Droning over French Chateaux: a tale of two hobbies

Richard Prandini is a great drone enthusiast with a passion for castles. Wherever he goes he takes his Mavic drone with him. His collection of aerial shots of French chateaux has hundreds of images!


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Richard Prandini, castle enthusiast and drone operator
This interview is somewhat unusual. This time Artiom Ganin's guest on the Castles and Families project is neither a castle owner nor a restorer. Richard Prandini works in the IT sector and is a drone pilot in his free time. He is also a big fan of castles. He mainly flies his Mavic 2 drone over French chateaux adorning the picturesque landscapes of France and shares his beautiful pictures with his followers on Instagram. Richard takes his drone with him both on business and leisure trips across France and abroad. Before setting off he checks the map for potential places of interest so that he could fly his drone over as many of them as possible. This hobby does not bring him any money and he has never pursued this goal. Richard gets pleasure out of it – droning over centuries-old chateaux simply makes him a happy man! We've talked about his passion for castles, nature, drones and photography.


Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Richard, you feed is all about castles (almost). It looks like you have a special passion for them, don't you? How did it start?
Richard Prandini (RP): The story started after I bought my first drone. I was interested in Urbex or more exactly in visiting abandoned places. And I took the habit of taking pictures of these places with the drone. This allowed me to have different pictures and to better highlight these places. Little by little I became more interested in castles, the abandoned ones at first, but later on all castles because their architecture is often better highlighted by photos taken from the sky. And as I had time to lose I spent a lot of time looking for the addresses of most of the French castles. I now have a nice collection of French and foreign castles which allows me to take a lot of pictures during my vacations and business trips.
CnP: How long have you been doing this?
RP: The oldest photo of the castle is from February 2017. The castle of La Roche. Since then, a lot of time has passed and several drones have participated in my shooting sessions.

CnP: Tell me a few words about yourself please?
RP: I am now 50 years old and have two children over 15 years old. Separated from their mother for a few years, I am again in couple which leaves me a little less time for the photographs. I have always been interested in new technologies and photography. The arrival of the drone allowed me to have fun while taking pictures. I work in IT and I develop mobile applications for my own account for over 13 years, mainly for iPhone. It's my other hobby.
CnP: How many castles have you flown over?
RP: It's hard to say, I have several thousand pictures and I think I have flown over at least a hundred castles, mainly in France, but also a bit in Scotland.

CnP: Which drone do you fly?
RP: I use exclusively drones from DJI. Currently, it's a Mavic 2 Pro. I just invested in a DJI FPV, but the COVID period has not yet allowed me to try it in flight. Only simulator for the moment because the piloting is much more complex than the Mavic if you want to make nice video shots. I must be at my 5th drone of this brand. They are really quality drones. I have one that was stuck in a tree for 3 weeks in the snow and rain and still wanted to fly without any problem afterwards.
CnP: Is your project commercial – I mean do you sell your drone footage afterwards?
RP: No, I have never sold a single picture, that is not my goal. I even gave a lot of them to owners.

CnP: You have an app about these haunted places – what's the idea behind?
RP: Yes, I have developed my own application for iPhone. It allows me to identify the places which I want to visit or which I visited and I referenced in it most of the classified French castles. The advantage of making your own application is that it corresponds perfectly to your needs. But I also made it available for free in AppStore. It's a good way to get known and if it can be used by other people it's also good.


CnP: Do you fly over French chateaux or do you travel across Europe?
JL: So far, I've only flown in France, Italy, Scotland, the Azores and the Maldives. But the last two destinations had no castles. I would like to visit Ireland and Germany because there are many castles to take pictures of.

CnP: How do you choose a castle to fly over?
RP: In general, I choose an abandoned castle to fly over, depending on my travel plans or my vacations, and I travel all around the area to fly over the other castles.
CnP: Describe your typical day out in the filed!
JL: Quite often, I just go for the day. I can drive more than 400 km in one day and fly over a dozen castles. In general, the flight over a castle lasts only a very short time so as not to disturb the local residents. But when I come across an abandoned castle, I can fly over it for almost 30 minutes in order to get a maximum number of shots and to make videos. I use my application to make my route. It allows me to calculate the best way to visit several castles.
CnP: You've seen lots of castles – which one was the most impressive?
RP: I will classify them in two categories, the abandoned and the others. For the abandoned ones, it is the castle of La Mothe Chandeniers. It is really superb with its moat and the vegetation that has grown in it. Otherwise I like very much the castle of Bonneval. Not only for its architecture, its modest size, but also for the fact that the owners still live there which is rare for this kind of constructions.
CnP: What's the saddest thing you saw?
RP: It is the lack of respect for these castles. I can understand that it is expensive to maintain a castle but some owners let theirs fall apart without any scruples. There is also the lack of respect from some people who visit these abandoned castles and ruin them just for fun.
CnP: Have you captured anything unusual during your drone flying sessions?
RP: There is a castle or rather a mansion that I flew over that was very strange. Indeed, on the one side, everything was beautiful, a nice new pool, etc. But on the other side, everything was abandoned and the vegetation started to invade the rooms through the windows.

