Limousin is famous for being “The Land of 1000 Lakes”, but did you know it is full of grand, historic châteaux too?
The definition of ‘Château’ has changed throughout history, but nowadays, it covers anything from stately homes and military fortifications to the hotels once used by knights and lords of the Middle Ages.
Medieval castles can be identified by their standard features, the first of which is that they most often stand out as fortified cities. They each typically would have contained a central tower, “The Keep”, which was the main point of defence and a symbol of strength and power. Other parts of the fortress were the accommodation for the Lord and his family, a large meeting room for public gatherings, known as “The Great Hall”, and usually a chapel or two. The outer section of the castle complex included segments that housed the knights and their families and finally, the villages and orchards were on the outskirts of the castle grounds.
There are over 25 magnificent castles in the Region of Limousin, each with a colourful history; here, we will explore our seven personal favourites:
Château de Jumilhac, Jumilhac-le-Grand
The history of Château de Jumilhac dates as far back as the 5th Century, and it seems to have been at the epicentre of battles for centuries after that. It was juggled between the Visigoths, the Franks, the Vikings, later Richard the Lionheart and then both sides of the Anglo-French Hundred Years’ War.
During the renaissance, the castle transformed again, converting its defensive towers and surrounding walls into private apartments, reception rooms and pavilions.
The 20th Century saw it bought by a property merchant and interestingly was made into shops; its reception was even used as the station for the metric railway!
In 1964, the castle was restored to its former glory and nowadays sees over 11,000 visitors a year. This castle is a must-see, offering guided tours, private events, and atmospheric night tours where the scene is set with a backdrop of baroque music.
FUN FACT: Known as the Castle of Gold and Alchemy, one owner, the first Count of Jumilhac, was an alchemist (something forbidden at the time). There are many strange symbols throughout the castle to look out for that some say have mysterious meanings.
Château de Beynac, Beynac-et-Cazenac
Almost 1000 years of history have seeped into the walls of this castle that sits high atop a cliff overlooking the Dordogne River. Its Sal des Etats has hosted Richard the Lionheart, the Lords of Beynac, Simon de Montford, and the Baronies de Perigord. During the Hundred Years’ War, the castle stood right in the middle of the French and English frontiers, and it’s said that the echoes of battle can sometimes be heard through the walls of the fortress. Spooky!
There are many parts of the castle to explore. Start with the Oratory that displays original 15th-century frescoes and carry on to The Spur terrace, which was initially part of the dungeon but later became the place for Lords and Ladies to visit to enjoy the spectacular view. The kitchen is fascinating and conjures the imagination. Hooks still hang from the ceiling, having once been used to hang meat out of reach of rats!
FUN FACT: Being one of the region’s most well-preserved medieval castles, the Château de Beynac has been the location chosen for many film and television productions. Drew Barrymore’s ‘Ever After: The story of Cinderella’ and the romance ‘Chocolate’ starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, as well as Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel”, were all filmed here.
Château de Sédières, Clergoux
This castle enjoys a rich history beginning in the 14th Century when it was built as a medieval fortress. It was a century later, during the renaissance era, remodelled with terraces, turrets, decorative Corinthian columns and a monumental fireplace that contains an inscription dedicated to Henry IV.
Full of character, this castle is now put to excellent use, hosting festivals each summer with music, exhibitions and shows for all ages.
If you are into walking or cycling, it is also definitely worth checking out the routes here that will take you on a picturesque circuit around the castle, lakes, and grounds.
Château de Bridiers La Souterraine
For what it lacks in size (compared to other castles on our list), Bridiers makes up for in atmosphere. The only remaining tower has stood since the 1200s and was recently rebuilt with a glass roof giving exceptional panoramas of the surrounding countryside. What makes this fort so unique, though, are its yearly summertime spectacular light and sound shows complete with hundreds of actors and thousands of period costumes. Each year a different period of history is played out in its vast open-air theatre and gives visitors a completely immersive experience taking them back in time through history.
Château de Puyguilhem, Villars
The Château Puyguilhem is not as old as others on our list and was not built as a fortress. In fact, it was built in 1514 as a second home and hunting lodge for Mondot de La Marthonie, the president of the parliament of Paris. Our favourite feature of this castle is the Great Hall on the first floor where a beautiful fireplace is carved with the “Labours of Hercules”.
Château de Turenne, Turenne
This château has a remarkable history, being first mentioned all the way back in the 8th Century. It is noteworthy for having been the holding place of religious relics in the hopes of protecting them from the Viking raids. Later it became a centre for coin production for almost 300 years and the home to the Viscounts of Turenne for over 700 years. Unfortunately, only part of the castle remains, and there is only the tower and guard’s room left to explore today, but the ruins now make part of a gorgeous garden with fantastic views across Correze.
Château de Val, Lanobre
Situated on the banks of a pretty lake, the Château de Val, with its six towers, is something from the pages of a fairy tale.
This site was lovingly restored, having been abandoned and dilapidated for the first part of the 20th Century. Inside now, you will find art exhibitions and large rooms to explore that are decorated in sumptuous 18th-century gothic design. On summertime evenings, the castle is lit up and hosts musical concerts and themed theatrical tours, where fun characters bring the court to life.
FUN FACT: The Château du Val was nearly destroyed in 1946 when it became owned by an electric company going ahead with damming the local river. The owners had to pack up their antique possessions and leave because the plan meant that the castle would be sadly submerged under a new lake. Thankfully, the lake was not as deep as expected, and the whole process created a beautiful setting for the castle. With no use for it, the electric company sold off Château du Val for one symbolic franc to the town of Bort-les-Orgues, who turned it into the fantastic tourist attraction that remains today.
And of course, closer to home..
Château de la Fot
On the grounds of the Halcyon Retreat Golf and Spa Resort, only 250 meters from our beloved 19th Century Château de la Cazine, we have our turreted Château de la Fot. It is a historical 16th Century Château, with some of its foundations dating as far back as the 12th Century.
Our Château de la Fot is on its way to becoming one of Europe’s premium spa facilities, where you will soon be able to indulge in a range of luxurious treatments all within this unique historical site.
FUN FACT: Château de la Fot was built on the “St James’s Way” route of the medieval pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north-western Spain. People still make this journey today, following the medieval iron crosses that mark the way. Do you know where the secret 3ft statue of Christ is hidden? Some say the spirit of an elderly lady is often spotted praying beside it.