Dwight Peck's personal website

Kristin's visit: Southwest of France 2009

Maddening months at work, trying to migrate a very large Web site to a different technology, and no end in sight. It's time to take a break and, as luck would have it, Kristin's coming for a visit. We'll go to France for a while.

Castle-hopping in south central France

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

The Château d'Anjony, looming out of the rain.

Kristin looming out of the rain.

We've been instructed to come round by the servants' door. It's the 6th of June 2009, and the servants are just inside, behind the cash register.

In the village of Tournemire, just north of Aurillac, in the heart of the Massif Central, Anjony is one of those castles with the family still in residence. And quite understandably, they don't want a horde of sweaty tourists just off the long-distance tour-bus laughing and hooting and kicking a football around through their more commodious 18th century digs -- thus, the servants' entrance -- but now we're up to the tops of the towers and viewing the countryside and a lot of chimneys.

The place was built by Louis d'Anjony, a friend of Joan of Arc's apparently, on the king's orders -- characteristic of the small mountain fortresses stuck up all about in the 15th century to try to bring the lawless regions under the king's writ.

That's the family's house, seen from their defensive towers -- ironically, large sweaty groups are allowed, under strict guidance, to proceed down the main approach in a group; it's only we more casual, and less sweaty tourists who must dodge the downpour along that servants' path on the right.

The story we're told is that, halfway between these towers and the village of Tournemire just up the lane, there was once another castle owned by the Tournemire family, and for centuries the Anjonies and the Tournemires made Hatfield/McCoy raids upon one another from about fifty meters away. Presumably the Anjonies prevailed, because we saw no trace of the Tournemires' formerly lofty towers.

But it was hard to see very much in the rain.

We're passing by the village church but no time to pause now, there are more castles to be seen.

The Château d'Anjony with a grazing animal of indeterminate species. This is a castle distinguished from the many other castles by its closely grouped defensive towers and its Web site.

The Château d'Anjony as a gang of young Tournemires might have seen it many years ago, as they crept up the hill, closer and closer, giggling and poking one another onward, preparing to block up the sewage system for a lark.

The Château de la Vigne, just west of Salers still in the Cantal departement of the Auvergne, was originally Merovingian -- Pepin the Short built the original "castrum"! That fell apart eventually, as did the Merovingians, but the family of Scorailles, supposedly descended from the Roman Scaurus Aurelius -- well, okay -- Crusaders and very important people, etc., took the site in hand and built the present fort beginning in about 1470.

In their heyday, the Scorailles cut an impressive figure, so impressive that Rousseau came to visit in 1767. (Perhaps on the lam again.) In the 19th century the castle passed away from the family -- and during the Second World War it saw service as a sanctuary for refugees from the Germans and as an airdrop site for resupply of the maquis resistance.

In 1950, however, the old pile was regained by George du Fayet de la Tour, descended on the distaff side from the original Scorailles family, and it's now occupied by Bruno and Anne du Fayet de la Tour -- it was Anne who showed us all round the place, in perfect English, with many a charming anecdote.

Nowadays, there are several beautiful old rooms that can be booked for the night, a massive collection of model automobiles and airplanes that have emerged from Mr du Fayet de la Tour's childhood hobby run amok, and (high up in one of the towers) a collection of poupees, or dolls, from all over the world, contributed in large part, it seems, by visitors who've been charmed by the place and sent along a doll in national dress when they got home. The Web site is charming, too -- the car and doll collections would be very interesting to hobbyists in those fields, but perhaps not otherwise.

Somebody's trying to get government permission (not this person, that's Kristin) to dig out an American-style mountaintop-removal strip mine just across the valley, and when you visit you'll have the opportunity to sign the petition opposing it.

Now we're back in Salers after a long and wet day, dreaming about dinner. The place we tried out last night had all the specialties of the terroir, most incredibly the truffade, and a host who poured out cognacs as we discussed English and French words for food. The stumper was "buckwheat" (grano saraceno), but we finally got it.

The Maison de la Ronade, our home away from home in Salers, though we enter through the 18th century door, not this 15th century one.

The 18th century entrance. This our last night here. We'll be shipping out tomorrow, and going west old man. To Bourdeilles in the Périgord region.

1. Salers
2. Conques
3. Château d'Anjony
4. Bourdeilles
5. Brantôme & Castles
6. Oradour-sur-Glane
7. Périgueux
8. St Céré, Montal
9. Rocamadour
10. Château de Castelnau
11. Beaulieu
12. Puy-de-Dôme

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 27 July 2009, 15 August 2013.

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SW France, June 2009

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