In­side the 1,000 year old French cas­tle

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

It is a com­bi­na­tion of fortress, re­nais­sance palace, and 19th cen­tury man­sion. Now, it’s on the mar­ket for € 15mn

Ber­trand Pil­livuyt came to oc­cupy the Château de la Bar­ben, a 1,000 year old cas­tle in Aix en Provence, the old fash­ioned way: “I in­her­ited it,” he said. “It was passed to my wife and my­self in 2006.”

Pil­livuyt is the lat­est in a long and il­lus­tri­ous string of own­ers to oc­cupy the cas­tle, which is a com­bi­na­tion of fortress, re­nais­sance palace, and 19th cen­tury man­sion. Now, though, he’s put it on the mar­ket for € 15mn via Sotheby’s In­ter­na­tional Realty, ced­ing the cas­tle’s lin­eage to a fu­ture buyer.

The ear­li­est record of the prop­erty is from 1064, when it was owned by the monas­tic or­der, the Abbey of Saint Vic­tor de Mar­seille.

Ac­cord­ing to cas­tle his­to­ri­ans, within a cen­tury later, it made its way into the hands of a medieval lord, Pierre de Pon­tevès, and re­mained in his fam­ily un­til the late 1380s, when - ac­cord­ing to Nostradamus - a de­scen­dant, Guil­laume de Pon­tevès, par­tic­i­pated in an ill-ad­vised re­volt against Louis II de An­jou, King of Naples. (The re­volt was said to be put down by Louis II’s mother, who pawned her jew­ellery to raise an army of mer­ce­nar­ies.) It then bounced around the French royal fam­ily for a cen­tury or so, un­til 1474, when it ended up in the pos­ses­sion of the no­ble Forbin fam­ily.

Among the largest land­hold­ers in south­ern France, the Forbins man­aged to re­tain con­trol of the cas­tle for 500 years. But by the 1960s, the Mar­quis de Forbin “had a lot of es­tates around Provence, and he couldn’t main­tain them all,” said Pil­livuyt. “My fa­ther in law, An­dré Pons, was friends with him and agreed to buy the château.” Pil­livuyt said he has no idea how much Pons, whom he de­scribed as some­one who had “vine­yards and laven­der fields,” paid for the prop­erty, but es­ti­mated that it cost from one mil­lion to two mil­lion francs.

“The château was in very bad shape, and it was a big job to ren­o­vate it,” he said.

Pons set about restor­ing the build­ing’s 50,000sq ft in­te­rior, spread across 60 odd rooms. There are elab­o­rate fres­coes, hand-painted ceil­ings, mas­sive ta­pes­tries (when Pons bought the house, he kept most dec­o­ra­tions), an­tique silk wall­pa­per, and dec­o­ra­tion by painters, in­clud­ing Mar­ius Granet. The cas­tle has its own chapel, guard rooms, sub­ter­ranean pas­sages from its time as a fortress, and a mas­sive kitchen that ap­pears to have re­mained largely un­changed for the bet­ter part of 300 years. The house is sur­rounded by tra­di­tional French gar­dens (de­signed by the royal gar­dener to Louis XIV), and, from its van­tage point on the tip of a ledge, has sweep­ing views of the prop­erty’s 760 acres. “The prop­erty is close to two rivers, so the land is very green,” Pil­livuyt said. “And it’s is fan­tas­tic for hunt­ing deer and boar.”

To­day, the cas­tle is less the site of no­ble folly and more a thriv­ing tourist des­ti­na­tion. Since in­her­it­ing the prop­erty, Pil­livuyt and his wife Ghis­laine have opened the house and gar­den to tour groups (the cost of a stan­dard tour is € 9), rented out sev­eral of their 15 rooms as a bed and breakfast, and made pub­lic spa­ces avail­able for events. The gar­dens, said to be the pri­vate refuge of the Princess Pauline Borgh­ese dur­ing her vis­its to the cas­tle in the early 19th cen­tury, can host more than 400 guests. The out­door ter­race can en­ter­tain 300, and the in­te­rior a still­sub­stan­tial 200.

Lo­cated about 12 miles from the city cen­ter of Aix en Provence, about a 30-minute drive from the city’s in­ter­na­tional air­port, the cas­tle has proved a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion.

“We were run­ning it as a fam­ily busi­ness,” said Pil­livuyt. “It’s rel­a­tively prof­itable, and we’ve main­tained the home in the best con­di­tion pos­si­ble.” In­clud­ing his wife and him­self, Pil­livuyt said, the cas­tles was run by a staff of 12. “It’s mostly peo­ple for the tours,” he said, “but the gar­den­ers are one of my big ex­penses.”

Pil­livuyt is sell­ing, he said, “be­cause I’m 74 and my wife is 70, and we want to re­lax,” he ex­plained. “I’m sure we can ad­just to a smaller house.”

The cas­tle comes with 760 acres of land

The gar­dens were de­signed by An­dre Le No tre, best known as royal gar­dener to Louis XIV

The cas­tle was orig­i­nally built as a medieval fortress

The kitchen ap­pears un­changed from the 18th cen­tury

(Bloomberg)

Many of the ceil­ings were hand-painted

Per­fect to keep watch for ma­raud­ing hordes, or wed­dings

One of the bed­rooms in the cas­tle

An up­dated bath­room

The cha teau’s in­te­rior has more than 50,000sq ft.

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