We’ve heard reports of storms in northern Spain (and a tornado in Valencia!) and so have decided to hang around this area for a few days . The weather is sunny and has been reaching 18C during the day – D has actually said twice now that he is ‘officially hot’, which might not sound like much to those of you who don’t know him so well, but believe me, it is significant.
We decided to head to Villebois Lavalette – the picture in the aires guide looked nice and it has free wifi at the tourist office. It is a wonderful village, so we’ve stayed for two nights.
Calling it a village may give the wrong impression. It is the main administrative centre for the region (and France does like it’s administration) so has lots of facilities. A brand new ‘mediatheque’ (which is basically a more modern version of a bibliotheque, or library), a college, primary school, sports centre, hypermarket, two bakeries, a butcher, two cafes, a restaurant, a pharmacy, a couple of banks etc etc. Doesn’t sound much like a village does it? How about if I tell you that it has a population of 750? Sound more like a village now? There are the usual municipal parks and, of course, an aire.
There is also a huge amount of history. The village is perched on top of a hill, with views across the Dordogne valley in one direction and Angolueme region in the other and lies on the Boisne Way, an ancient Roman road between Perigueux and Saintes – this made it an important strategic position. We were lucky enough to have a private tour of the village and chateau this morning with the lady from the tourism office – normally you must have a minimum of 8 people in a group, but they are keen to encourage winter tourists so were happy to take us around.
A covered market has existed in the village since the 12th century – it is still used for the market on Saturdays and for events throughout the summer. It is a huge space (in the middle of the photo above) and was nearly torn down in the 19th century – half the village wanted rid of it and half wanted to keep it. Luckily it took 100 years for agreement to be reached and it was saved!
The tour lasted two hours and included historical nuggets too numerous to mention, but the icing on the cake was the chateau. It has an amazing past and consists of the remains of four separate castles from a tower built on an artificial hillock in AD 1000, through a 12th century fortified keep to a 15th century castle complete with drawbridges and a 17th century classical residence. It has also been a prison, a gendarmerie and a school. At each stage in its development, the previous buildings and structures have been either adapted and extended, or virtually destroyed – a major fire in 1882, caused it is believed by explosives kept in the gendarmerie, destroyed much of the 17th century residence.
The end result is a fascinating mix of the different periods of architecture, adapted to suit the need at the time. For example, the defensive wall was built in the 12th century and designed so that arrows and other missiles could be showered down on attackers from above. By the 16th century, gunpowder was in use and the threat was from artillery fired at the base of the walls – they were reinforced by filling in the courtyard behind to a depth of 3 metres in the hope that any damage caused would not be enough to bring the whole wall down.
All of this history has been discovered in the last 10 years. Until 1980, the chateau was in a terrible state of repair and no-one knew, or cared, much about it. Successive private owners have spent successive fortunes on repairs and the current owner (a presumably very successful estate agent from Bordeaux) has allowed archaeological digs which have uncovered layers upon layer of ditches, hidden doorways, buried walls etc. The most exciting discovery was made about 5 years ago – a 30m long vaulted stone room, buried in the earth. It took historians some time to discover that this was part of the 12th century keep – in order to build it as quickly as possible (essential when you could come under attack at anytime), the walls were built around the existing hillock, dating from 1000. The idea was that, once the walls were up, the hillock would be dug out from the inside, effectively creating the interior space. For some reason, this wasn’t completed and the hillock was built over again. The room they discovered in 2006 was part of the lower level of the keep, still filled in with the hillock from 1000. It had never been used, or seen, since being built 800 years ago!
This has been a long post, so I’ll leave you with a weird happening. On the first day we were here, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to an English guy who said ‘I know this will sound strange, but did you buy this motorhome in Redditch?”. Yes, that sounded strange, but what is more strange is that we did indeed buy the van in Redditch. How did he know that? His mum owned Hans before we did – he lives in a house on the corner of the aire and she used to visit regularly and park Hans where we were parked. He said it messed with his head, getting home after having a heavy night to see his mum’s old van parked outside! What a small world.
Great to be reading the blog again and LOVE the photos – makes me want to be there of course! Happy travelling. What an amazing coincidence with the previous owner of Hans!
Absolutely fabulous & utterly amazing.. I;d love to be there but 7degrees
is too chilly