Ghosts, gold and autoroutes - enjoy heritage weekend

Chateau at dusk
Chateau de Puymartin in Dordogne has its own ghost and a horror tale to match

Thousands of sites open for visits and many of them are free – and most have fascinating tales

Visit a haunted château or have a go at panning for gold this weekend if you join in the activities for the European Heritage Days, September 16 and 17, which will cover 17,000 monuments and 26,000 events across France.

Among them is the Chateau de Puymartin at Marquey, near Sarlat, Dordogne, where the guided visit takes you up a stone staircase into a room at the top of the north tower – a room with a shocking history.

For 15 long years in the 16th century a woman, Thérèse de Saint-Clar, was imprisoned there by her husband who came back from war earlier than expected and found her in the arms of her lover.

He killed the young knight and locked his wife in the tower. The door was bricked up, food passed through a small trap door and her only comforts were a meagre fire and a straw mattress. Even on her death she did not leave the room as she was walled up there.

No wonder then, that the legend goes that at around midnight on some nights her ghost, the Fantôme de la Dame Blanche travels through the castle.

ghost against a wall
The Dame Blanche at Puymartin

If you are lucky, as I was, the guide who takes you into the room will be the chateau owner himself, Xavier de Montbron, who tells the tale in a spirited fashion. He says he has never seen the ghost himself, but his father took it very seriously and reported several sightings.

The tale itself is chilling enough. Horrible to imagine, when you stand in the cold, stone room that a woman had to live there, alone, until her death.

Dating to the 13th century, the original chateau building was destroyed during the Hundred Years War and rebuilt around 1450 by Radulphe de Saint-Clar. In the 19th century it was restored by one of his descendants, the Marquis de Carbonnier de Marzac and the same family still owns it.

Chateau de Puymartin is open this weekend 10.30-18.00, entry €8.50, free for children. 

The theme of the Journées du Patrimoine 2017 is youth and heritage as the new Culture Minister, Françoise Nyssen says it is one of her priorities to make children and young adults aware of their heritage. In this context there are many schools open over the weekend as well as numerous activities for children. Many visits are free or at a reduced rate.

At the Abri de Laugerie Basse, les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne for example, there is a hands-on workshop at 16.00 on Saturday and Sunday for children to build a shelter using the same materials and techniques as prehistoric man. Reservations on 05 53 06 92 70. Cost: €2.90 Visits for adults and children to the site which has two prehistoric shelters is half price for the weekend

Visits are not limited to traditional historic sites. You can also discover law courts, take part in guided walks, listen to concerts, attend a workshop to try out new skills such as carving stone or working on an archaeological dig.

Even motorways are included. Vinci is opening its motorway centre at Ussac, near Brive-la-Gaillarde, Corrèze where you can find out about motorway safety and meet the men in yellow jackets who work on the motorways and who will have a road safety circuit for children.

It is free but visitors must sign up on the Vinci Autoroutes site by email.

The heritage weekend also means visiting places not normally open to the public.

In Périgueux, Dordogne, the local history and archaeological society is organising visits to the catacombs. Reservation is necessary on 05 53 06 95 88. Do not forget to take a torch.

group of people bending over stream panning for gold
Panning for gold at La Chalard means finding the deep spots where heavy gold would end up

You can even have a go this weekend at panning for gold at Le Chalard, Haute-Vienne. Gold was first mined in the area 2,500 years ago and a gold mine existed in the area up until 2002. The museum Maison de l’Or, will be open on both days 9-18.00, Entry free.

For €10 you can have a go at finding gold yourselves in the local river accompanied by a professional. Tiny specks of gold as well as other semi-precious metals such as garnet and titanium can still be found in the shingle on the river bed.  Reservation advisable on 07 82 29 08 50.

The full list of events and visits throughout France on the website click on Programme (top left) where you can find a map and detailed list of all the events in your area.

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