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Duras country

Wine and windmills in Duras country

A charming bastide dominated by a medieval fortress in the heart of historic Aquitaine, Duras is renowned for its wine and its hospitality. Celtic tribes first lived here in hill forts, and Duras comes from an old celtic word for a fortified place. The wine, too, has its origins in Gallo-Roman antiquity and by the 8th century Côtes de Duras was equivalent to a local coinage, used in lieu of taxes to pay the land-owning monks of La Réole abbey.

Almost the only point of agreement between Henry VIII, Francis I of France and successive Popes was the quality of Duras wines, especially merlot and sauvignon, which grew in both quantity and reputation over the centuries as the vineyards spread across the valley of the river Dropt. In 1873, when the sap-sucking insect phylloxera attacked the vines, many local growers in the commune of St-Sernin saved their valuable grapes by the desperate measure of flooding them. Côtes de Duras eventually recovered, and in 1937 the region was among the first to receive the AOC classification, which guarantees the authentic origin of the wine.  Duras has several wine festivals and fairs, while more than 100 vineyards welcome visitors and many organise wine-tasting evenings. Local wines are also available at attractive prices in the market held every Monday morning, which also offers a wide selection of local produce, including wild mushrooms, as well as cheese, paté, ham, game, fish and homemade bread.

The fortress dates back to 1137, the year Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future king of France, Louis VII, when many French nobles were granted concessions to build in the province.  However it was not until the 14th century, after the de Goth family, relatives of Pope Clement V, had acquired the castle, that it became a formidable edifice with eight towers and a great hall more than 100 metres long and 30 metres wide. During the Hundred Years’ War this home of the dukes of Duras changed hands many times, and was taken by the Earl of Derby in a surprise attack of 1345. Badly damaged during the French Revolution, when many priceless manuscripts and tapestries were destroyed, the fortress was acquired in 1929 by an American, Victor-Hugo Duras. He claimed to be a descendant of the earlier dukes, but in common with many previous noble residents soon ran out of money and quietly abandoned his plans. The local commune bought the site in 1969 and have been painstakingly restoring the castle ever since.

Besides its perched fortress, the region of Duras has much more to offer. D’Allemans-du-Dropt is a village of great charm and character, with a curious hexagonal pigeon loft and a church whose frescoes date back to the 15th century.  The roman bridge at nearby La Sauvetat-du- Dropt is a wonderfully tranquil place, where the water rustles gently through the water lilies massed against its ancient arches. Lavoir de Loubès Bernac takes its name from the communal clothes washing centre that still survives and is said to date from Roman times; it also has lovely fountains and gardens. Mills, both wind and water, abound. The windmill at Villeneuve-de-Duras dominates a landscape of flourishing vineyards while the watermill at St- Pierre-du-Dropt is an enchanting spot.

Several local streams flow into the fresh water Lac St-Sernin, which has a sandy beach, safe swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and many activities for children, including a large water slide. Horse and bike riding and even hot air ballooning are popular, with an abundance of bird and wildlife to see in the fertile countryside. Wild deer and boar are plentiful and hawks soar menacingly in the azure blue sky. 

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Views of Château de Duras
© CDT47 & J.C. Amelin

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