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Forteresse de Berzé - A thousand years of conflict - France

Forteresse de Berzé - A thousand years of conflict - France

  • During an unplanned detour in Burgundy, we came across Forteresse de Berzé, a castle over a thousand years old that sits majestically on a hill with a sweeping view of the wine district.
Forteresse de Berzé

Sometimes you find historical gems by pure chance. We made a spontaneous detour and followed a sightseeing sign during our drive in Burgundy and were greeted by Forteresse de Berzé – a castle over 1000 years old. A place that is well worth stopping at between visits to the area's vineyards and the famous monastery Cluny Abbey.

Cows graze below Forteresse de Berzé
View of the landscape of Burgundy

High on a hill in the heart of the Mâconnais wine district is one of the best-preserved castles in Burgundy – Forteresse de Berzé (or Château de Berzé as it is sometimes called). The castle is located in a historically strategic location between the former rivals of the County of Mâconnais and the Duchy of Burgundy.

The view from the top of kullen is miles wide and the location well chosen. Here the invading enemy could be spotted from afar. The view alone makes this place an unforgettable stop on your journey through Burgundy. From the castle terraces you are greeted by miles upon miles of landscape with geometric patterns of vineyards and forest over rolling hills. A landscape fit for a 1000-piece puzzle.

We pay entry and take one of the few wrapped brochures in English for a self-guided tour. There are guided tours, but none in English on this day.

Behind three thick walls, thirteen towers and two dungeons, the castle has been protected against the enemy over the years. The castle was originally founded as a simple wooden castle in the 9th century to protect the monastery in the nearby town of Cluny, but was rebuilt in 1229 into a fortress through a loan from the monastery. The castle needed to be strengthened in order to be a powerful and deterrent part of the external defense for the thousands of monks who lived in the monastery.

Entrance to a castle with pinnacles and towers, surrounded by an avenue

Many hundreds of years of conflicts, battles and sieges have since haunted the castle. During the 11th century, the castle was the subject of many battles and conflicts between noble families, then came the devastating Hundred Years' War and after that violent conflicts started in the Huguenot Wars in the second half of the 16th century. The 16th century was a time that not only included religious conflicts but also great internal political differences. Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots) fought and France was on fire. Religious freedom was a hot potato and the Catholic Church was afraid of losing its power.

One of the biggest conflicts the castle has seen occurred during the Huguenot Wars in 1591, when the Catholic Duke of Nemours attacked Forteresse de Berzé with his army. With 1200 men, 400 horses and a series of portable cannons, the duke overcame the fortress after a two-month siege.

Details of a facade of a castle in Burgundy

After the attack and banishment of the castle's owner, the castle was left to its fate for several hundred years. The castle fell into ruins and building materials were looted and reused for other buildings in the area. The turning point only came in 1817, when descendants of the very first owners bought the castle. Everything has since been carefully renovated and in 1983 the castle was designated by the French authorities as a "Monument Historique".

Forteresse de Berzé looks out over the landscape from its hill

The castle today consists of well-preserved towers, courtyards, a chapel and terraces with beautiful gardens. The family that owns the castle lives here today, but as a visitor you can walk around relatively freely in the gardens and in large parts of the castle. For those who feel a little hungry, there is also a small cafe here. Thanks to the visitors and the small admission, the family can continue to restore and protect the old family castle.

We walk around the gardens and in the open rooms of the castle for 45 minutes and we also have time for an ice cream break in the summer heat before we jump into the car again with destination Abbaye de Cluny. A well worth stop that gave us a little more understanding of the area's complex medieval history.

How do you find it? Forteresse de Berzé?

Forteresse de Berzé located in southern Burgundy, west of Mâcon and near Cluny.

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The castle is open to visitors during the summer months every year. In August, a popular medieval market is held with everything from knights to archery tournaments.

In high season there are guided tours, but otherwise you can also guide yourself around the castle through a brochure that you get at the checkout. Dogs are welcome.

Expect the visit to take around 30-45 minutes if you are self-guided.

Do you want to read more about what you can see and do in Burgundy? Look into my Burgundy side!

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