Friday, August 5, 2016

Roquetaillade: Family home for a millennium

Roquetaillade is one of the most visited castles in the region.
It is located about an hour southeast of Bordeaux.

Roquetaillade has been owned by the same family for around a thousand years. This tidbit is what I will remember most from my recent tour of Château Roquetaillade, one of the most visited castles in the Bordeaux area.

Roquetaillade means “carved in rock.”

Roquetaillade’s original”fort” was built, probably by Emperor Charlemagne, on the site of prehistoric grottoes in the 8th century. By the Middle Ages, the expanded and improved fort had become an important fortified town and castle.

Roquetaillade was restored and enhanced by Viollet-le-Duc in the
19th century. The project took 15 years.

Century after century, Roquetaillade passed down through the generations. Family names changed a few times because of marriages. From the 10th century, the family names in turn were: Lamothe (500 years), Lansac (150 years), Labiorie (50 years), Mauvezin (50 years) and Baritault (200 years to present).

The Old Castle at Roquetaillade dates to the 11th century.

A combination of diplomacy, cleverness and timing saved Rocquetaillade from destruction during the Hundred Years’ War and the French Revolution. In 1864 the Mauvezin family commissioned architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc to restore and enhance the château. Viollet-le-Duc was the head of the Neo-Gothic movement in Europe. His most-famous projects in France include Notre Dame de Paris, Vezelay Abbey, Carcassone and Château de Pierrefonds. Of his work at Rocquetaillade, Viollet-le-Duc wrote, “… there are no civil servants on my back.” Hence, the architect, aided by his associate Edmond Duthoit, was free to put into practice all his theories, which were, at the time, being criticized in other parts of France and Europe.

There’s a goat in the moat! His name is William.

Today, visitors can enjoy an hour-long guided tour of the grounds, chapel and a half-dozen fully appointed and well-tended rooms, including a kitchen that is the castle’s only heated room and is still used used by the family. My favorite room is the Pink Room, which has a fireplace featuring a rat curled at the Virgin Mary’s feet (to protect residents from the plague) and a secret shout-out from Viollet-le-Duc to his Republican brethren in the form of bleu, blanc et rouge angel wings.

Part of the ramparts still stand at Roquetaillade.

No photos are allowed inside because Rocquetaillade is a private residence. If visiting in the afternoon, extend your visit to include the Metairie of Rocquetaillade, and get a taste of what it was like to live on a 19th-century farm.

Several of Château Roquetaillade’s original 130 arrow slits are seen
in this detail photograph.

Rocquetaillade is located 8.5 km south of Langon near the village of Mazères in the Gironde department. Admission is 9.50€ adults/ 6.50€ students and children. Admission to the Metairie (farm museum) is an additional 1.50€. Tours are in French with a printed English translation provided. English tours can be arranged in advance. In July and August, the château is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; in September, October and from Easter to June, the château opens at 2:30 p.m. daily; and from November until Easter, the château is open only on Sunday afternoons. The farm museum is open from 3-7 p.m. every day in July and August. Check the website here for hours, or call

The Mauvezin coats of arms include a swan, a lion and cows.

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