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Saint-Fargeau Castle – Auxerre

History of the house

Saint-Fargeau Castle: An imposing 1000-year old castle in the Burgundy of historic memory

Between the Loire and Yonne rivers, the little town of Saint-Fargeau is the historic capital of La Puisaye. Less than two hours from Paris, its gigantic castle (known as the “old pink fortress”) stands out prominantly in a region imbued with charm and mystery. Here history is palpable, timeless fragrances can be absorbed, the stones resound; it can be tasted – what a feast for the eyes …

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© Château de Saint-Fargeau

The history of the Saint-Fargeau castle goes back ten centuries. In 980, Héribert, bishop of Auxerres and half-brother of King Hugues Capet, built a fortified hunting lodge on this site. From the 10th to the 15th century, this keep was in the hands of several illustrious families: the Lords of Toucy and de Bar and the celebrated treasurer of King Charles VII, Jacques Coeur. From 1453, Antoine de Chabannes began building the current castle on the foundations of the old, five-sided fortress, flanked with six large towers. Coveted by many, the property was besieged, sold, recaptured, raised to an earldom before finally, through a series of alliances, ending up in Anjou then Bourbon hands.

In the shadow of Louis XIV

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Classical wings of François Le Vau © all-free-photos

In 1652, Anne-Marie Louise of Orleans, Duchess of Montpensier, moved to Saint-Fargeau. Nicknamed “La Grande Mademoiselle” and cousin to King Louis XIV, she had just been condemned to five years’ exile following an uprising of “La Fronde” (the nobles’ revolt against the power of the monarch). She entrusted the renovation of the interior walls to François Le Vau, brother of the architect of the palaces of Vaux-le-Vicomte and subsequently Versailles. The two wings he designed are among the most elegant of early classical buildings in France.

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The castle in 1845, by Petit

Michel Lepeletier, Minister of Finances then Minister of State, acquired the property in 1713 and it remained in the hands of his family for four generations. Unfortunately, during this period these wings of the castle went up in flames not once but twice. Louis-Michel Lepeletier, president of the National Assembly who voted for the death of Louis XVI, was himself assassinated in 1793.
Celebrated in the 19th century for its landscaped gardens and hunting with hounds, Saint-Fargeau passed through the hands of the Marquis of Boisgelin, the Anisson du Perron family and ultimately the Marquess d’Ormesson. The wings of the castle have now been arranged to welcome guests who have come for the hunt: there are bedrooms, suites and a vast dining room.

A 20-year restoration programme

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Historical pageant © Château de Saint-Fargeau

When Michel and Jacques Guyot bought this monument in 1979, it was in an appallingly bad state. The purchase price may have been modest, but the restoration costs, however, were astronomical. It took the two brothers twenty years to restore the property to its former glory, thanks to a planned rehabilitation strategy and an original visiting programme, backed up by an inventive promotion. In particular, Saint-Fargeau now puts on an impressive summer pageant, involving over 600 actors in period costume and about a hundred horsemen.

The Guest Rooms

The grand suite in the 18th century apartments in the castle is one of the most authentic in France, with its olde worlde charm and original decor. Located in the Treasury Tower, it comprises a “circular salon”, entirely decorated with period panelling, the “Pope’s Room” and the “Card Room”, decorated with carved panels and cards in grisaille. The view of the landscaped gardens and the water feature is a pure delight. You will spend a real pre-French Revolution night in a comfortable but narrow (typical of the period) four-poster bed in embroidered sheets. Historic pieces of porcelain decorate the bathroom, modernised several generations ago. As for breakfast, this is served in the card room.

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The grand suite in its original setting © Château de Saint-Fargeau

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Joan of Arc’s house courtyard © Château de Saint-Fargeau

Recently restored, Joan of Arc’s house is just one minute away from the castle at the foot of the town church, a listed building. This old residence where the heroine of the Hundred Years War stayed on her way to Chinon, where she hoped to gain an audience with the Dauphin Charles VII (and convince him to have himself crowned king at Reims). Three spacious suites and a guest room give onto an inner courtyard with garden. Accommodation is provided for 13 guests, either in four-poster beds or in alcoves. There are splendid views of the fortress and the Jacques Coeur tower, the trees in the park and the church’s wonderful rose window.

History lies just below the surface

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Candlelit visits © Château de Saint-Fargeau

Saint-Fargeau castle offers its guests a guided tour of the site which will enable you to get a real feel for the history of the property, and see for yourself the evolution in architectural styles over the centuries. You will be treated differently from casual tourists who will be politely shown to the exit at the end of the day; you will be able to absorb the spirit of the site when night has fallen, as if you were bone fide guests of the Saint-Fargeau dukes. It is at this moment that you will best be able to imagine the flurry of excitement in the bedrooms and reception rooms, the muffled footsteps of lackeys, the full length silken gowns of the ladies and the flickering flames of candles reflected in mirrors … You will let your gaze rest on the portraits hanging on the walls, anticipating a spark which will bring them to life. You will run the tips of your fingers over marble fireplaces, golden picture frames and the curves of the chandeliers. And if you listen carefully, you may hear the sweet note of a spinet or harpsichord resound round the lofty ceilings …

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Jacques Coeur Tower from the inside © Château de Saint-Fargeau

The Jacques Coeur tower, the most imposing of the castle’s six towers, is really worth a prolonged visit. To begin with, it was the first tower to be built when the fortress was reconstructed on its medieval foundations in the 15th century. It was there that its owner, Antoine de Chabannes, lodged during the construction work. The diameter of this keep was so vast that a light well was added in the centre, a mini interior courtyard reaching up to the sky via a large oval opening.

