I’ve felt about the merits of the accordion. However, there is a little tiny exception to my loathing of the accordion – accordions playing musette, which is a genre of French music from the 20s, 30s and 40s (being most popular in the 40s) – though it is a type of music I can only take in small doses. VERY small doses. It does have its own charm. Here’s a sample from youtube.
Sure, you can listen to musette walking along the fake cobble stones in the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas, if you can stand it over the cacophony of slot machines (don’t forget to buy a croissant for $10) – but I GUESS it’s probably better to be sipping coffee and people watching at an outdoor cafe somewhere in France with musette in the background. Luckily Today, I hardly ever hear musette in France…until just about a week ago in Sarlat (Southwest France in Dordogne).
Surprisingly, the music seemed to all come together and make sense, and it was fun to listen to. Maybe it was the warm and welcoming atmosphere of a jazz club’s “cave” in a medieval village. Maybe it was the company of good friends and a happy public. Maybe it was because we were in France. I dunno. In any case, the evening was filled with “musetty-jazz” fusion. Not strictly musette, it was a small, mostly jazz combo with the centerpiece instrument being an accordion. Of course when we initially entered the club and I saw the accordion, my first thought was Welcome to Hell!!
I’m glad I was wrong.
Is musette making a comeback? Would it have worked outside a stone wall lined cavern in a medieval village in Dordgogne, France?