Chateau de Puymartin

The castle in Dordogne which has been owned by the same family since 1450 boasts unique 17th century paintings and frames of scenes based on the Greek mythology and the spirit of mysterious White Lady.

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Xavier de Montbron, the co-owner of Chateau de Puymartin
Xavier de Montbron, the co-owner of Chateau de Puymartin,
Image credits: Suzanne Boileau Tartarat
Artiom Ganin of @Castles_and_Palaces talks with Xavier de Montbron whose family have owned the medieval Chateau de Puymartin in Dordogne, France since 1450. The co-owner of the beautifully-set castle has recently launched a fundraising campaign - he needs the money to restore the 17th century cabinet featuring large paintings and frames of scenes based on the Greek mythology. They are unique for France because there are few rooms in the country similar to what Puymartin has. We've talked about what it is like to be born in a castle, about the COVID-inflicted restrictions, the challenges of maintaining the chateau and of course about the White Lady – the spirit which keeps wandering the halls of the castle and was allegedly seen by many visitors.

THE MYTHOLOGICAL CABINET OF CHATEAU

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): First of all, could you please tell me a few words about your family.
Xavier de Montbron (XM): I'm Xavier de Montbron, uncle of Marie-Sophie Rouchon, and co-owner of Puymartin castle with her mother (my sister) Bernadette Rouchon.

CnP: The chateau has been in the ownership of your family for some 500 years - you inherited the castle in 2003 – what was its state?
XM: You are absolutely right. My family has owned Puymartin since 1450. The chateau was never sold during those five centuries. At first our ancestors were military people but later on they became farmers or rather gentlemen farmers! It was my great grandfather Le Marquis Marc de Carbonnier de Marzac who made major restorations in the late 19th century, between 1890 and 1900. The man had only one daughter, my grandmother Marie Thérése (she was born in 1900) who married my grandfather Jacques de Montbron in 1920. They had four children of whom my father was the last. His name was Henri and he was born in 1934. My father inherited the castle in 1983 after the death of his mother. As for me and my sister both of us inherited the castle in 2003
CnP: You've recently launched a fundraising campaign to collect money enough to restore the 17th century cabinet featuring unique large paintings and frames of scenes based on the Greek mythology. Why is it so unique for France?
XM: This is so true! The Mythological Cabinet painted in grisaille is really unique for several reasons. There are few rooms similar to what we have at Puymartin nowadays in France. It is painted in black and white and is fixed on the woodwork with egg white. One needs to be very careful as this room is very fragile and it is necessary to restore the panels in a very delicate way. We have other riches too.
CnP: Like what, please go on!
XM: Come to see our beautiful Flemish tapestries with Greek motifs which were created from the 17th to the 19th century. They show the milestones of the Trojan War: the Trojan horse, the city of Troy ablaze, and Paris kidnapping Helen. And we also pride ourselves on the magnificent 17th century French ceiling. We have a room which was a guest room back in the days - the beams and chimneys there were painted in trompe-l'oeil technique which is basically an old-school 3d optical illusion. Now there's a story about Danae, getting the golden rain from Zeus. She was painted absolutely naked which was a taboo in the 19th century. Clothes were added and she even transformed into Mary Magdalene as she got a crucifix into her hand!

CnP: This interesting! The castle dates back to the 13th century – it was rebuilt several times – last time in the 19th century - did your great grandfather find anything from the old times when he renovated it?
XM: I know that during important restorations in the end of the 19th century two statues were found in the dry moats around the old part of the castle.
CnP: Do you have old mechanisms which still operate?
XM: Oh no, we don't have them unfortunately but you know what – there are a lot of narrow arrow slits in the castle. In the past they were used to shoot at approaching enemy soldiers. They can still be seen. One more thing – we have an old wooden toilet in the Marquise's bedroom. It was a breakthrough back then and it can still be used!

CnP: Sounds impressive! What about a castle museum? Do you have it and what's the most interesting exhibit on display there?
XM: Well, at Puymartin, people can visit beautiful rooms to enjoy our tapestries, paintings, have a look at centuries-old furniture and of course see our family photos – I've just mentioned our riches to you.

CHATEU DE PUYMARTIN THROUGH HISTORY

CnP: Is there a story behind the name of the castle – Chateau de Puymartin?XM: The name of the castle – Puymartin – means "a small hill" or "puy" in French, so basically the name stands for a small hill named Saint Martin. Puymartin was first built in 1269, it was a small fortress whose main task was to control the road to Sarlat. The English were very close back then. The castle was even seized by the English mercenaries in the beginning of The Hundred Years War. It was later destroyed so that the English could not use it as a base.

