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Sitting at the confluence of the Dordogne and Céou rivers, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is a medieval town of narrow lanes, stone cottages and ramshackle old buildings. It sat at the boundary of the French and English territories during the Hundred Years War and is dominated by its 12th-century fortress, Château de Castelnaud, which squats on a clifftop above the town. Steep streets lead to the lofty castle from where you’ll get sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

Château de Castelnaud was founded in the 12th century, and was attacked and changed hands on numerous occasions in the following years. During the Hundred Years War the castle owners remained largely loyal to the Plantagenets and Château de Castelnaud became known as the ‘English Castle’. Today, its massive ramparts are just as imposing with additional works over the years offering an insight into French castle history and the evolution of fortifications during the Middle Ages.

In 1442, the King of France ordered a siege of the castle and when it was recaptured he returned it to the Caumont family, its owners since 1368. New defenses were added including a barbican, drawbridge and artillery tower, as well as new living quarters. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Caumonts were a powerful dynasty but they preferred to spend their time elsewhere and Castelnaud fell into disrepair. By the time of the French Revolution the fortress was abandoned and was later used as a stone quarry and as a shelter for Resistance fighters during World War II.

Rescued by Philippe and Véronique Rossillon in 1965, it’s now fully restored. You can tour the guard room and artillery tower, the keep and kitchen, as well as the raised walkway behind the ramparts. Within the 15 m (50 ft) high walls is the protected upper courtyard with its medieval covered well.

Inside, the grand rooms house a Museum of Medieval Warfare with a collection of more than 230 weapons and even some instruments of torture from all over Europe. Along with displays of swords and crossbows of every description, you can see chainmail, daggers, pronged clubs and hammers, and, on the battlements outside, full-scale reconstructions of powerful siege engines such as bombards, trebuchets, mangonels and an organ gun. Archery and catapult demonstrations take place daily and films and interactive screens bring the displays to life.

More sedate is the medieval garden which has recently been added to the estate. From the upper bailey and terraces you can get sweeping views of the Dordogne River in one direction and the Céou Valley in another, taking in La Roque-Gageac and the castle’s arch-adversary, Château de Beynac which lies on the opposite bank of the river 4 km (2.5 miles) downstream.

Steep lanes lead down from the castle to the town and riverbanks. The stone houses here are built in typical local style with steep roofs, wooden shutters and arched gateways. Many are half-timbered or draped in vines and roses adding to the village’s atmosphere. The riverbank makes a good spot for a picnic in summer, or there are a range of cafés and restaurants to choose from.

Best time to visit Castelnaud-la-Chapelle

The castle is open year round but is at its best between April and October when the sweeping views of the river valley are most impressive. From mid-July to August medieval displays and mock battles take place during the day with additional theatrical performances each evening. River cruises and canoe trips are also possible in the summer months.

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