Splendour and misery of Chateau de Cadillac – Meanderings through France n° 195
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
If Cadillac is a name known worldwide thanks to the famous car brand founded in Detroit in the USA in 1902, it nevertheless first is a lovely French village on the bank of the Garonne River. Its wines and its castle made the name of Cadillac renowned way before the birth of car industry. A 40 minutes drive will take you from Bordeaux to this beautiful area for a one-day tour between vineyards and culture.
The foundation stone of Cadillac castle was laid in 1599. It was built for Jean-Louis de Nogaret de la Valette. Born in Gascony in Southwest France in a family of the minor nobility, he made a successful military career during the religious wars of the 16th century. Seductive and charismatic, enterprising and energetic, proud and arrogant, he soon joined the restricted circle of King Henri III. This “effeminate” king is known for having close friends called “mignons” and Jean-Louis de Nogaret was one of his favourites, soon becoming his indispensable right-hand man. Created Duke d’Epernon he became immensely rich and powerful.
After Henri III’s death he served his successor Henri IV although they didn’t get on very well together. In 1610 when Henri IV was stabbed in his coach in a Parisian street by Ravaillac, the Duke d’Epernon was there and was later criticised for not deflecting the murderer’s knife. Louis XIII, son of Henri IV, nevertheless trusted him and he led for him the repression of the insurrection of the Huguenots. Fallen from grace he died in 1642 at the grand old age of 87.
The Chateau de Cadillac also had an eventful life. Its majestic main courtyard was initially surrounded on three sides by elegant Renaissance wings and four corner pavillions. The castle really was grand and impressive until the Duke’s death. Sold several times, fallen into neglect, its pavillions and main wings were taken to pieces in the middle of the 18th century. Sold, their stones were used to build houses in the surroundings. Seized during the French Revolution it was left abandoned before being turned into a prison during the 19th century. Two new wings that we can still see today are then built to extend the prison. It’s been a prison for women until 1952 when it was finally returned to the Ministry of Culture.
After extensive campaigns of restoration the castle has regained its past glory and is now open to the public. The French-style ceilings with their beautiful painted panels, the rare ornate inner shutters, the monumental fireplaces and a impressive collection of tapestries of the 16th and 17th centuries bring back to life the splendours of the Duke of Epernon. The painful history of the castle has not been forgotten and on the third floor under the eaves several cells where prisoners were being locked have been restored and can be visited. A temporary exhibition is dedicated to Henri IV (until 29 September 19) and you will be able to learn more about this French King that still is today one of French people favourite ones.
More at: www.chateau-cadillac.fr/en/
Wine tourism at Chateau de Portets
At only 12 km from Cadillac you can go to “Chateau de Portets” and enjoy a true wine experience. Vines have been grown in this area since the Roman occupation 3000 years ago. First a medieval castle, the Chateau de Portets went through successive renovations and now is a beautiful wine estate surrounded with 30 ha of vineyards. It belongs to the Theron family since 1956. Today Marie-Héléne Yung-Theron is in charge and has created an interesting visitor centre where you are welcome to discover the estate and its wines through an interactive experience. Led by a high concern for environmental respect Marie-Helene and her team take good care of the vines with organic farming methods.
The estate produces white (Semillon and Sauvignon varieties) and red wines (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties) and is located on the left bank of the Garonne in the Graves appellation. English speaking tours are organised every day. You can thus discover the castle and its cellars and taste several wines and leave with your souvenir tasting glass, not to forget a photocall souvenir. (12 Euros per person). You can also enjoy lunch or diner with a wine and food pairing made with local produce from the market and the Portets’ wines. (20 to 35 Euros). Children are not forgotten and can go on a “Scavenger Hunt” during which they learn more about the chateau history and the wine making process. The hunt ends with a grape juice tasting while their parents can enjoy a wine tasting. (2 Euros per child).
More at www.chateaudeportets.fr/?lang=en
Text & Photos ©Annick Dournes