Lively summer delights

If you reserve a sufficiently long time in advance to enjoy this setting in July and August, you will be able to join in the candlelit visits, in the company of about twenty characters in costume. Guards, storytellers, scullery boys and foot soldiers will all try to get you to share their enthusiasm for these utterly exceptional surroundings. It is also in summer that the historical pageant, involving hundreds of actors, will blow you away!

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Discover the park riding in a mail coach © Château de Saint-Fargeau

To get a true appreciation of the park surrounding the castle, may we suggest a ride in a mail coach? Here you will discover various old steam trains, a boon to enthusiastic collectors!

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Facilities

  • 1 large suite in the castle (2-3 guests)
  • 3 suites and 1 room in the “Joan of Arc House” close by that can be hired as a guest house (13 guests)
  • Bathroom / Wifi
  • Breakfast / fully equipped kitchen (Joan of Arc House)
  • Castle Park and inner courtyard of the Joan of Arc House
  • Spoken languages: French, English
  • The grand suite is only accessible between Easter and 1 November
  • Closest city: Auxerre (45 km)
  • Private car park
  • Paris-Orly Airport: 1hr 45 min.
  • Families and children welcome
  • Domestic pets allowed (on request)
  • Non-smoking rooms

In the neighbourhood

Cultural discoveries in the area

Guédelon: building castle just as in the 13th century. The incredible challenge of Michel Guyot. Come and meet dozens of medieval craftsmen at work on this major project: stonecarvers, carpenters, roofers, bricklayers, blacksmiths… together with rope-markers, lime-burners, wheelwrights …

La Ferté-Saint-Aubin, the “Game Castle to play with History”.

The Château de Bridoire’s restoration site, property of the Guyot family as well.

To read, watch or listen to

 

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© Jean-Pierre C24M

To fully appreciate the period atmosphere of the Saint-Fargeau 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). Watching a film evoking the era or 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

  • “At God’s Pleasure” by Jean d’Ormesson
    Saint-Fargeau castle is the central “character” of this novel. Its author spent several holidays in this family castle prior to becoming the celebrated man of letters we know today.
  • The Dream Maker” by Jean-Christophe Rufin
    Doctor without borders, erudite man of letters, savvy diplomat and talented author, Jean-Christophe Rufin recounts the destiny of an exceptional individual, Jacques Coeur (owner of Saint-Fargeau castle at the beginning of the 15th century). A wealthy merchant, influential courtier, great traveller and melancholic lover, he experienced both glory and downfall. This spirited and vibrant novel, brimming with specific details and fleeting emotions, seems to have been written back in the Middle Ages.
  • “French Spirits: A House, a Village, and a Love Affair in Burgundy”, by Jeffrey Greene
    When Jeffrey Greene, a prizewinning American poet, and Mary, his wife-to-be, a molecular biologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, discover a moss-covered stone presbytery in a lovely village in the Puisaye region, they know they have to live there. With an unabashed joie de vivre, they begin the arduous process of procuring their slice of paradise amid the wild beauty of the French countryside. “French Spirits” is the magical tale of their odyssey to become not just homeowners but Burgundians. In lush, lyrical prose, Greene recalls their experiences turning the three-hundred-year-old stone building — a “château in miniature”, which the locals believe houses numerous spirits– into a habitable refuge. Woven throughout this luscious tale are the pleasures of rural France: wondrous food and wine, long-held rituals and feasts, dark superstitions and deeply rooted history. A memorable feast for the senses, “French Spirits” will entertain and enlighten all who succumb to its charms.

Film to be watched before arriving

  • Au Plaisir de Dieu” Television series produced by Robert Mazoyer (1976)
    This depicts an aristocratic family in Saint-Fargeau castle from the Belle Epoque to 1960, when international events and political changes force the owners to adapt their lifestyle and traditions.

Period music to be enjoyed on location

  • Dance Music of the French Renaissance” interpreted by the Compagnie Maître Guillaume
    When the musical instruments in the salons were hardly any different from those heard on the battlefield …
  • Arabesque” by Marin Marais (end of the 17th – beginning of the 18th century)
    A sweet harmony of chords, led by a viola da gamba with deep, rose-gold notes, in keeping with the stones of Saint-Fargeau castle.
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.

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Middle Ages Castle B&B/Guest House 150-220€/room

Authentic

Château de Saint-Fargeau
Mrs. Noémi Brunet
FR-89170 SAINT-FARGEAU
France
+33 6 32 37 05 73
Castle’s own website

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