CnP: Creepy! Have you noticed something unusual later on when you watched the footage?
RP: It is true that when you fly with the drone, you only see a reduced image and you lose a lot of details. When you look at the pictures afterwards you see other things, other details. I was surprised to see the owner of the castle in one of the pictures aiming his gun at my drone. And yes, not everyone likes a flying object taking pictures of their house, which I can completely understand.
CnP: Flying over private property can have consequences – how do you normally coordinate your flights with the owners?
RP: Well, indeed, it is forbidden to fly over a private property and I admit to be from time to time a little limited during my flights. But as soon as I can, I ask the owners for permission and give them the pictures in exchange. But there are so many castles that asking for permission would take too much time. Some owners have already asked me to delete my pictures, which I do without worries. Even if I don't have to do it by law. You know law is strangely made in France and it is not forbidden to take pictures of a castle from a drone as long as you don't fly over private property or publish people's faces.
CnP: Has anybody refused to let your drone fly over their castle?
RP: Yes of course, but in general it is the big castles that can be visited. For the others, the owners are often happy to have pictures of their castle.

CnP: How many drones did you lose and how did it happen?
RP: I've never lost a drone. I crash-landed one in a tree while backing up to get a better view of a sunset. I had to hurry not to miss it, so I didn't look back. And I broke one while taking pictures of an abandoned dam. While passing under the dam (a hole is drilled in it for the water to pass), the drone lost contact with the remote control. In this case, it tries to go back to its starting point by itself. But while going up, the drone hit the dam and fell into the water. I broke an arm of the drone and some internal parts.
CnP: Some of the chateaux I saw in your Instagram feed look abandoned and ruined – do they belong to anybody?
RP: There is indeed always an owner. In some cases, the owner doesn't have enough money to maintain it but doesn't want to sell it (or can't) and so it turns into ruins. In other cases, companies who own them and who had transformed them most often into refuges. But with the new norms it becomes too expensive and these companies leave them to the abandonment. But I can see an inspiring trend now, I see many castles bought by people who try to maintain them. This is really good and I wish them success in their projects.
CnP: What do you think needs to be done with those ruined chateaux and manors?
RP: It is difficult to answer this question. Indeed, I like it very much when the vegetation takes back its rights on these constructions. But it's a shame to lose this heritage anyway. The best would be that people could buy them to maintain them, but it is unfortunately very expensive especially because in some of them you are not allowed to do any work as they are listed buildings. As a result, they fall apart.
CnP: I've noticed there's a picture of Chateau de la Mothe Chandeniers in your feed – was it just a random fly-over or do you keep in touch with Dartagnans and have a partnership of a kind?
RP: Indeed, I flew over it just after the association had raised the funds for its maintenance. But I had no contact with them. Or rather I never tried to. It is so far from my home that I don't think I'll be going back anytime soon.
CnP: What's you favourite castle in Europe?
RP: I like some German castles very much, those ones perched in height. We often see pictures of them half-immersed in the clouds. But her in France we have the most beautiful castles in the world ;-)

CnP: Would you like to own a castle - which kind of? And if so what would you do with it?
RP: There is an abandoned castle that I think is beautiful. But I don't want to give its name so as not to attract ill-intentioned people. It's a small and very well preserved brutal medieval castle. I would love to live there but unfortunately it is far from everything! That's probably why it's abandoned. But we should not dream, it costs so much to maintain these castles that it will remain only a dream.
I very much hope that you liked my interview with Richard Prandini, a great castle enthusiast and a skilful drone pilot.

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Photo credits: Richard Prandini, @drone_lyonnais

You can always get in touch with me via castlesandfamilies@gmail.com