Castles and fortresses in the Dordogne – Lot

The Dordogne – Lot – Périgord is an area known for its many castles and fortresses. When driving in France you will pass various castles. The castles were built in strategic places such as on top of a hill or in the bend of a river.

Most castles in France

The Dordogne region has the greatest density of castles, fortresses and noble houses in France, in total accounting around a thousand. There are two reasons for why there are so many castles in the Dordogne:

  • During the Hundred Years' War, which for the most part took place in the Dordogne, many castles were built as defenses.
  • Over time castles decay and become derelict due to weather influences or because they have had to make way for economic renewal. In the Dordogne region, however, the castles and fortresses have remained well preserved due to the climate and the building materials used. For centuries there was little economic innovation in this region, which means the buildings were spared.

Château, Maison forte, Palais or Manoir

The imposing buildings have various names such as Château, Manoir or Maison fortes. In other cases you might see indications such as Palais, Demeure or Gentilhommière. This is very confusing because in some cases an imposing castle is called a Manoir whilst a much smaller building might bear the name palais. In the Middle Ages, there were noblemen who had been given the right by the monarch to collect taxes and administer justice in court cases. This nobleman was the representative of a monarch and was called a fief. The dwelling of such a fief in a city was called a Palais, and if it was a large fortified dwelling outside the city, a château. Usually such a nobleman had several dwellings in which his relatives lived. These were often located near a village, a "bourg" and was called a Maison forte. A Maison forte was  therefore the property of a fief, but it was not his main residence and no justice was done there either. Castles had a military character. This was very different compared to a Manoir or a Demeure or a Gentilhommière (gentil homme = nobleman). These houses were almost all owned by noblemen but were focused on agriculture. The owner of a Manoir and Demeure had serfs and tenant farmers but was not allowed to administer justice or collect tax money.

Noble houses

  • Château
  • Palais
  • Maison forte
  • Manoir
  • Demeure
  • Gentilhomière

Different architectural styles

The castles and Manoirs were built in different time periods. This is also clearly visible in the different architectural styles. When a castle has been built over a long period of time or parts have been added later, the castles often showcased all sorts of different architectural styles. Some castles that are definitely worth visiting on your holiday are Château de Jumilhac, the Château de Bridoire and the Château des Milandes. Other castles are privately owned or furnished as hotels such as the Château de Lalande.

Castle built into the rocks

A very unique castle is Maison Forte de Reignac in Tursac. This castle in the Périgord is the only castle in France that has been built into the rocks. It is still completely in its original condition and has its original furniture. From the twelfth century onwards natural stone was often used when building a castle. You can see this in Château de Beynac and Château de Castelnaud. These castles face each other on either sides of the Dordogne River.

After the Middle Ages, the castles were built in the Renaissance style. These castles can be recognized by the decorations and all the extras that have been applied. An example is Château de Monbazillac, a wine castle which has both medieval and Renaissance features. Château de Bourdeilles was also built during this period along the Dronne.
The architectural style that came after the Renaissance was Classicism. Classicism cuts back to the sleek shapes and models of Greek and Roman antiquity. The great example of this is Château de Hautefort. This castle is one of the most beautiful castles in southwest France.

Château en fête

If you are on holiday in the Dordogne at the end of April, visit the "Château en fête". For two weeks, approximately 70 castles will be open to the public and there will be all kinds of activities you can do. Several castles are closed to the public all year round but offer you the opportunity to visit them during these two weeks. During this period there are all kinds of festivities and activities in and around the castles. There are guided tours, craft and farmers markets, concerts and dance performances. You can even enjoy a meal in candlelight in a castle as they did in the old days! The costumed theatre performances transport you to the age of chivalry.

Famous castles in the Dordogne

Château de Beynac

One of the most beautiful castles in the Dordogne is the Château de Beynac located in Beynac-et-Cazenac. It stands in a striking spot, on top of a rock on the Dordogne river with beautiful views over large parts of the river and the surrounding landscape. This castle dates back to the time of the famous English king Richard the Lionheart. Also be sure to wander through the medieval village and its’ old streets.

Château de Hautefort

The castle of Hautefort is a medieval castle that was built around the year 1000 and was later, in the 17th century, converted into a stately house. The castle was built in Classicism style and is located in the Périgord. The gardens of the castle are designed in French style and the park is designed in English style. This castle, which is located in the Vézère valley in the Dordogne north  of Montignac, is also known for the caves of Lascaux and for being the filming location for several films.

Château de Bonaguil

Northeast of Fumel, between Bergerac and Cahors, lies the Château de Bonaguil. It is one of the most beautiful castles in this region and was built in the 13th century. If you are interested in the history and want to know more about  the dungeons, towers, barbacane, chicane, bunkers, cannon holes, drawbridge and canals, go on a guided tour! During the summer there is a medieval festival and other festivals.

Château de Jumilhac

The castle of Jumilhac is located in the Regional Natural Park of the Périgod – Limousin, in the village of Jumilhac. The imposing castle dates to the 12th century and is known for the beautiful reception hall, paintings and the gardens around the castle. The castle is well-known for the fact that Louise de Hautefort was imprisoned here for 20 years by her jealous husband.

Château des Milandes

Anyone who hears the name of Château de Milandes will almost immediately think of Josephine Baker. This castle in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle has become famous because for a long time the famous American singer, dancer and actress Josephine Baker lived here. At the moment there is a museum where memories of her are preserved.

Château de Monbazillac

The famous wine castle Monbazillac in the Dordogne valley was built in the sixteenth century and has medieval defenses and ornaments from the time of the Renaissance. The furniture in the wine castle is still the authentic furniture from the 17th century. The castle is known for the prestigious wine that is produced there. In the château there is also  a wine museum and a tasting.

Château de Lanquais

The building of this castle took several centuries to be completed and this is clearly visible in the different architectural styles that come together in this building. In the Middle Ages, the towers, the corridors and the galleries were built and are characterized by their austerity. During the Renaissance, the ornaments were added to the building. The construction of the castle was completed in 1604.

Château de Bories

One of the most beautiful castles that was built during the Renaissance period is Château de Bories in  Antonne-et-Trigonant. From the year 1494 they started to build the castle on the foundations of a shelter of a noble family. The castle was besieged and attacked several times during the Wars of Religion but came out of this period unscathed. The original Gothic kitchen and the monumental staircase are beautiful.

Château de Marzac

The castle of Marzac has become known for a contemporary reason: it is the first castle with an Escape Game. Visitors are instructed to escape from the castle in a certain amount of time after solving numerous riddles and enduring trials.

Château Fleurac

Château Malatrie

Château Reignac

Château Monsec

Château Lalande

Château de Val

Château Lalinde

Château Bridoire

Château Castelnaud

Château Carriere

Château de Puymartin

Château de Puyguilhem

Château Cénevières

Château Castelnau


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