Saturday, April 9, 2022

Middle of Nowhere Magic- Châteaux en Fête

 “This place is just polluted with castles,”  is Tom’s favorite thing to say when asked what’s exciting about visiting the Dordogne.

Here’s the legend of how the region came to have castles at every turn -1001 castles to be exact.

God wished to sprinkle some castles around the country of France. He headed out with a heavy sack, taking flight, and, like sowing wheat he tossed out a fist full of castles.

He had already traveled many provinces when he arrived in the Périgord. He shook his weary shoulders and pulled off the enormous rucksack.

One could see that the sack was worn out. There was a gaping hole letting towers, drawbridges, and spiral staircases tumble out. Before starting back up the road to Paradise to refill his rucksack with ramparts and arrowslits the Eternal Father shook out the bottom of his sack onto the rocky outcropping of the rivers Dordogne, Vézère, Dronne and  Auvézère.

He threw out so many that no other country is as rich in fortresses, chateaux and manor homes.*

Here in Bourdeilles we take for granted the everyday fact of living under a medieval castle and a Renaissance palace. But, there are off-limits places that drive us crazy with curiosity. We are tortured by those imposing monsters perched on overhanging outcroppings, the silent rooflines hovering just out of sight at the end of long driveways, or the enormous mysteries that we stumble upon walking in nearby woods.

Soon we’ll be able to scratch that curious itch. The formidable gates of many of the most important properties in our tiny, but mighty, corner of France will be opened to the public during La Fête des Chateaux.  For three weeks we will be welcomed in to marvel at the Dordogne’s impressive architectural heritage. Each property will share its own enticement; superb examples of medieval and Renaissance architecture, secret gardens, an evening of jazz under the stars, tea in the shade of an ancient Cedar of Lebanon, or a visit with local artisans invited to share their contemporary visions of French heritage. 

Forty-eight of those grand properties will be open right here in our tiny conner of the Perigord Vert.** It’s hard to  choose what and when to visit with such a wealth of options. There are castles in ruins, castles in their juice, (the french expression for a property not updated since the 1930’s), castles lived in by generations of the same family, castles lived in because someone had the courage and resources to revive a fading beauty, and castles converted to hotels and restaurants. All forty-eight of these visits are within thirty minutes of my humble abode. (The American size equivalent of the Perigord Vert would be a small county.)

We will not be allowed inside all of these private homes, but just passing through the gate, walking up the long driveway and standing at the foot of the entry steps is awe inspiring. It’s enough just to wander along the balustrades and to stand on that high perch that we have driven under so many times.

As guests we have so many questions. Who lived here, did they like it, were they ever warm, where is the kitchen, anyone famous, anyone infamous? What the walls could tell, but no one knows…. History was lived in day to day and often not recorded, or lost, or didn’t seem important to the next generation. Too many wars, too much civil unrest, lots of lost fortunes.

The owners are almost always there and might give us a brief tour or they might just be near the exit and give us a warm smile as we stammer words of thanks. How do I know they are the owners? There is just a certain look that us country folk don’t quite match. For the men it’s the shoes, for the women it’s the haircut. They ooze casual, simple grace and perhaps a little bit of wealth. 

This is the sort of off the beaten path adventure that should be on everyone’s travel list. Enjoy this quiet corner of France and for a few days fall under the spell of history stopped and steeped in time. Spend the night in one of the properties! Enjoy dinner in another. We are in the middle of nowhere, but what a magical nowhere.

  • *Jean Secret, Le Perigord, chateaux, manors et gentilhommieres, Tallandier 1966
  • **the Dordogne is made up of four sub-departments - Perigord Vert, Perigord Blanc, Perigord Noir and Perigord Pourpre (green for the agriculture, white for the stone, black for the truffles and purple for the grapes.)
  • photos are from 2021 visits to Chateau de Connezac and Chateau d'Aucors


Kathie K said...

I'm so jealous. What a wonderful opportunity to visit these structures. And every year no less, you can choose new ones.

Kathie K said...

I forgot to add how much I loved the telling of the legend.

RubesMa said...

I take comfort in knowing God would rather 'dump and run', than mend his sack. ;)

Jeanie said...

I think I should rather like that. What a wonderful legend and what fabulous photo and painting opportunities!