Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015 - Our First Castle - CASTELNAUD

Viewer Warning: There are too many castle photos below. Read at your own risk!

Today is Easter Monday and a holiday in France. Beautiful weather with clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 70s. We live about 6 miles from a spot on the river where you can see 4 (maybe more) castles.  So we're off to visit Castelnaud (pronounced Kas-TEL-no and meaning "new castle"). Randy and Katie's car is in desparate need of gas so we're hoping they'll get as far as Castelnaud, but we ended up pulling over only a few km down the road as they really feared running out of gas. So we had to use our car to ferry 2 groups of folks the last few km.  But we made it - just short of noon.

We've long known about Castelnaud and Beynac. Before our first trip to live "a la francais"
 in 2011 we read a book called "A Castle in the Backyard: The Dream of a House in France" by Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden. These two University of Wisconsin professors wrote about their adventures owning a house in France. That house backs up to Castelnaud Chateau. Their descriptions of their life as foreigners in a small town gave us confidence that we'd do all right in our small Languedoc village of 2011.

The Draine/Hinden house is the light colored one below the ramparts with the single window on the gable end and the bushes behind.
And, castle-lover David has long had a love for the hundreds of castles that dot the Dordogne landscape. This area was devastated in the 13th century Albegensian Crusades which wiped out the Cathar sect. Then another hundred and fifty years later was again torn apart by the Hundred Years War in which English and French forces faced off all along the Dordogne River, burning and looting each others' castles. 

Castelnaud belonged to a Cathar lord in the 13th century. (Cathars were a purist sect of Christians who among other beliefs did not recognize the Catholic church which they considered immoral and corrupt.) The Pope called for a Holy Crusade to wipe out the Cathars. Since Cathars were concentrated in the south of France, and crusaders were allowed to confiscate Cathar lands, the south of France became the front lines for this crusade, with the King of France's blessing.
Several flights of these stairs took you up the artillery tower. 

Not too much headroom and the stairs were steep. Imagine climbing these in full armor!

In the Hundred Years War, Castelnaud owed its allegiance to the English king and eventually was taken by the French King. However, in the Wars of Religion, a Protestant soldier named Geoffroy de Vivans was left in charge of the castle. He was so feared that the castle was never attacked during that bloody period of history. However, Castelnaud was hardly lived in after that, fell into ruin and was eventually used as a source of building materials for the town. Rescued and restored in 1966 after being designated one of France's historic buildings, it now houses a museum of medieval warfare.

Trebuchets used to sling rocks at the enemy.

Touristy though it has become, it still impresses with its massive size, strategic situation and charming small village. The uphills were steep (way more than the 15% grade we can do on a treadmill, Grant.), the downhills achingly hard on the knees.
See how steep this is?  And this is the easy way - the one that avoids the stairs of the artillery tower. And YES, I walked up those stairs too.  

Oh, and did I mention the sweeping views of the Dordogne

and Beynac Castle on the other side of the Dordogne?  Breathtaking!
This is our view where we ate lunch on the benches in the photo below.

And Miss Evelyn did a fine job at the castle too.  She dressed up as a knight

Planned her attack on Beynac Castle

And then had to take a nap from all the stress of planning the battle.

Of course, she was wearing her Badger gear since it was the day of the NCAA championship game!

Some more castle photos for those of you who can't get enough of them:

Home in time for aperos and beef roast for dinner. Yum. Another good day. 

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