La Foret des Singes

La Foret des Singes

Just above the lovely medieval town of Rocamadour is the Foret des Singes – Monkey Forest – and it’s a treat for the whole family.

The 20 hectare park is home to 150 free roaming Barbary Macaques. This is an endangered species and the park is part of an important conservation project that aims to educate the public and increase the wild population by releasing groups into their natural environments.

Family of 3 Macaques sitting under a tree in RocamadourThe Macaques are free to roam throughout the 20 hectares of woodland and there are no cages. They live as natural a life as possible while protected from predators. A well marked path leads you through the forest and there are several feeding areas where the apes gather to “people-watch” and ask for the pop-corn you are supplied with on entry. At the entrance you are also given clear instructions on how to feed and interact with the Macaques. Over several visits I have found the Macaques to be very “polite” – no snatching or grabbing and very child-friendly.

The park is well staffed with knowledgeable guides who are happy to answer questions and give an enjoyable presentation in french and English. They explain the habits of the apes, the importance of their conservation and the part the park plays in a wider European project to increase the population in the monkey’s native North Africa.

The setting is very peaceful and the forest is well-established and overlooks a lovely landscape. The monkeys are free to approach, or not, and don’t appear at all stressed by their audience. The footpath is well marked and you are asked to stay on it and not approach the animals. If you are lucky enough you might see some of the babies – adorable but carefully supervised by their families and the attentive staff.

There is a picnic area separate from the monkey enclosure, a small shop selling souvenirs, drinks and ice creams, and toilets – no frills but clean and functional. The large car park has some shaded areas and the path is wide and generally flat and shouldn’t prove a problem for small children or the elderly. The walk is an easy stroll that would take about an hour and a half allowing for pauses to feed the residents. If you are a particular fan you could spend longer – there is no time limit as long as you are out of there by closing.

Who is this attraction suitable for?

Short answer – everyone. What’s not to enjoy about a pleasant stroll through a lovely environment looking at cute animals. Children in particular love it but it’s also a favourite with adult visitors. My only words of caution would be that it’s a popular attraction and can get quite busy in the summer months – beat the rush, go early in the day before the heat builds up and the monkeys retire for a siesta.

Make a day of it:

Depending on the time of year and the ages of your party I would allow two hours to enjoy your visit.

The Park is just above Rocamadour so it would be obvious to team it up with a visit the town which itself is a “must-see”. If you feel like making a day of animal attractions the Birds of Prey Park – Rocher des Aigles is just down the road and is also well-worth a visit. A very different experience but another winner with the whole family and the free flight displays above the Valley are stunning.

You can get full information on both attractions, opening hours and prices at: La Foret des Singes and Rocher des Aigles.

Le Moulin du Saut

Le Moulin du Saut

We are surrounded by beautiful countryside and there are any number of lovely routes – perfect for a short stroll or a full days hike for a serious walker. One of my favourites is the route around the Moulin du Saut which stands on the very pretty Alzou River.

The walk is a loop of approx 5 kilometres and is an easy route of approx 2 hours. There are some climbs but nothing too taxing and I would say that the walk is suitable for anyone of reasonable mobility but I would recommend at least a pair of trainers.

Small-waterfall-on-the-route-of-Moulin-du-SautThe original Mill dates back to the  thirteenth or fourteenth century when it was built by permission of the Lord of Gramat. By the sixteenth century the mill was in ruins but was rebuilt between 1736 and 1739 by Raymond de Fouilhac, Baron de Gramat. According to contemporary reports, it consisted of four pairs of grinding wheels driven by the waters of Alzou channeled via three conduits. After the French Revolution the mill changed hands several times until World War I. In 1924 the Mill was purchased by an industrialist from Périgueux who transformed it into a power plant with a modest output but in 1925 the building was heavily damaged by a fire.

 

Wooded-trail-to-the-Moulin-du-SautThe Mill is now owned by the nearby town of Gramat and is cared for by an Association – The Friends of the Saut and the Alzou Valley, which ensures the upkeep, maintenance and preservation of the ruins and the remarkable natural habitat. In an area officially recognised for the quality and sensitivity of its environment and its natural beauty the Mill has been made safe and is now a lovely walk through a beautiful landscape. There is no “mill” as such to visit although the ruins are interesting, this walk is all about the scenery.

