Saturday, 25 January 2014

French fairy tales

If any serious fairy tale has a castle, then France is ditto a fairy tales place, considering the ridiculous amount of Chateaux within the country. And if a lack of knowledge had made us think that they were merely located on the Loire banks or used as accommodations by the wealthy wine producers of Bordeaux, a 2 weeks trip on the road in Southern France proved us completely wrong.

We encountered plenty of castles of various ages and architectural styles; some of them were closed as December is low season but we still managed to visit most of them and were lucky enough to have guides all by ourselves giving us private tours! 

We started form the Perigord Vert and the Chateau de Bourdeilles, which is itself a double castle, including a medieval building and a Renaissance one, both very well preserved and accessible for a €7 per head.

The medieval part is of course much more austere, while the Renaissance building has still plenty of decoration, furnishings from various ages, tapestries and frescoes.



















Second stop on our `castle-raid` was Chateau de Puyguilhem. This has been built in the XVI century and it was influenced in its elegant Renaissance style by the Loire Valley chateaux.
The castle is approachable via a pedestrian avenue, surrounded by trees, that opens up the view on the distinguished architecture of the building. At the time of our visit, this was romantically complemented by the  Autumn colours creating such a perfect natural painting that it didn't need any Photoshop adjustment.


The entrance fee of €5, included an intensive guided tour of the interiors with an extremely knowledgeable guide. Among the other things, he also explained us that most of the furniture normally found in castles are often not original since the lords, at the times, were using the castles as vacation houses and would have then sent the furniture with their bondage only a few weeks before their arrival.
The huge fireplaces were definitely one of the highlights of the tour.


New region and new castles. Once entered in Lot et Garonne, we visited the Castelnau-Bretenoux, a slightly  more ancient castle with a curious and quite troubled history. Built in the XIII as a fort with long defensive walls and a characteristic red garnet colour, due to the high iron dioxide content of the stones found on site, it was then left abandoned in the XVIII century to be then partly destroyed in a malicious fire in 1851.


It was eventually saved from disrepair in the XIX century by the eclectic opera singer Jean Moulierat.
He refurbished and decorated the apartments with furnishings from his collections.The singer, used to the theaters sets, fully expressed his extravaganza in this castle also adding a full collection of religious statues in the courtyard.



 















The entrance fee is €7.50, and includes the usual guided tour.

Still in Lot et Garonne, the Chateau de Montal is quite peculiar for being the only example of Renaissance style in this region and because its construction was commissioned by a woman, Jeanne de Balzac, after the death of her husband Amaury de Montal. The structure remains incomplete, with its 2 wings instead of the 4 with internal courtyard originally planned. Other than this, the building has a common story with the other castles of the area; left abandoned for a long time it was subject to thefts and vandalism especially on the exterior but then later bought and refurbished by a wealthy collector, Maurice Fenaille, in the XIX century.



 The interiors are extremely well kept, even because the castle has actually been used by Fenaille's descendants until very recently as a summer residence. Have a look at the stunning fireplaces and the elegantly stucco decorated staircase.




































Montal was the last decorated castle of our trip.

A completely different experience was awaiting us at the Chateau de Penne. This is on an outcrop over the tiny medieval homonymous village. It is nothing more than a ruin and at the time of our visit it was under refurbishment so there isn't really that much to see other than the breathtaking view of the valley below. But it was the perfect spot for a little picnic.








The following 3 stops (Montsegur, Peyrepertuse and Queribus) can be easily grouped into the definition of ancient Cathar strongholds and have a very strong fortress like architectural style.
Montsegur is reachable through a steep path that climbs on a side of the outcrop.



















No doubts, that the panorama and the kiss of that warm sun was worth the short hike!


Peyrepertuse and Queribus are very close and similar to each other and they are considered 2 of the 5 sons of Carcassonne (that we had visited during a separate trip earlier this year). The views from the top of the castles are astonishing; both beautifully perched on rocks overlooking the Maury AOC vineyards just at the feet of the Pyrenees.







But if castles are not your cup of tea, no worries at all! South of France has much more to offer.
Bear with us and we'll take you there to discover it!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely photos!
    We invite you to participate in the next edition of our Travel Photography competition. Every week we publish 3 winning shots on our website and write a nice bio with a link to the photographers' websites/FB/Flickr pages.
    Find more details here: http://hitchhikershandbook.com/your-contributions/travel-photography/
    Happy travels!

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