One of the most unusual sights in the Dordogne is Maison Forte de Reignac, a half house, half troglodyte cave dwelling set into the cliffside close to the town of Tursac.
As I pulled into the car park I was surprised by the size of this random structure; the house part of it appeared flat against the rock face, but above that you could see people exploring the cave-like areas above. As with many places in the Dordogne, you inevitably have some stairs to climb...not much fun in the blistering heat. There is, however, a more gentle path that winds its way from the car park. Be warned - you need to cross the main road to reach the fort from the car park. It is a busy road and drivers will have had no warning that there are pedestrians crossing.
The ticket office has signs in English, Spanish and French so you should be able to work out what is going on before you reach the desk. Make sure you ask for the guidebook in your own language as signs inside are only in French. Luckily the handy notes that they gave you for the visit had all the information in English. I also spotted a sign that read 'Our cats live peacefully in La Maison Forte de Reignac, thank you to respect it.' - this felt like a little bit of a treasure hunt to me...
As you enter the house through the remarkably normal front door, it all seems rather homely. You pass through the kitchen with the fire glowing (even in summer!), but as you pass through into the back of the house the cave reveals itself and you find yourself standing in a museum of prehistoric instruments that has been carved out of the rock.
The display here includes weapons, toys, kitchen implements and jewellery, as well as some replicas of human skulls all the way from 'Lucy' (Australopithecus afarensis from 3.2 million years ago) through to the modern man. From her, you continue your tour through the house, where there are examples of furniture from the most recent residents in the middle ages. The floors here are particularly interesting as they are made up of small stones set out in geometric patterns. This is a very typical Perigord-style of flooring.
The stairways within the house itself are narrow and lead to various rooms both within the built structure and deeper into the cavernous areas of the fort. You can climb fairly high up the cliff face to the balconies and what have been the look-out areas above. This is not for the faint-hearted though as the view down through some of the small openings is rather frightening.
As well as the stunning views from these upper areas of the fort, you will also find an informative film that tells you more about the area and the building. This is in French but still fascinating to see some of the images and easy enough to follow.
The journey continues through the house, with your handout guiding you from room to room and eventually to very last room which has been made up as the Countess' bedroom. It is quite amazing that this seemingly small structure actually houses a grand hall, an armoury, refectory, kitchens, chambers, chapel, prison cells and even a dungeon.
The entire visit to the Maison Forte de Reignac takes approximately 45 minutes, but I took a little more time as I was enjoying exploring all the nooks and crannies of this incredible structure built into the cliff face. I was however very disappointed not to have seen even one cat on my way round, despite having checked on cushions and seats... Oh well, it's always good to have a reason to go back!
Perhaps one of the most interesting, or disturbing, things about the visit is the ending. An additional museum is available to visit as you exit the area - the museum of torture. Probably best not to take in young children though as it may well be the thing that nightmares are made from. A very interesting and eye-opening display of torture equipment though that is there to highlight the history of torture from the middle ages, as well as educate the public on the use of torture in the world today.
This was certainly one of the most interesting places that I visited in the region, and at just €8 is was definitely value for money. The free parking opposite is also a bonus. The interior offers some cool respite from the hot summer rays and if you happen to be unlucky enough to visit the Dordogne on a rainy day then this is the perfect distraction to get you out of the rain.