The route is very easy to follow with a set of printed instructions but there are also guided visits and animations throughout the summer – 05 65 53 40 00 for details.

Who is this attraction suitable for ?

Anyone of reasonable mobility can enjoy this route – there are some gentle climbs but nothing too taxing. I would recommend you wear at least trainers – open toe sandals or similar would not be practical.

Make a day of it:

Depending on the time of year and the ages of your party I would leave two – two and a half hours for your visit – longer if you want to take a picnic with you.

The walk is between the towns of Rocamadour and Gramat so you could easily combine with a trip to either town. You could also combine with a visit to the Moulin de Cougnaguet, a working fortified mill dating back to 1292. If you have children with you you might like to make a detour to La Ferme Borie D’Imbert – a goat farm and producer of the traditional Rocamadour cheese. The visit is free and the children can see the goats and other animals and watch how the cheese is produced. Word of warning – if you visit in the summer there is a definite “goaty” smell. There is a small shop on site where you can buy the cheeses and other local products.

Sarlat

Sarlat

If you are in the Dordogne, do not miss a visit to Sarlat. A very attractive and well-preserved town in the south-west of France, Sarlat is one of the most visited towns in the country for a reason.

The History of Sarlat.

The lovely streets and skyline of SarlatThe town grew during the 9th century around a Benedictine abbey. The abbey grew powerful and prosperous and the town benefitted and developed until in 1299, Philippe le Bel granted  the town liberty from the church.The war-torn years of the middle-ages saw Sarlat develop further and become an important market town with many of the fabulous buildings you see today built to house the town’s rich merchants. Like most of the region, the Hundred Years War bought both prosperity and great hardship as the French and English fought bitterly for every inch of land.

Many of the beautiful castles that surround Sarlat are a direct result of this long-running conflict and add so much to the beauty of the area. The town enjoyed many peaceful years and continued to quietly prosper with new buildings influenced by the Renaissance style. This period of peaceful prosperity was rudely interrupted by The Wars of Religion with Sarlat siding with the Catholic church by the end of the conflict.

The years of the French Revolution bought great change and Sarlat lost its bishopric but forged a role for itself as a local centre of commerce. Happily, its distance from main transport routes “protected” Sarlat from development and over-commercialisation and in the early sixties Sarlat benefitted from a new law designed to protect the national patrimony or heritage of French towns. Many of Sarlat’s fine buildings were carefully restored and the town now has the highest density of ‘Historic Monuments’ and ‘Classified Monuments’ of any town in France.

Sarlat richly deserves its official classification as a ‘Town of Art and History’ and  ‘Plus Beaux Detour’ – identifying towns that deserve a visit for their beauty. The historic centre is also under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage Classification.

Visiting the Town.

Sarlat is justifiably famous for its medieval beauty and that fame attracts thousands of visitors particularly during July and August when the town is packed. If you get the opportunity to visit out of high season – grab it, if you are here in the summer then try and make a visit during the morning when it’s quieter, or in the evening and enjoy the street theatre and entertainers.

Sarlat CathedralThe town centre is not huge and you can comfortably walk around and take in the notable points but much of Sarlat’s charm lies in the atmosphere and charm of the winding streets. The tourist office, which is by the Cathedral, offers short Guided Tours in English or has a printed walking tour which will guide you around the town and explain the highlights. This is a small town and you might decide to simply explore by wandering – you won’t go wrong if you follow the Rue de la Republique which runs the length of the old town, and the charming narrow streets which meander on either side. The cathedral is to the south-east of Sarlat, with the attractive Place de Payrou and Hotel de la Boétie. North east is the lovely Place de la Liberté and the wonderful winding street of the Rue des Consuls.

