If you are as deep in the Alpes as we are, there is not much else to do then mountain sports. And for us that means walking or hiking. However, since we are here with our two kids, one of which is not particularly a fan of walking, making a hike everyday is out of the question. In preparation of this vacation we made therefore a list of 'other things to do'. It is not a very long list, but hopefully it will get us through the vacation in relative harmony.
One of the items on the list is the castle of Queyras. As our eldest is a fan of castles, no holiday is complete without at least one visit to a castle. In the part of the Alpes where we are, there are not many castles. Probably the area was too difficult to travel in the Middle ages or it was too difficult to uild castles here, or just generally it was not worth the trouble. The castle of Queyras is the nearest castle from where we are, yet it is still an 80 minutes drive.
The Queyras is a high altitude valley, only reacheable through the gorge of the Guil, the col d'Izoard or the col d'Agnel. Because it is so isolated it was one of the last mountain ranges of the Alpes to be opened to larger scale tourism. The most direct route from where we are staying leads us right across the col d'Izoard. Anyone who is interested in cycling and in the Tour de France is familiar with this col. The road up is not very broad and winds its way upwards through numerous hairpin bends. The views are beautiful and once you reach the col itself, the view is outright breathtaking.
Château Queyras was build in the Middle Ages to protect the valley and its inhabitants from invasions. The building of the castle was finished in 1265. It was build on a rocky sput that overhangs the a wild and narrow gorge in the river Guil. From there it dominates the valley and it is impossible to get close to it without being seen from the castle. It was the perfect protection for the valley in the middle ages.
Of course, in later times, and certainly with the advent of canons, its location was less then ideal. From the surrounding hills it was relatively easy to blow the castle to smithereens, so the militairy engineer Vauban build several fortifications to strengthen the castle against enemy attacks. His work was quite succesfull and the chateau became the most important fortification in the region. In fact, because of these alterations by Vaudan, the chateau was never conquered nor destroyed. It is a prime example of military constructions through the ages, from the fortifications to withstand an uphill battle to the alterations to withstand an attack with remote canon fire. Thus was its succes that it was still in military use during the Second World War.
There is no guided tour around the castle. Instead you walk around yourself and read the information about the castle that is provided in every important part of the castle. As every castle the roch on which it is build becomes part of the construction. Both as foundation, as building material and as walls and ceiling when parts of the rock are excavated.
Often stairs are hacked out of the rock to quickly get to lower parts of the castle without being seen by an enemy.
In several parts of the castle the former use of a room is illustrated by creating a scene as it might have been. Here's the former bakery.
It is a fascinating place to walk around and enjoy all the quaint halls and bends and ports and corridors.
It is a fascinating place to enjoy the view on the surroundings and to let your mind wander about how live might have been in ages gone.
Château Queyras is well worth the visit and if you take your time to wander around you have a good two hour's view on a way of live long gone.
(All images were made by me)