The Route Richard Coeur de Lion is a circuit of chÃ¢teaux, churches and cathedrals mostly in the Haute Vienne (87), Dordogne (24), CorrÃ¨ze (19) and Charente (16) departments of France.
There are about 16 chÃ¢teaux and fortified churches on the route, including some splendid examples and some that are ruins of a former military importance.
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Today, I visited 3 of the chÃ¢teaux in a morning – yes, they are that close together that I could have easily visited half a dozen in a day (although there is no hurry).
The chÃ¢teau de Montbrun is everything that a medieval chÃ¢teau should be, which helps fuel the imagination of how it was in the 12th century when it was built by Aymeric Brun (Bruni) after his return from the crusades – it was used in the opening scenes of “les Visiteurs” where it was photo-montaged onto a rocky outcrop.
I have known the area for many years as my parents-in-law live 6 kilometers away and have many a tale to tell of the past 75 odd years of the life around the chÃ¢teau.
The site was once a Roman encampment, and locals still today, refer to the “Camp de CÃ©sar” and although the chÃ¢teau looks like it has just jumped out of medieval times, the truth is that it has been rebuilt and changed – the oldest part being the central square tower “le Donjon” (1179) – some of the remodelling being intentional and some being due to the damage suffered during the 100 years war, by the English in 1385, although it had been in the possession of the English.
The chÃ¢teau, as we see it today, was the work carried out primarily during the 15th century by Pierre de Montbrun (Pierre Brun, Archbishop of Limoges).
The next stop on the way is at the chÃ¢teau de CromiÃ¨res in Cussac, just a short drive away, leave Montbrun and drive towards La Chapelle de Montbrandeix, then follow the signs for Cussac, the chÃ¢teau is on the road leaving the village in the direction of St Mathieu.
The chateau dates from the 13th century, although much of what is seen today dates from the restoration and renovation works carried out in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a dependance of the chÃ¢teau de Rochechouart and belonged to the de Pompadour family up to the early 14th centurt.
The chÃ¢teau is not open to visitors, who are left to admire it from the gates – in fact it was classed as a “seigneurie” up until the 15th century, when it then was classed as a chÃ¢teau. In 1520 Pierre de Selves acquired the chÃ¢teau and started modernising it.
The chÃ¢teau fell into the hands of the de Bermondet family, who still live there.
From the outside we can still see the fortified barns that flank the property, complete with “meurtriÃ¨res” where crossbows were shot at attacking enemies.
I was told a story of a woman who was caught just after the second world war at the ChÃ¢teau, who had been collaborating with the German occupiers, and who was to be lynched by a mob for her wartime activities – her head was shaven and she was released – her family still live nearby.
Moving on, we take the road towards Oradour sur Vayres and St Basile, passing through Vayres les Roses to Rochechouart.
Here there is an imposing chÃ¢teau dominating the village with its medieval streets – some houses dating back to the 17th century.
The name of the town comes from two Latin names joined together then Francified : Roca meaning a rocky outcrop or a natural defensive site, and Cavardus, the name of the nobleman who first created a fortified settlement here in the year 1,000 AD – and not anything to do with the meteorite that created a 21km crater in the surrounding countryside 214 million years ago, which was only discovered as late as 1967.
The chÃ¢teau dates from the 12th century, although the majority of what we can see today dates back to the 15th century – the drawbridge, the entrance and one of the towers date from the 13th century – there were attempts to demolish the chÃ¢teau during the French Revolution.
The family name of the Rochechouarts is one of the oldest noble families of France, and was a branch of the Viscomtes de Limoges up until 1470.
The Viscomtes of Rochechouart have a coulourful past, many were killed in historical battles.
Alix, the wife of AymÃ©ric IV was accused of adultery in 1205 and shut in a cage with a lion in one of the towers of the chÃ¢teau – but the lion, instead of eating her, fell asleep at her feet – she was then cleared of the charge.
The Viscomtesse Marie Victoire was arrested and guillotined in 1794 during the French Revolution.
The chÃ¢teau was bought by the state in 1836, under the reign of Louis Philippe and restored to its original state – today it houses the sub-prefecture and a gallery of contemporary art – it is also possible to visit the chÃ¢teau.
There are many more things to see in Rochechouart – including the church of St Sauveur with its corkscrew spire, dating back to an original building of 804 AD.