Acrobats and street theatre performing in the streets of SarlatDo take the time to visit the Cathédrale St-Sacerdos. Starting life in the 1100s as the church of Sarlat Abbey the original building was redeveloped in the early 1500s, and remodelled again in the 1700s, so it’s a charming mix of styles. The Cathedral has a great atmosphere and it’s a lovely place to sit down in the cool for a few minutes, especially welcome if you are visiting during the summer months. Up past the cathedral and the Jardin des Enfeus, the ancient abbey cemetery,  is the unusual “La Lanterne des morts” – the lantern of the dead – which may have been built to honour a visit by St Bernard, a founder of the Cistercian order, in 1147.

Statue of geese in the centre of Sarlat

If you have a head for heights take a trip in the glass lift housed in the bell tower of the restored church of Sainte-Marie which has been cleverly converted into a charming covered market. The view is stunning and gives you a totally different perspective of the lovely winding streets and rooftops and the countryside beyond. The lift is open April through December and you can buy your ticket at the base of the lift or in advance. The ticket gives you a precise time and is only valid for that time – saves you queueing but don’t miss your slot, they are non-refundable.

From the cathedral explore the Place du Peyrou and the ‘Hôtel de La Boétie’, birthplace of the philosopher and humanist Etienne de La Boétie. Cross the Rue de la Republique to the west side of town and take a look at the Hotel St Clar and the remaining part of the ancient defensive ramparts. Wander northwards past the convent of Ste Claire and the Chapel of the Penitents Blancs before crossing back over the Rue de la Republique to the Rue des Consuls with its impressive mansions and the Place du Marché des Oies, the goose market with its much photographed statue of geese in the centre, and stunning architecture.

Take the time to visit the Manoir de Gisson – two linked stone townhouses once owned by one of Sarlat’s leading families and now a quirky and interesting museum, beautifully furnished, with some fabulous and occasionally bizarre “curiosities”. It’s a great way to pass an hour or two and the guide book is available in English so you can really appreciate the exhibits – even the shrunken heads and unicorn horn!

Sarlat by night, with crowds enjoying the gas lighting and restaurants.Circling back towards the cathedral is the Place de la Liberté – Sarlat’s main square. Many of the lovely stone buildings now house bars and restaurants and this is the perfect spot to enjoy a drink or a meal and soak in the atmosphere. If you visit on a summer’s evening set aside some time to sit and enjoy the free street performances – the environment, the architecture and the entertainers create a fabulous atmosphere and it really is a great evening for the whole family. Sarlat is lit by gas streetlights and it helps create a magical “feel” to this lovely town.

The Saturday and Wednesday markets in Sarlat are among the most popular in the region and it is a lovely market, with colourful stalls of local produce spreading through the winding medieval streets. If you are early morning people then a visit is well-worth the effort but the market, particularly on Saturdays, is hugely popular and parking can be very difficult especially during the summer months. There is a shuttle bus and I would suggest that you “park and ride” rather than spend hours trying to park.

Who is this attraction suitable for?

Sarlat is a lovely town and has something for everyone whether you are visiting as a couple looking for a quiet stroll through medieval streets and a romantic meal or a family with children. The summer months are busy but even then you can still enjoy the setting and the atmosphere. We would highly recommend the market, and an evening visit is a whole new experience with the gas lighting and the street theatre. Parking can be an issue and the park and ride shuttle bus does make that much easier. There are any number of restaurants and bars catering to all tastes and budgets so a morning visit and then lunch might be the best option particularly if you want to avoid the heat of the afternoons.

Make a day of it:

Depending on the time of year and the ages of your party I would leave at least half a day to explore properly.

Sarlat is surrounding by attractions so you can very easily combine a visit with a trip to a castle, a garden or an activity suited to your party. We highly recommend the  Château des Milandes , Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and the Gardens at Marqueyssac.

You might choose to come back from Sarlat via La Roque Gageac, a stunning little village on the banks of the Dordogne, and take a river trip on the Gabarres – suitable for all the family the river boats are one of the most relaxing ways to see the river and some of the castles.

