What better way to visit the dukedom of Uzès than by starting with the Duché d’Uzès? This imposing Ducal castle can be found on the Place du Duché in the middle of a maze of cobbled little streets. Uzès became the first duchy of France in 1632. The castle, built on an ancient Roman camp, has military origins. Even though there is no war to fight today, the family’s motto still stands strong: ‘Ferro non auro’, or ‘by iron and not by gold’.
The Tour Bermonde
The keep’s tower, the ‘Tour Bermonde’, the ramparts and the corner towers served to withstand attacks from enemies. However, the Duché was never attacked, and that’s why it is so well preserved. You can visit the exterior and climb the Tour Bermonde on your own (13 euros pp). Or you can go on a guided tour to see part of the furnished apartments (20 euros per adult, 7 to 14 euros per child from 7 to 16 years old). As I had to wait a little before my tour began, I started to climb the 135 steps to the top of the Bermonde Tower. From here, I had a magnificent view over beautiful Uzès, rising in the middle of a Mediterranean scenery of vineyards, garrigue and olive trees.
Other areas that can be visited on your own are the ghost room (‘salle du fantôme’), with an explanation about the nightly visitors of the castle, the garden and the 800-year-old wine cellar. Don’t be surprised to find big bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne in this cave. One of the Duchesses, Anne de Rouchechouart de Mortemart, was a heiress to Madame Clicquot Ponsardin, founder of the famous champagne house.
Ferro non auro
The guided tour started by admiring the Renaissance façade in the courtyard of the Duché d’Uzès. Although the Tour Bermonde dates from the 12th century, the castle has elements from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Since the first Duke of Uzès, Antoine de Crussol, the Ducal castle has changed ownership twice. Only in 1951, the Marchioness of Crussol re-acquired the Duchy of Uzès from a vocational school. As she didn’t have enough funds of her own, she managed to receive help from the Ministry of Fine Arts. Also, the vocational school had to pay compensation for the deplorable state they have left the castle in. After two centuries of neglect, the Marchioness of Crussol’s strong will brought back the Ducal castle in family hands. A fine example of living up to the family’s motto of ‘Ferro non auro’, I’d say!
Duke of Uzès
Since then, the family castle has been completely renovated, and is still home to the Marchioness’ grandson. Jacques de Crussol d’Uzès, the present Duke of Uzès and the first Duke and Peer of France, is the 17th duke in line to the throne and takes great care in preserving his heritage. Which is quite remarkable and a costly business in times like these. The guided tour reveals some of the family’s chambers as well as their private chapel. After a few rooms and numerous portraits of former Dukes and Duchesses, I was dazzled with names. On their website, you can even check the exact genealogy. To me, it was a fascinating visit that piqued my curiosity and made me want to discover more about the dukedom of Uzès.