Virginia Woolf visits Montaigne’s Tower

On holiday in France in 1931, Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard experienced the worst April weather for 50 years.  Crossing at night on the car ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe on 16 April they would return on 30 April.  In her diary, Woolf describes spinning along the wet roads, breaking their journey in Saumur and La Rochelle on the way to the Dordogne. 

The Woolfs stayed for a couple of nights at Castillon-La-Bataille in the Gironde where the weather improved and became more spring-like. Virginia wrote many letters and postcards to friends describing how much she was enjoying her travels in the region.

In a letter to Ethel Smyth she describes staying overnight at a rural inn in Castillon with ‘a lovely river, poplars and vineyards‘ and visiting Montaigne’s tower, ‘a bare, ragged room with three windows on top and his old saddle, a chair and table …..’, an experience which impressed her and which she commented on to all her correspondents during the visit.

Virginia Woolf visits Montaigne’s Tower | Dordogne |France
Virginia Woolf mentions Montaigne’s saddle in her correspondence

Montaigne’s Essais

The Woolfs were particularly interested in Montaigne’s essays.  Leonard regarded Michel Eyquem de Montaigne as the first civilised modern man and Virginia kept a copy of the essays on her bedside table. Her essay on Montaigne had been published on 31 January 1924 as a leading article in the Times Literary Supplement.

In her diary she describes her visit to the Château de Montaigne, 7 or 8 miles to the west of Castillon, on 23 April. From Bergerac she sent a postcard of the Château to Mary Hutchinson sending ‘thoughts of Montaigne whose tower we have just seen …. ‘.

Virginia Woolf sent a postcard from Bergerac in April 1931

The Woolfs would have passed through the bastide of Sainte-Foy-la-Grande on their way to Bergerac, where they lunched on pâté and eggs and drank Monbazillac. They continued on to Périgueux and Brantôme where Virginia wrote to her sister, Vanessa, about her excitement at being in Montaigne’s tower, her enjoyment of the countryside and her desire to live in France …’it is a perfect country’.

Virginia Woolf in the Périgord

Virginia Woolf visited the Gironde and Dordogne in April 1931

The places mentioned by Virginia Woolf in her correspondence:

  • Castillon-La-Bataille (A)
  • Montaigne’s Tower (B)
  • Bergerac (E)
  • Périgueux (F)
  • Brantôme (G)

The places that we recommend including on this road trip into the Périgord:

  • Sainte-Foy-La-Grande (C)
  • Monbazillac (D)

For more information about Virginia Woolf and her journeys in France, visit:

International Virginia Woolf Society

Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain

Société des Études Woolfiennes