If you have children and want to burn off some of that energy, you will pass two popular Aerial Parks on the way back to Souillac from Sarlat. They offer a range of “courses” suitable for different age groups. I prefer the Monkey’s Forest which has 10 courses and lots of smaller obstacles that will keep the whole family busy. Many of the staff do speak some English and are very helpful. There is a small snack bar selling drinks and ice-creams but nothing substantial so don’t count on eating there after your adventures.

Marqueyssac – The Dordogne’s Hanging Gardens

Marqueyssac – The Dordogne’s Hanging Gardens

This is a truly lovely garden, the views and setting are outstanding and it’s very child friendly. Listed as a National Historical Monument, 6 kms of immaculate paths edged with hand-pruned topiary sit on top of cliffs with one of the best views in the Dordogne.

Around the garden, hand pruned box hedges edge the paths Near the Chateâu the hedges are artfully clipped into elaborate swirling designs and include paths of clipped rosemary and santolina. Moving into the woodland there is less sculptured walk, running nearly 150 metres above the river. The views from the belvedere might just be the best in the Dordogne.

 

 

The paths are organised into three well laid out circuits – each a little different. Do all three or pick the one that suits you best. They are all beautifully presented with resting points, interesting little features and the views are stunning – it’s easy to understand why this garden is one of the most visited in South-West France.

The visit can be done guided or unguided. I prefer the unguided option unless you are an avid gardener and want details. You can set your pace and linger where you like and there is a guide book in English to help you along. There are also signs along the paths explaining the planting and the park’s setting. Along the way there are two play areas with cute wooden play houses and a children’s circuit designed just for them.

If you have adventurous children older than 6 years old they might like to try the Rock-Climbing school. You would struggle to find a prettier spot to give it a go. The free school is available every morning from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm through July and August excluding Saturdays. The cliffs have been specially fitted out for introductory rock climbing and the staff are fully qualified. If you want to give it a go the children will need to be wearing sensible shoes.

Climbers on the cliff top walkway above the Dordogne

If you are feeling as adventurous as the children then give La “Via Ferrata de Marqueyssac” a try. It’s a 200 metre long aerial walk way in the cliff side approx 100 metres above the Dordogne. Open mornings and afternoon, throughout the summer, it’s open to adults and children over the age of 8 and at least 1.30 metres tall. It’s not too physically challenging but I would recommend you wear trainers and have strong nerves.

 

Looking for something a little less physical then try the Art & crafts workshop “Curious of nature”. Open throughout the summer months and on bank holidays, the children make small projects like masks, mobiles, dolls, origami, and take them home as a souvenir. Another freebie and perfect for smaller children.

The gardens at dusk with the paths lit by candles

 

Every Thursday evening throughout the summer the gardens are lit by candlelight. The setting is gorgeous and musicians play in different parts of the garden to add to the whole experience. The park looks positively magical and it’s a fabulous place for an evening picnic.

 

There are good facilities on site and there is a very nice Cafe serving light meals and drinks. It wouldn’t be my choice to feed a starving family but they do serve fabulous ice creams and you can sit in the shade and enjoy the views.

Who is this attraction suitable for ?

The gardens are stunning and would be a winner with any keen gardener but honestly, the setting is so perfect, it’s a winner even if you aren’t a keen gardener. The child friendly activities make it perfect for families – you really can’t go wrong.

The garden might not be my first choice for anyone with mobility issues but you can still see quite a lot without walking too far and during the summer there is a little shuttle to the Belvedere which would cut down the amount of walking so I wouldn’t rule it out totally.

If you are visiting during July and August remember that this is a very popular attraction and there are likely to be lots of visitors, so visit early or go expecting it to be busy.

Make a day of it:

Depending on the time of year and the ages of your party I would leave two hours for your visit – longer if it’s the summer or you want to do any of the rock climbing or children’s workshops.

The garden is close to Sarlat so it would pair very well with a trip to the town. Alternatively you could visit the neighbouring Chateau des Milandes or Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. Castelnaud and Marqueyssac have a twin ticket option so you can visit the two at a reduced price and you don’t have to do the two visits on the same day. The twin ticket doesn’t work for the Thursday evening at Marqueyssac unfortunately.

