The Château (April, May & Sept daily 10am12.30pm & 35.30pm; June daily 10am12.30pm & 36.30pm; July & Aug daily 10am1pm & 37pm; Oct Sun 35.30pm; last entry 30min before closing; €3.50) is a model of medieval defensive architecture and was endlessly fought over because of its commanding and impregnable position in a region once rich in silver and copper mines. You can clearly see all the devices for restricting an attacker once he was inside the castle: the covered passages and stairs within the thickness of the walls, the multistorey positions for archers and, of course, the most magnificent all-round view from the top of the keep. In one of the chambers of the keep you can see the stone portraits of St Louis, king of France, his brother Alphonse de Poitiers and Jeanne, the daughter of the count of Toulouse, whose marriage to Alphonse was arranged in 1229 to end the Cathar wars by bringing the domains of Count Raymond and his allies under royal control. It was Alphonse who "modernized" the castle and made the place we see today. Signatures of the masons who worked on it are clearly visible on many stones.
Below the rather dull central square stretches the faubourg, a sort of elongated square bordered by houses raised on pillars as in the central square of a bastide, which reduces to a narrow waist of a street overlooked by more ancient houses and leading past a fountain to the castle gate. At the foot of the castle, in the centre of what was the medieval village, stands the very solid-looking church of St-Jean, which the villagers of Najac were forced by the Inquisition to build at their own expense in 1258 as a punishment for their conversion to Catharism. In addition to a lovely silver reliquary and an extraordinary iron cage for holding candles both dating from the thirteenth century the church has one architectural oddity: its windows are solid panels of stone from which the lights have been cut out in trefoil form. Below the church, by a derelict farm, a stretch of Roman road survives and, at the bottom of the hill, a thirteenth-century bridge spans the Aveyron.
The tourist office is on the faubourg (AprilJune & Sept MonSat 9amnoon & 2.306pm; July & Aug MonSat 8amnoon & 2.306.30pm, Sun 10amnoon; OctMarch MonFri 9amnoon & 2.306pm, Sat 9amnoon; tel 05.65.29.72.05). At the eastern entrance to the faubourg the modern village balances on the shoulder of the spur round an open square where you'll find the Oustal del Barry hotel (tel 05.65.29.74.32, www.oustal-del-barry.com; €5570; closed mid-Nov to mid-March and Mon & Tues out of season), whose restaurant is renowned for its subtle and inventive cuisine (menus from €18.30). Below Najac is a campsite, Le Païsserou (tel 05.65.29.73.96 or 04.73.34.75.53 off season, fax 05.65.29.37.10 or 04.76.34.70.94 off season; closed OctApril), with a gîte d'étape (same phone nos; open all year).
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