Castles of the Dordogne
6 of the best - ancient homes with real kerb appea
The Dordogne region is an ancient land, long disputed by the French and English. The Périgord was highly prized during the Hundred Years’ War, tussled over by kings and queens whose armies spent years entrenched across the region in a slow motion stalemate.
As a result the homesteads of the wealthy took on certain practical characteristics. Security was paramount and fortified dwellings became de rigeur in fashionable circles in medieval times. Put simply, a comfortable home was secondary to the need for defence against a marauding enemy.
To the north the iconic châteaux of the Loire Valley were ornate, graceful structures built not chiefly for protection but as elegant retreats from the hurly burly of Paris life. By design, they were flamboyant and built to impress.
By contrast the more functional castles, or ‘châteaux forts’, of the Dordogne were solid, imposing, fortified structures, usually in strategically important positions.
Visiting them allows us to peer back in time and imagine life in harsher, more turbulent times.
And what places to live in! The Dordogne castles, of all sizes, are typically of honey coloured stone, often perched on hill tops or dominating looping rivers and amid a landscape of lush valleys and timeless villages.
To mangle a familiar phrase, a Frenchman’s home is his château. Here we single out six of the best smaller scale Dordogne castles, some not necessarily on the tourist trail and mostly still inhabited today.
The historical playground: Château de Bridoire, Bergerac
Set a little south of Bergerac, this château dates back to the 12th century and has enjoyed some serious renovation in recent years. A highlight is the vast, vaulted kitchen with its open fireplace, once the hub of the castle. Inside and out, well thought out features and traditional games have been incorporated, allowing you to step back in history. There’s also the ‘Forgotten Valley’ featuring various ancient mysteries, troglodyte ruins and a labyrinth.
The gorgeous gardens: Château de Marqueyssac, Vézac
This 17th century château is in Vézac and overlooks the Dordogne valley. It had fallen into disrepair during the 20th century but in the late 1990s work was done by the imaginative owners to restore the gardens to their former glories. Today it is most famous for its gardens, particularly the vast swathes of topiary – there are over 150,000 boxwood trees of various sizes and 5 km of paths laid out in 3 circuits.
The Renaissance style: Château de Puyguilhem, Villars
This château is rather unique. It short it has far more in common with the classic Loire châteaux than those of the Dordogne. Lying in a wooded valley near Brantôme, it incorporates architectural elements of its northern cousins: the round turrets, mullioned windows and staircase towers. The chimney stacks in particular are reminiscent of those at Chambord.
The wine château: Château Monbazillac, Monbazillac
It might be many people’s dream – living in an elegant château amid beautiful surroundings and with a world famous vineyard surrounding you. Château Monbazillac has stood here since the 16th century and the family today carefully balances the management of an ancient property with commercial tourism considerations and modern wine making.
The Italian influence: Château de Vayres, Vayres
With medieval and Renaissance origins, this elegant château sits on the banks of the river Dordogne, near Bordeaux and is the gateway to the Dordogne region. Its origins were strategic, part of Bordeaux’s defences, but later years saw connections with the Borgias and King Henri IV before modifications were made to add an elaborate dome and vaulted corridor in the Italian Renaissance style. Still inhabited, it is surely one of the region’s most dramatic homes.
The holiday rental: Château de Rocher, Bergerac
Set in gorgeous lush countryside north of Bergerac, this elegant castle features a mix of architectural styles, from silver-slated Périgordine turrets, stone terraces, Italianate façades, bridges, courtyards, marble staircase and grand views. With 1500 years of history, this privately owned castle has 10 bedrooms, library, swimming pool, tennis court, billiard room and grounds. And it could be your holiday hideaway for as little as €8,100 per week.