A Postcard from Beynac

Wish you were here!

It’s beginning to look like we are honing in on the Perigord region for our Live-Like-a-Local Castle Sojourn… and Francis tells me there are 2,000 castles in the area! So, staying in a castle just won’t be enough for our guests: we are going to want to take them to visit one of the big historic castles too!

As a specialist of 17th & 18th century French literature, Francis just LOVES the culture of the French aristocracy… so he really got into the castle selection process (which was good because I’ve got this project on a tight budget because I want to keep our guests prices as low as possible: I told him we could only visit two castles… which meant a lot of book and internet research).

As you may know, there were basically two great periods of castles: the early period when castles were basically strategic fortresses built to protect feudal lords from others who might try to siege them and the later period (the one that interests Francis) when castles were built as a luxurious residence for aristocrats.

To my surprise, he selected two medieval castle-forts instead of any luxury castles… so I guess that means they were the best places to visit in the area.

Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux is the “most visited” castle in the region, so he figured we’d better consider it. But, he was far more excited about Château Beynac. He explained to me that when you visit the popular castle, in fact you are in a reconstruction that was done at the turn of the last century following a fire whereas Beynac is the genuine mccoy. As we drove by, we could tell from the banners flying at the popular castle that it has been revamped with tourism in mind. One of the reasons people choose to travel with Sojourner Tours is because they want more than the typical tourist experience: Sojourner guests expect to discover things that are off-the-beaten-path so we were hopeful that Beynac would offer something a bit more authentic without the crowds.

We parked at Château Beynac and strolled through the charming little feudal village that adjoins it. And what did we stumble upon? “Paul Eluard Street” –calling the narrow alleyway that dead-ends in, maybe, 5o yards a “street” is a bit grandiose but knowing that the poet Paul Eluard retired in a house there is exciting.

Eluard is one of France’s most famous poets. I know his name thanks to his engagement with the DADA movement and his contribution to the birth of surrealism (which undoubtedly explains his famous quotes like “Elephants are contagious”). Francis, on the other hand, is fond of Eluard because he fought for France in WWI and then wrote for the French resistance during WWII. In short, Eluard was a big deal and brushed shoulders with some of the most famous artists and writers of the 20th century. I never would have expected him to buy a reclusive home in a tiny village perched over a cliff, but my what a view he must have had from his garden!

The castle Beynac is perched atop a cliff with another charming grouping of houses at the foot right along the river. The views across the valley were breath taking with the river twining through the undulating lush greens. What I couldn’t believe was that in every direction there seemed to be a castle: we could see at least four other castles in the valley! I insisted we drive up to one of the more modest castles as it was on the road between the castle and a village we were visiting: I had chatted with a local who had told me that it has fabulous gardens. We didn’t have the time to go in, but we did learn that they light the gardens in the evenings for special dinners AND I absolutely want to add that to our itinerary if we can because I got a glimpse of some labyrinths of carefully cut hedges that I JUST LOVED!

Francis loved the castle Beynac. He was completely engrossed in our guide’s descriptions of the use of each room, the strategic logic behind various architectural features, the stories of the inhabitants… and when we left Francis announced that this was the castle for our tour. He didn’t even want to visit the other one!

So Beynac will be part of our Live-Like-a-Local Castle Sojourn. Now, we’ll just decide what to pair it with to make a perfect daytrip from the castle where our guests will be sojourning.

                                                                 -Lisa Gustavson (Sojourner Tours Owner)

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