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Ménessaire Castle – Morvan

History of the house

A 17th century castle flanked by 5 medieval towers and furnished Paris-style, in the heart of the wild open spaces of Morvan

Lost in a deep green valley in Burgundy, who expects to come across the majestic frontage of Ménessaire castle, with its beautiful imitation brick façade? Four towers with pencil-sharp roofs and stripes of yellow tiles lend an unexpected dignity to this fortified aristocratic residence in the country. Now fully restored, it serves as a setting for events and stays in history.

Menessaire_Castle

© Château de Ménessaire

Since 1090…

What did it look like, this old fortified house of the Lords of Ménessaire, which stood proudly dominating this land of pastures and Celtic forests since the 11th century? Did it have a traditional medieval “motte” (area of high ground surrounded by a moat), or perhaps it already boasted a stone keep? Few reminders of this era remain but it is known that Guillaume de Ménessaire left for the second crusade, preached by Bernard of Clairvaux in Vézelay in 1146.

Menessaire_Castle_North_facade

© Château de Ménessaire

The construction of the castle itself, with its moats and four corner turrets took place in the 13th century. The site was carefully chosen, being at the foot of the village, near various sources and sheltered from prevailing winds. The sturdy bastion entrance, visible on the north flank with its gateway once protected by a drawbridge, gives us a good idea of its defences.

Rising from its ashes like the phoenix

In 1414 the property passed into the hands of the de Clugny family in the middle of the Hundred Years War. This was a particularly troubled period because in 1444 the castle fell victim to the “écorcheurs”, one of those bands of mercenaries who offered their services to the highest bidder and resorted to pillage whenever they felt out of work. This fortified castle was apparently also razed several years later by the troops of Louis XI, at that time at war with the Burgundians.

Menessaire_Caste_Nicolas_de_Fussey

Nicolas de Fussey

Once more ravaged by fire in 1560, the ruined building was finally rebuilt and transformed into a stately home in the 17th century. The Lord of Ménessaire Nicolas de Fussey, chamberlain to the Duke of Lorraine, Lieutenant of the King’s armies and Governor of Roussillon, obtained for his land the status of a marquisate from King Louis XIV. His new castle reflected all the prestige incumbent on such a status.

Sold as a public property at the French Revolution, the site was once again engulfed in flames in 1801. Reduced to ruins, it was finally bought in 1972 by Bernard Mainçon. An interior designer and passionate about the region and its cultural heritage, he took up the challenge of returning the castle to its former glory.

A highly successful restoration

Menessaire_Castle_restoration

© Bernard Mainçon

After several decades of restoration work (under the aegis of the architect of Historic Monuments), the participation of the Compagnons du Devoir and many restoration training camps manned by volunteers, the buildings finally came back as large as life, in keeping with the rules and regulations. This approach, backed by “Le Morvan F.E.O.D.A.L.” Association (set up by Bernard Mainçon), was awarded the “Chefs d’oeuvre en peril” (masterpieces in peril) prize in 1977.

intoHistory TipTake the time to look closely at the red façades of the castle, inspired by those in the Place Royale in Paris (now the Place des Vosges): the bricks you think you see are an illusion; they are just painted on the rendered surface. In a region where building stone is plentiful, brick walls are a luxury, hence the need for a lime coating. This surface, whose composition it has been possible to reconstitute after much research, comprises hydraulic lime, air lime and river sand, using cow hair as a binder. The mineral pigments (coloured earth) are applied with a brush to the coating while it is still damp.

Bringing the elaborate period décor back to life

Menessaire_Castle_Painted_ceilingsWhat strikes you most about Ménessaire castle is the richness of the painted décor in the bedrooms and salons. The 17th century so-called “French” ceilings, aligned with numerous close fitting beams, are festooned with garlands, stylised flowers, portraits in medallions and heraldic symbols. These motifs spill over onto the walls, window frames and mantelpieces. They are not all authentic (the castle was severely damaged), but the reconstruction work is a faithful recreation, inspired by the period decorations which have survived.

Menessaire_Castle_Louis_XV

Louis XV Salon © Château de Ménessaire

Other rooms reflect a later décor, such as the reception room with its oak-panelled walls, doors and bedroom partitions, exquisitely painted with colourful landscapes. The paintings, sculptures and furniture are a harmonious mix of different styles. There are even a few contemporary creations among them …

Three bedrooms – studies in refinement

Menessaire_Castle_Chambre_bleue

© Château de Ménessaire

Ménessaire castle is surely worth a visit (despite its remote location), and a perfect place to find “historic” guest accommodation. I have rarely stayed in such an inspirational setting! Both the blue and the green room are delightfully furnished in olde worlde style, under a ceiling whose beams are painted with delicate coloured garlands. The lime wash walls (very smooth to the touch) are decorated with imitation (perfectly regular) stone blocks round the windows. The parquet, canopied bed, period furniture and panels painted with genre scenes bestow these rooms with tremendous charm.