You can come back from Marqueyssac via La Roque Gageac and take a river trip on the Gabarres – suitable for all the family. Alternatively plan your trip for a Thursday, visit one of the other local attractions during the afternoon and then onto Marqueyssac for the Candlelight Tour.

You can check the garden’s own website for pricing and events information in English at marqueyssac.com

Château de Castelnaud la Chapelle – Castle of War

Château de Castelnaud la Chapelle – Castle of War

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is a lovely village sitting at the confluent of the Ceou and Dordogne river. The village of typical stone houses and little winding streets is very pretty but its main draw is the magnificent castle that stands guard above it and the Museum of Medieval War.

A view of the Chateau Castelnaud la ChapelleBuilt in the 12th century the castle was originally held by a Cathar supporter, Bernard de Casnac, a castellan with a particularly cruel reputation and much geared by the local catholic population. In 1214 de Casnac and his family were forced from the castle by the Catholic knight and Albigensian Crusader Simon de Montfort who established his garrison there. Not to be outdone, de Casnac returned within the year to reclaim his castle and to make his point he hanged the soldiers garrisoned there.

The Middle Ages passed in much the same way. These were not peaceful years for this now sleepy area and the castle changed hands several times as the English and French fought constantly and ruthlessly to control the region. At the end of the Hundred Years War the castle was repaired and upgraded with bigger and better accommodations but the focus of this large and imposing castle was always defence. During the 16th century Wars of Religion the resident family of the Caumonts declared for the Protestant faith and their Captain, Geoffroy de Vivans, fought so ferociously that no one dared attack the castle.

As was so often the case, the French Revolution brought neglect and virtual ruin to the stronghold with villagers breaking up parts of the building to use the stone as building material. This carried on all the way into the 1960s when the Castle was finally listed as a Historic Building and renovations began. The castle now welcomes over 200 000 visitors a year, and is one of the most visited Castles in France.

Largely restored, although mostly not furnished, you can explore many of the castles huge rooms giving you some interesting insights into life during the Middle Ages. You can walk around unaccompanied or as a guided tour and I would suggest you need about an hour to explore the open rooms.

Full Size Trebuchets on display at Castelnaud in the Dordogne

It is worth visiting the castle just for the stunning views of the châteaux of Beynac, Marqueyssac and the beautiful  village of La Roque-Gageac but the views aren’t the big draw, that is the castle’s fascinating Museum of Medieval Warfare. The Museum has a huge and gruesomely interesting collection of over 250 medieval weapons. The large displays are well presented with good explanations, detailed illustrations and different media to help you put everything into context.

Outside on the battlements the displays continue with full size copies of medieval war machines – trebuchets, giant crossbows, perriers and mangonels.

The Castle is open throughout the year and has lots of activities specifically geared towards children – it’s well worth checking their website before hand for their current timetable of events and displays. There is a real focus on making a visit an experience rather than a tour, with demonstrations of elements of medieval life, battle re-enactments etc, costumed characters, sword fighting lessons for the children, medieval games, a Cathar mystery tour, even scheduled firing of the trebuchet.

A display of medieval weapons at Castelnaud

You can take an unguided tour and visit at your own speed. A free booklet, available in English, explains the castle and exhibits and there is an additional “games” booklet specifically for children. There is a guided tour, to be arranged in advance and subject to an additional charge, out of season. During the summer the guided tours are free and there are some English speaking guides.

 

There are also night time visits during the summer months with additional “theatrical” entertainment.

 

Life size display of medieval armour in the Museum of Medieval Warfare at Castelnaud la Chapelle

 

My tip – eat before you go, there are some nice, reasonably priced choices down in the village. Alternatively, take a picnic and enjoy it by the river – it’s a beautiful village and you will be spoilt for choice. There are toilets at the castle but I suggest you go before you start the tour – trailing back to the loo and then trying to find your group again is a pain, especially in the summer when the castle is very busy.

 

Who is this attraction suitable for ?

This is a real family pleaser and children love it. For the adults it’s probably not the castle for you if you love to admire medieval furnishings and magnificently decorated chambers – this castle is all about the art of war. That said, the Weapons Collections are interesting, the setting is stunning and they make a lot of effort to make a visit entertaining.

