The first view of the château from D57 is stunning. It looks superb. It occupies a large site at the top of steep cliffs overlooking the Dordogne valley.
The château was one of the most important castles in the region, protected on landward side by double walls and ditches and 150m cliffs along the river. The site has been inhabited since the Bronze age. The first château was built in 1050. It was captured by Richard the Lionheart, demolished by Simon de Montford and later rebuilt. It was repeatedly under attack during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. The château was abandoned in 1798 and fell into disrepair. Restoration work began in 1961 and is ongoing.
The 12/13thC battlemented square keep with its tall narrow corner tower is at the heart of the château. It is surrounded by 14thC buildings with lauze tiles. There are two defensive walls. The inner one has stone battlements. The outer has groups of 4 or 5 wooden spikes along the top of the wall.
We set off with a sense of great expectation. Entry is €7.50 and I paid an extra €0.50 for a not very good English guide. This tells you where to go but has little description about what there is to see and some of it is now out of date. There is no plan of the castle. Don’t waste you money on this. Also ignore descriptions in the guide books as some of these are now out of date.
Entry is through a gateway with the ticket office which leads into the outer courtyard between the to defensive walls, with a massive castle wall in front. There is a dry ditch in front of this. From the ends are good views of the river to the east with its very flat valley bottom and wooded sides with the châteaux of Feyrac, Castlenaud and Marqueyssac.
We walked along the ramp round the keep which has the remains of corbels which would have supported projecting wooden defences on the walls. A double door leads into the guard room at the base of the keep. This is very dark with no natural light. The only light came from lanterns suspended from the ceiling which could be raised and lowered by a rope. In the centre is a long wooden table with benches and swords propped up against the ends. On the walls are pikes and halberts. The horses were stabled against the wall and we could still see the stone feeding troughs and rings used to tether them. On the walls is the remains of old tack. In the back corner was the spiral staircase to the upper rooms in the keep.
A door to the right of the entrance leads via a passageway with a wooden chest and picture to two rooms in the later building. The floor is newly restored in a beautiful ‘pisé’. Small upright pieces of stone are nailed vertically into a bed of clay and lime.
In the first room is a fireplace. Windows are larger and have shutters and stone bench seats. There are the remains of latrines, now wood covered holes in the floor.
A wooden staircase leads to the second floor with the Great Hall with a fireplace with a carved over mantle. There are old and rather dirty tapestries and flags on the walls and a big dark oil painting of the crucifixion. There is large window on the east wall. Round the walls are old and rather plain wooden chests.
Off the north wall is a small oratory behind a locked door. This has a plain stone altar with a modern crucifix on it. On the wall behind is a 15thC fresco of the Last Supper.
A doorway off the west wall leads into a room in the keep with small slit windows and containing wooden chests. Crossbows hang on the walls and there is a wooden ladder on the wall.
Back in the Great Hall, there is another room off with a fireplace with a metal fire back dated 1302 which has two lions on either side of a shield with a diagonal bar across it with moon and strs on either side. There is a table and two chests and another drab tapestry. Another small room off has more dirty tapestries, a wooden cupboard and a latrine.
In the north west corner, a modern spiral staircase leads to the roof of the keep. In an alcove in the wall, behind glass, is a suit of armour. There are a series of locked doors off the staircase. These were opened for small groups of people with a guide. At the top this picks up the original tone staircase onto the roof. This has a tall wooden palisade round the inside of the walkway. In one corner is a tall, narrow square tower with battlements and machicolations. There is a smaller round lookout tower with a pointed roof. A doorway off the walkway leads into a small room with a fireplace. Another doorway leads into an open area with battlemented sides and good views of the river. Looking back over the château, there are views of the different roof lines but no view down onto the town.
Back in the Great Hall, a doorway to the right of the fireplace leads to a 17thC stone balustraded staircase which leads to the 17thC rooms. These are kept locked One was open for a guided tour and the guide was very insistent we did NOT go in. A brief glimpse through the door before I was firmly shoo-ed out showed carpets, tapestries, curtains, table and tapestry covered chairs.
You need to go back down the spiral staircase in the north west corner of the Great Hall which takes you down into the centre courtyard. This is the heart of the château . All the rain water was collected in large underground tanks, which were the only source of drinking water. Originally this only had one doorway into the guards room.
The 12thC kitchens are off the central courtyard and have a stone ramp which allowed men to ride into the centre courtyard and guards room without dismounting.
The kitchens are built on three levels. At the bottom is the fireplace with an alcove next to it and a pile of firewood in a corner. There is a big wooden vat and iron hooks hang from the ceiling. There is a large iron cage to store food. There is a large wooden chopping board, old rough wooden table, stone sink, chests and barrels.
On the middle level are two long trestle tables with slits to hold swords and wooden benches. Cross bows are suspended from the ceiling and metal shields, helmets and swords are propped against the walls.
We felt this was expensive for what there was to see. There was no attempt to interpret the château and little information. Guided tours seem to be taken into additional rooms although there wasn’t any information about having a guided tour. It was very disappointing and we wouldn’t bother going in again and would admire from the bottom.