More amazing still is the “Weddings” bedroom, listed as a historical monument, with its majestic mantelpiece decorated with flowers, forest of painted ceiling beams, parquet floor with alternating dark and light boards and four-poster bed. Only the marquise and her servant by the fireside are missing… The bathroom is also quite remarkable with its ochre-coloured tomette flooring, old zinc bath (with incorporated heating system). However you will seek in vain for air conditioning, television, telephone or mini-bar: this is castle living in all its lavish simplicity.

Menessaire_Castle_Chambre_des_Mariages

Menessaire_Castle_Melusine_Tower_Apartment

© Château de Ménessaire

Two “apartments” have been set up in the towers for longer stays. Organised on two floors, there is a small living room, a dining room cum kitchen, a bedroom and bathroom. Although the setting is genuinely historical (13th century) and the décor refined, the furniture is more functional.

An exceptional host

Menessaire_Castle_17th_century_carpentry_work

Old frameword of the castle

A stay in Ménessaire castle also means enjoying the hospitality of Bernard Mainçon, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, the craftsman behind its restoration. Erudite, creative and persistent, this exceptional, plain speaking châtelain will reveal some of the secrets of this fortified residence as he knows every stone. He will suggest some original activities to do in the vicinity, as well as restaurants offering the most authentic Burgundian cuisine. To find him, don’t be afraid to go into the castle courtyard, open the entrance gate (discreet) and knock on the door to the right, next to the staircase.

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Facilities

  • 3 historic B&B’s in the castle and 2 period apartments in the towers
  • Private bathroom (or shower)
  • Wifi in the main hall and the towers
  • Breakfast (several small or exclusive restaurants in the neighbourhood for the other meals – 15-30 min. driving)
  • Large dining room and drawing room with fireplace
  • Events and weddings
  • Spoken languages: French and English
  • The tower apartments are closed from December to the end of March
  • Nearest town: Autun (30 km)
  • Private parking
  • Lyon International Airport: 190 km
  • Not suitable for disabled guests as all the bedrooms are on the first floor (there is no lift in the house)
  • Some smoking areas

In the neighbourhood

 

Chateau_de_Thil

Le Château de Thil © Perceval Verdon

Apart from the Parc naturel du Morvan, whose physical characteristics and traditions are put under the microscope in seven maisons à thème, various age-old constructions will plunge you into the history of the region: the Château de Thil, with its 12th century cellar and 25 metre high watchtower, the Basilique Saint-Andoche in Saulieu, one of the most famous Romanesque churches in Burgundy, and of course the beautiful Basilique romane de Vezelay.

Bibracte

Gallo-Roman oppidum of Bibracte

Another favourite of mine was obviously the archeological site of Bibracte (Mont Beuvray), ancient oppidum of Gaul, then Gallo-Roman, whose emblematic museum brings back to life Celtic civilization in all its forms.

To read, watch or listen to

 

Menessaire_CastleTo fully appreciate the period atmosphere of Ménessaire castle, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:

Books to be devoured in situ

  • A Tale of Two Murders. Passion and Power in Seventeen Century France“, by James R. Farr
    Based on the true story of a judge of the High Court of Burgundy in the mid 17th century, Philippe Giroux, accused of a double murder. The story, rich in finely turned dialogues, takes readers to the heart of one of France’s most complex trials in the history. A node of intrigues, lust, conspiracy, deceit, poisoning and other maneuvers. An original way of discovering a century best known for his military campaigns and ambitious kings, through another viewpoint: the intricate social relations and the grey zones of the law system.
  • My Uncle Benjamin, A Humorous, Satirical, and Philosophical Novel“, by Claude Tillier
    This spirited novel recounts tales of boozy meals in good company, carefree love affairs and outright provocation caused of an 18th century country doctor, always ready to help the poorest in society and take on the representatives of an increasingly oppressive aristocratic hierarchy. The book inspired a film by Edouard Molinaro in 1969 (trailer).

Period music to be enjoyed on location

  • Adieu mes amours, chansons“, by Josquin Desprez, interpreted by the Clément Janequin ensemble (extract)
    These 15th century polyphonic works bounce off the heart strings, like a poet’s verses. An emotional journey back to the Renaissance.

 

Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which goes towards covering its running costs.

Guests comments

Évaluation selon 1 avis:

Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort

Gery de Pierpont

06-06-2014

I enjoyed my stay at Ménessaire Castle, where history is everywhere to "seize". First, because the site differs very much from a traditional accommodation, where everything is sweetened to correspond to the standards of international hotel industry. Here, you can experience castle life for real, in much of its practical aspects, far from the usual tourist facilities. Above all, I have rarely seen such authentic and refined rooms for such an affordable price.

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Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort

Middle Ages Castle B&B/Guest House 60-100€/room

As in the old days

Ménessaire Castle
Bernard Mainçon
FR-21430 MENESSAIRE
France
+33 380 64 15 88
+33 6 14 41 60 66 (cell-phone)
Castle’s own website

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