CASTILLON: THE DORDOGNE IN THE GIRONDE
Neighbouring St Emilion in the direction of Bergerac, the Castillon region belongs to the wine-making terroir of Côtes-de-bordeaux. It is steeped in history, as hinted by the suffix in its full name, “Castillon-la-bataille” (“Castillon-the-battle”).
A little out of the way, Castillon is often overlooked by tourists who are in a hurry. It doesn’t have the highest of anything, nor the largest, or indeed any distinctive speciality, if we don’t include its lovely wine, but even that is somewhat eclipsed by the notoriety of its neighbours’ in Saint-emilion. Among this simplicity is some of the sweetest countryside, with the river Dordogne at its epicentre. Upstream, with a nice little café terrace and a canoe and bike hire place, the port of Pessac-sur-dordogne is a good starting point for an excursion. Staying on the left bank, the road climbs up towards the plateau- where you can always make a detour to the Anglo-saxon Château Carbonneau and the picturesque villages of Gensac and Pujolsbefore rejoining the shore at Flaujagues and its small number of charming houses. Still heading downstream, an authentic guinguette (a traditional open-air bar/restaurant) provides a musical setting at the foot of the bridge which takes you to Castillon. The small town is typical of its territory. There’s no specific sensational feature that grabs you, but there is all the same a rich heritage enveloped in a sweet countryside atmosphere of tranquility. Enjoy a baroque church, a former 18th century hospital that is now the town hall, a 13th century doorway (the last remaining vestige of the town’s fortifications), then the tour is fairly short before arriving at the Maison du vin for their fine selection of bottles and their varied programme for exploring the appellation (meet the winemakers and taste their wines on Saturdays, “creative complements” lunches, horse rides, bike rides, kayak trips or chateau tours followed by wine tastings). Take the road to the stadium and go into the bell-shaped tree-laden passage to Château Franc la Fleur. In addition to the 1.5 hectares of organic growth, the park contains half a dozen luxurious gardens. In contrast to the town, on the hills 8 km to the east, there is another refuge whose aura across the centuries and across borders: la tour de Montaigne (or “Montaigne’s Tower”). It was here that the 16th century philosopher wrote most of his ‘Essais’ and
lived here day and night for the final two years of his life. Another 4 km away, other architectural elements from across the centuries still survive. On the site of Montcaret, the remnants of an aristocratic Gallo-roman residence and its mosaic tiling have been put on display by the Centre des monuments nationaux. You can finish your journey at the discrete monument dedicated to John Talbot, the lieutenant general of Guyenne (which belonged to England at the time) who died during the battle that signaled the definitive end of the Hundred Years War and the return of Aquitaine to the French Crown. The infantry and cavalry can still be seen in combat today under a fury of cannonballs, stunts and special effects during a reconstruction of the Battle of Castillon which, beyond the spectacular weapons, also evokes the daily life of this period in a lighter manner.