Of all the castles in the Valley of the Five Châteaux, here in the heart of the Greater Daglan Area, the one that looks most like it belongs in a fairy tale is Château des Milandes — known best as the former home of singer/dancer Josephine Baker. Here’s a look at it:
Château de Beynac (once owned by Richard the Lionheart) and Château de Castlenaud are both imposing and severe, clearly communicating their military origins. Château de Marqueyssac is known less for the building and more for its huge gardens and lofty views over the Dordogne Valley. Château de Fayrac is lovely from a distance, but it’s privately-owned and closed to the public.
As for Château des Milandes, it’s accessible, beautiful, interesting (primarily because of the Josephine Baker story), and sometimes surprising. It’s located not quite 16 kilometres north of Daglan, or about five kilometres north of Castelnaud.
Two things about the castle are (to me) somewhat surprising. First is that it has quite a good café for a tourist attraction — serving “real food” instead of over-priced hot dogs and so on. In fact, the cassoulet I’ve eaten outdoors on the château’s charming terrace is among the best in the GDA (and I’m pretty much a cassoulet fanatic). The second surprise is that the château maintains an active aviary of raptors (birds of prey) and other birds, and puts on an entertaining 30-minute show for visitors.
My wife Jan and I have been to the château and seen the birds of prey show several times, and still enjoy it. What follows are a few photographs from our most recent visit this summer, starting with a barn owl swooping into view:
And here’s our friend up a bit closer to us in the audience:
The professional falconers who run the show do a good job of involving the audience, particularly children — who can pet some of the birds. For example, here’s one of the falconers showing off a hawk:
And here’s a kestrel, being introduced to members of the audience:
Among the other birds in the château’s aviary is an eagle owl, the largest nocturnal bird of prey in Europe. Here’s one of the handlers showing off the owl:
Finally, here’s the eagle owl in flight:
For the rest of September, the birds of prey show takes place at 11 a.m., and at 3 and 4:30 in the afternoon. In October, it’s on at the weekends only, at 3 and 4:30 p.m. And then, like so many attractions in the GDA, things close down for the winter. So enjoy the birds while you can. Or maybe just go for the cassoulet.