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 Château de Castelnau, Lot

 Château Castelnaud-Bretenoux, Lot

My most favourite château in all of France. Castelnau supported the French King in the 100 Years War; the medieval footslogger fighting his way up the Dordogne River for King Richard I would have been able to see it several days away and known it was impregnable. It was never taken by force, but a surrender was eventually negotiated.

Building started in the year 1000, and today it's rated the second military castle in France, to Pierrefonds in the Oise departément. In 1184, the Count of Toulouse, to whom the lords of Castelnau owed their loyalty, placed the castle under the control of the viscounts of Turenne (about 20 miles away), which upset the Castelnau lords so severely it took the intervention of the King of France to settle the dispute. Eventually the lords of Castelnau agreed to pay tribute to the viscounts of Turenne, which was ceremonially sent to Turenne every year – the tribute was an egg.

Much of the château was damaged by fire in 1851, but Jean Mouliéret, a tenor at the Opéra Comique, rescued it, carrying out rebuilding and restoration work.

Detail of the castle exterior

Like many medieval fortresses, Castelnau has its oubliettes, where several skeletons were discovered during the restoration works. An oubliette is a very deep dungeon where the only way in is through a hole in the top. Prisoners were usually lowered in in a basket, but sometimes they were thrown in; the very unlucky ones survived the fall. There was no way of escape, and very few prisoners were ever released, often they were just left to starve to death.

The nearby bastide town of Bretenoux on the Dordogne River is very attractive and worth a visit.

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