Chateau de Mandagout – a Castle Home in the Cevennes
Who doesn’t dream of living in a Castle? Michel Lamotte and Roberto de Pila have made that dream come true, in a hidden and remote stronghold nestling in a valley on the edge of the Cevennes National Park. And, they’ve done it with great style in a very short period of time (I believe they mentioned two years).
We arrived by down a steep path to one of our hosts, beaming and offering to help carry cases up to the castle. Through a wooden door into a pretty courtyard filled with flowers and the sound of unaccompanied choral music. On one side a ‘gite’, on the other, the main castle building. Fresh figs from the garden and a friendly welcome from the two dogs who live there.
Chateau de Mandagout was originally constructed in the thirteenth century, although the current building was restored from the fifteenth and sixteenth century construction. As the scale of the building suggests, the Mandagout family were important feudal landlords in the Cevennes during the fourteenth and fifteenth century and it was in 1672 that the property fell into the hands of the Albignac family, through marriage. The castle remained the property of the Albignac family until the twentieth century. Then eventually, in 1967 , the buildings were sold in a state of disrepair to a former racing driver Mr Trautmann, but it wasn’t until the current owners acquired the property that restoration could start in 2001.
They set about restoring the property to its immaculate state, both the castle and the ‘gite’ a two bedroom house built in the Magnanerie – a building designed for breeding silk worms are now complete. There is still more work to do, on outbuildings that will serve as temporary studios and workshops for visiting artists and writers. It is clearly a work of love and passion. Whatever work was necessary to create rooms that are functional (well appointed bathrooms, warm bedrooms and a cosy farmhouse kitchen) has been done with care and attention so that Chateau de Mandagout retains a sense of time.
A little about the Magnanerie and its history ; it was silk that brought wealth to the Cevennes. So much so that the mulberry tree which was cultivated to feed the silk worm became known as ‘The Golden Tree’. The demise of the silk industry as a rural activity appears to have been partly a result of a major epidemic wiping out many of the silk worm nurseries and partly due to industrialisation and competition from Asia. Overlay on that the chequered history of the Heugenots, the Protestant community living and working in the Cevennes until the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685, and the subsequent exodus of many of the skilled silk workers to Northern Europe, it is amazing that the silk industry in the Cevennes still existed in the 1960s. The particular style of construction of the Magnanerie was to allow for racks containing the silk worms and their precious cocoons throughout the upper floors of the building and throughout the Cevennes you will find more examples of these buildings.
The restored silk worm nursery at Chateau de Mandagout is now a stunning self-contained two bedroom cottage complete with luxury kitchen, living room and two very individual, comfortable and decadent bedrooms each with their own en-suite bathroom.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising given the particular religious sensitivity of the region, that local people were shocked at the development of the former Chapel of St Gregoire to house a heated outdoor swimming pool (but one surrounded by the walls of the old chapel!). It does make a particularly effective wind barrier though.
I stayed in one of the rooms in the castle itself, which offers a bed and breakfast service. Luxuriating in the Jacuzzi bath I could see out over the hills of the Cevennes National Park, no fear of being overlooked here.
The next morning breakfast was a fabulous selection of local and home baked bread and cakes and home-made jams, cereal, coffee, yoghurts and fresh fruit.
I could understand perfectly why in this tranquil setting the owners have an ‘adult only’ policy. Their aim is to provide a retreat where you can write, paint, draw or simply relax without any interruption. And, whilst it is immaculate, the Chateau de Mandagout has the feeling of being a home not a hotel. I could happily have spent a week or so longer here, just reading, walking in the hills and enjoying the remoteness of the area safe in the knowledge that I’d have every modern comfort (including remarkably efficient WiFi) when I got back to ‘my castle’.
Rooms at Chateau de Mandagout start at 140 euros a night for a double bedroom and breakfast
More thanks to Jackie Bru, Inger Berckhauer and Lysiane Boissy d’Anglas from the tourist offices of Aveyron,Lozere, and Gard for their guidance and hospitality on this trip and of course to our charming hosts Roberto and Michel at Chateau de Mandagout
Chateau de Mandagout
04 67 81 48 93
Many thanks to Roberto and Michel for the additional photographs used in this feature.