I would not recommend a visit for anyone with any mobility issues. There is a lot of walking in you hope to see everything,  several climbs – particularly if you walk up from the village and they really didn’t build medieval castles with friendly staircases. Also a no-no for anyone with a push-chair!

If you are visiting during July and August remember that this is a very popular attraction and there are likely to be lots of visitors, particularly during the afternoons so visit early or go expecting it to be busy.

Make a day of it:

Depending on the time of year and the ages of your party I would leave three hours for your visit – longer if it’s the summer and you want to watch the entertainments.

The castle is very close to Sarlat so it would pair very well with a trip to the town. Alternatively you could have a “castle day” and visit the neighbouring Chateau des Milandes. The two are as different as chalk and cheese so there is no worry of duplication. This castle is always a winner with younger visitors so should leave them in good spirits if you decide to team this visit with one to the nearby Gardens at Marqueyssac which are gorgeous. Castelnaud and Marqueyssac have a twin ticket option so you can visit the two at a reduced price.

You can come back from Castelnaud via La Roque Gageac and take a river trip on the Gabarres – suitable for all the family. Alternatively try a visit to Castelnaud in the afternoon and then an evening trip into Sarlat – there are some lovely family restaurants and the street entertainers during the summer give the old town a lovely atmosphere.

You can check the castle’s own website for pricing and events information in English at castelnaud.com

Château Des Milandes – The Glamorous Castle.

Château Des Milandes – The Glamorous Castle.

The Chateau des Milandes is one of the prettiest castles in the Dordogne and, unlike most of its neighbours, some of its most interesting history is recent. The larger, more imposing castles with their military history are fascinating but this picture postcard little castle stands out because of the remarkable and inspiring life story of its most famous owner – Josephine Baker.

Built in 1489, this beautiful building is a combination of Renaissance architecture and Gothic features. Home to the lords of Caumont, a wealthy family of note, the Chateau was abandoned after the Revolution and fell into disrepair until it was “rescued” in 1900 by Charles Claverie, a wealthy industrialist. Between 1900 and 1914 the house got a full re-vamp – the beautiful stained glass windows were saved, and an entire wing, towers, gargoyles and balconies were added. A winery, overlooking the valley was built to help finance the project, and in 1908 a celebrated french landscape architect was given the task of creating the beautiful gardens.

The fabulous Josephine Baker

A black & white picture of Josephine in her famous banana skirt
Josephine in her famous banana skirt

The Castle sat quietly until 1947 when the celebrated american cabaret artist Josephine Baker made it her home. Born in 1906 in Saint Louis, Missouri, to an African American mother and a white father, Josephine endured a difficult childhood in a city marked by racial segregation. Travelling to France in 1925 as part of a Cabaret act, the “Revue Nègre” played to packed houses at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées where Josephine caused more than a few raised eyebrows with her revealing costumes and saucy performances. Eventually headlining with the famous Folies Bergère, Josephine took a leading role wearing pink feathers and her famous belt made of bananas – which is displayed in the Castle.

Josephine, who by this time was internationally famous, married Jean Lion, a wealthy French industrialist, and took French nationality in 1938. The marriage was not to last although it did enable Jean Lion and his Jewish family to find sanctuary in America, no doubt saving them from the concentration camps. Josephine played a very real part in resistance to the war and was recruited in 1939 by the Free French Forces. Taking full advantage of her international celebrity status Josephine acted as both courier and informant and even used her music acts to send coded messages. These efforts did not go unnoticed and Josephine was later awarded the Rosette de la Resistance and the Croix de guerre and was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur.

In 1947, Josephine married again – this time to Jo Bouillon, a famous orchestra conductor, in the beautiful chapel at Milandes. Sharing the dream of a “Global Village” the couple were determined to show the world that children of different nationalities and religions could live and thrive together. Together they adopted 12 children from around the globe to create a « Rainbow Tribe ». Initially a huge success the happy extended family hit problems as they struggled to fund their dream. Not a natural business woman, overly-generous and often the target of unscrupulous contractors Josephine was crippled by enormous debts when Jo finally left her.

