Spinning a good yarn

18 juin 2018

Chateau de Jumilhac isn’t one of the Dordogne’s best known chateaux, but then there are estimated to be over 1,000 others in the Périgord! These range from imposing fortresses used during the Hundred Years’ War to buildings more akin to something you might imagine in a fairytale.

You don’t have to venture far from our properties at Les Milandes to find the nearest chateau. The magnificent Chateau des Milandes is next door to us (the former home of Josephine Baker) and frequently features in top 10 lists of the Dordogne’s best.

Chateau de Jumilhac – gold & alchemy

However, venture further afield from Les Milandes, to the north-east corner of the Perigord Vert and you will find the village of Jumilhac Le Grand. It is home to Chateau de Jumilhac. The village lies within the Perigord-Limousin Regional Natural Park and has long been associated with gold. The mines closed down at the beginning of the new millennium but you can visit a museum dedicated to the yellow precious metal. The museum is located in an ancient winery and it is possible to arrange to go panning for gold (ask at the local tourist office). You never know, you might just strike it rich!

Anyway, back to Chateau de Jumilhac. It was built between the 13th and 17th centuries (it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times) and still contains some original features. It’s classified as an ancient monument and is a mixture of fortress and fairytale.

Like many of the chateaux in the Dordogne, this building formed an important line of defence in the 13th century as the English and French battled over territory. When Richard the Lionheart left to go on his crusade Chateau de Jumilhac was further fortified in an attempt to keep him out.

From the outside it is the roofs that will probably grab your attention. There are different towers which range in size and shape. There are also 3 angels. These are significant as the first Count of Jumilhac was an alchemist, (a forbidden activity at the time). These figures represented masculinity, femininity and neutrality – important states in alchemy. One of the chimney shaped turrets could well have been installed to channel smoke and fumes from a special oven used for alchemy. Stories also abound concerning special symbols within the property (there are guided tours all year round which explain more).

Louise de Hautefort and her secret lover

Inside Chateau de Jumilhac the room that is most interesting is ‘Chambre de la Fileuse’ the spinner’s room. While it isn’t breathtaking to look at, the story surrounding the imprisonment of Louise de Hautefort here is.

Now her husband – the Count of Jumilhac – was clearly not a trusting man when it came to his wife’s fidelity. To ensure that Louise couldn’t meet other men while he was away fighting, she was kept imprisoned in the room. Now that sounds bad enough, but it’s even more disconcerting when you realise that the Count was doing battle for 30 years!

To keep herself busy Louise spent the time painting the walls and spinning. And this is where the Count’s plan was thwarted. It is said that the shepherd who regularly brought her wool was actually her secret lover in disguise and the sewing bobbins which they exchanged contained letters! What became of Louise’s lover is unclear. Stories abound. Did he end up seeking solace in a monastery or was he killed in a duel? One thing is for sure. There is a portrait of Louise de Hautefort (allegedly painted when she was released) in which she is holding a spindle. Some interpret her expression as ‘defiant’!

Chateau de Jumilhac

Gardens at Chateau de Jumilhac

The great outdoors at Chateau de Jumilhac

The chateau’s formal gardens are also well worth strolling around. Here, you will find another passing nod to alchemy with both a ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ garden. There is also a hedge maze and an orangery.

Chateau de Jumilhac is still privately owned, so not all the rooms are open to the public. During the peak summer months evening visits and night tours are available (booking is probably advisable).

Chateau de Jumilhac can also be hired for private events. Just be careful that you don’t end up locked inside!