We are now well into autumn in the Greater Daglan Area — days are cooler; shops, campgrounds and restaurants are closing for the season; traffic is lighter; and tourists are increasingly rare. Tree leaves have turned from green to golden and then to brown, and now are simply succumbing to the force of gravity. (Pure poetry.)
But a few weeks ago, on a wonderfully sunny day, my wife Jan and I decided to take our visitors — her cousin David and his wife Christine — to a place that I’ve now decided is probably the No. 1 tourist attraction in our immediate area: Château des Milandes.
You reach it by heading north from Daglan, passing through St. Cybranet. Then you continue north when you reach Castelnaud. (Bear left, instead of turning right and crossing the Dordogne.) The road winds along until you reach the (well-marked) turn for the château.
Here’s a view of the castle, as seen from the grounds a bit below the main level:
A lot of factors contribute to the attractiveness of Château des Milandes. First, it combines a connection to medieval times (when it was built) with more modern times. Most famously, it was the home of Josephine Baker, the black American singer and dancer who went on to become a French heroine.
Her story is told beautifully as you walk through the château — which is filled with her furniture and other belongings — with an audio guide that’s available in several languages.
Then there are the raptor shows, which take place several times a day (in peak seasons) and which provide a close look at a range of hawks, owls and falcons. Like, for instance, this owl, taking flight from a post and flying in front of the spectators:
Or this bald eagle, flying in front of us across an open patch of lawn:
At the close of the show, one of the keepers mingles with the crowd, answering questions and providing a close look at one of the birds, like this one:
The château is also home to a large expanse of beautiful grounds, made all the more attractive by some new water features. Here is a view looking down a hill that now includes some clever water cascades:
And here’s a closer look at one of the water cascades:
An obvious characteristic of the château and its grounds is the high quality of construction, finish and maintenance — the edges of planted areas are sharp, the materials are first-rate, and a lot of thought has gone into the design of the grounds. Here, for instance, is a water spout placed in the centre of a large circle with seats around the edge:
Finally, and somewhat amazingly, the château offers a really good brasserie — not a fine-dining place, but a large café that has a full menu, a decent wine list, good service, and reasonable prices. (This is in sharp contrast to some North American “attractions” where lunch is an over-priced hot dog and a soft drink in a paper cup.)
At our lunch, seated at a shaded table on the large terrace, Jan and Christine both had duck; David had a steak; and I had the southern French classic, cassoulet. Delicious!
If you’re headed this way for a vacation next year, and haven’t yet visited Château des Milandes, I recommend it. As a plan of attack, so to speak, I recommend visiting in the late morning; that way, you can enjoy lunch on the terrace; tour the château; and enjoy the raptors show. Be sure to visit on a nice day; you won’t want to sit on the brasserie terrace or watch the birdies in the rain.
For more detail, consult the following: http://www.milandes.com/en/