CnP: Do you live in the castle?
XM: Yes, we do. My mother who is 85 years old and myself live in the castle. My sister and her daughter Marie Sophie live on the top of the hill beside the chateau - some 700 meters away - in a beautiful well-restored farm.

CnP: Do you remember your first night at the castle?
XM: Imagine this – I was born here so I know Puymartin since my birth. This is why I don't remember my first night in the castle simply because I was a baby!

CnP: I see – but I bet you love certain parts of the castle more than others?
XM: I like all the rooms of the castle but perhaps I prefer the Grand Hall with the Aubusson tapestries, and the paintings too. They are so beautiful! We have so many precious artifacts!

CnP: What's your strongest emotion linked with the chateau?
XM: It was on the last day of December 1999 during a terrible hurricane which happened at night. The winds were so strong and there was a horrible noise but we were safe inside the castle! But I still remember these feelings, these memories keep sending shivers down my spine!
CnP: Marquis of Carbonnier de Marzac restored the castle in a Neo-Gothic style in the 19th century - what is the oldest part of the castle and can it be seen?XM: The oldest part of the castle is its eastern part and the northern tower with foundations dating back to the 13th century. The western part was restored in the Neo-Gothic style by Marc de Carbonnier de Roffignac de Marzac - my great grandfather. He spent around one million gold francs – or the equivalent of about 3 million euros - on its restoration. Back in the Middle Ages Puymartin was smaller, it was literally one tower which was the keep.

CnP: Normally castles are magnets which attract tourist, revitalize the area and are good for the economy. What are your relations with the locals?
XM: Puymartin is just one of many castles in Périgord, which has lots of them. I would say that Périgord is a small "country" within France boasting around hundreds of chateaux, out of which 50 are open for visitors! I believe it is important for tourism industry and for local economy. And of course, we have good relationship with the local people!
CnP: Do you employ locals?
XM: In summer we normally employ up to 7 persons like guides, gardeners and others.

THE LEGEND OF THE WHITE LADY

CnP: Now this is interesting – the majority of castle owners I talked to told me they never saw any ghosts. I know you have your special White Lady – who is she and why does she keep wandering the halls of your castle?
XM: Well, most of our guests come to the castle to check our White Lady Legend. The lady whose name was Thérése de Saint Clar - is a good spirit. She was the wife of a noble warrior - Jean de Saint-Clar. Once he returned from the battlefield and was surprised to find his beloved wife embraced by another man, a young lord. Jean killed the man and locked up his wife in the Northern tower. She spent 15 years there all alone. When she died he body was immured in the tower and since then she can't find peace. Her spirit keeps wandering the halls of the chateau. My father told me he met her and truly believed she existed! For him she was a reality and not just a ghost story. By the way a few visitors met the White Lady too.
CnP: So one can possible stay at your castle to make friends with the White Lady! What kind of rooms do you offer?
XM: We have two guests rooms at Puymartin: one is just under the White Lady Room while the other is in the west wing. So, in total we can accommodate only 4 adults and 4 children.

CnP: Who was your most unusual guest and why?
XM: The most unusual guest we received was a teacher of English who came from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. And guess why he came to Puymartin - to meet Dalai Lama who visited in Périgord at that time!
CnP: This is really very unusual! Was 2020 that bad for you in the context of the COVID pandemic? Some castle owners told me it was alright for them – as they have always had a few rooms to offer and the pandemic did not change much apart from more focused sanitary policies which were easy to implement.
XM: It is quite sad to have experienced this. As the COVID pandemic struck we kept our guest rooms shut. We had to follow the sanitary policies to be able to let people just visit the castle grounds. In summer we organized soirées of Puymartin which ended with spectacular fireworks – but people were able to stay outdoors only. Our biggest challenge now is to maintain the castle and to attract more visitors with new games and new events. We'll see how we'll fare through 2021.
CnP: My traditional question to all castle owners – what would you tell those who want a castle for themselves – to buy ruins and to restore them?
XM: What can I say to a person who wants to buy a castle! Well, to own a castle you must be really truly passionate! Remember - it's not a caprice for your light pleasure!
We very much hope that you liked the interview with Xavier de Montbron, the co-owner of Chateau de Puymartin in France's Burgundy!

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Photo credits: Chateau de Puymartin

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