In addition to building her own Rainbow Family Josephine became involved in the American Civil Rights after 36 New York hotels refused the couple reservations because of her colour. She was so upset that she wrote articles about segregation in the United States and gave speeches at Universities in the South. Her reputation as a crusader grew and in 1963, Josephine  spoke at the famous March on Washington at the side of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

No doubt these activities helped to distract Josephine from trouble brewing at home and in 1968 the Château was put into administration to be sold to the highest bidder, despite earlier efforts to save it. In an attempt to delay the inevitable Josephine barricaded herself into the castle kitchen – her removal by force left her in hospital. A heartbroken Josephine settled in the Côte d’Azur with the help of her friend Princess Grace of Monaco and in an attempt to repay her debts went back to the stage. The new show and was very well received but sadly, after only a few performances in Paris, an exhausted Josephine was found unresponsive in bed and was pronounced dead on 12 April 1975 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

In 2012 the Château was given the French Heritage classification of  “Maison des Illustres”, a “House of the Illustrious”, in tribute to an exceptional woman.

The Castle makes much of Josephine’s role in its history and the inside is beautifully presented with the rooms maintained in fabulous art deco style – the bathrooms are stunning!. There are large displays explaining the history of her left and lots of her costumes and dresses are on display – including the bananas!. You can take a tour – the guides are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and do speak english or you can use the “audiotour” and go round at your own pace. I really would recommend you take or the tour or at least pay the extra for the audioguide – the explanation of the exhibits and their story really helps you appreciate Josephine’s fascinating story.

Chateau des Milandes and its beautiful gardens
The castle sits in beautiful gardens.

Outside the gardens are beautiful and are listed as an Historic Monument. The formal grid style garden is surrounded by immaculate but less formal parkland. The gardens have been recently improved and they have added some lovely water features – even if gardens aren’t your thing they are well worth a stroll around.

 

 

 

 

 

If you are hungry there is a very nice Brasserie in a converted castle building – lovely setting, reasonably priced, a good choice of fresh dishes but can be a little busy in July and August although it is reserved for Castle visitors so doesn’t get over-run.

Chateau des Milandes Birds of Prey Display
Entertaining & educational Birds of Prey display.

 

For the children there is a very well presented and entertaining Birds of Prey Show which is mostly in French but honestly it didn’t seem to matter. You can appreciate the birds without understanding all the commentary. The setting, just in front of the Castle, really adds to the experience.

(Tip – if you can be a little early for the show grab yourself seats in the shade of the castle – it might not look like the best view of the birds but you really feel the sun sitting there for a few minutes).

 

 

 

Who is this attraction suitable for?

I would say everyone. It’s not got the same child appeal as some of the larger, medieval castles – the kids do love those medieval weapons – but Josephine’s story is brought to life and all but the very youngest children do seem interested. There isn’t a huge amount of walking and it’s all on good surfaces. The Birds of Prey display is a winner with the whole family and the children do enjoy the castle and gardens.

Make a day of it –

I would leave 2 1/2 hours for a visit to Milandes, including the Birds of Prey display – you might need longer if you have children interested in the birds.

The castle is very close to Sarlat so it would pair very well with a trip to the town. Alternatively you could have a “castle day” and visit the neighbouring Castelnaud la Chapelle. The two are as different as chalk and cheese so there is no worry of duplication. If you are having to persuade the children to suffer yet another “old building” you might be able to convince them with the promise of a trip to one of the aerial centres – you will drive past two on the road to Sarlat so maybe a morning at Milandes and then tree climbing on the way home. You can come back from Milandes via La Roque Gageac and take a trip on the Gabarres – suitable for all the family. Alternatively try a visit to Milandes in the afternoon and then an evening trip into Sarlat – there are some lovely family restaurants and the street entertainers during the summer give the old town a lovely atmosphere. If you feel like pushing the boat out there are some excellent higher-end restaurants – a little pricey but you’re on holiday!