on a 45-ha, unspoilt, natural estate in the midst of the Trièves region
Described as “a mountain cloister” and “a sunrise amphitheatre” by Provencal writer, Jean Giono, Montmeilleur stands in a dominant position, in the centre of a vast estate composed of meadows, woods and private hunting grounds. There are no visual nuisances to disturb the panoramic view for as far as the eye can see. Furthermore, a village with all shops as well as primary and secondary schools is but 5 minutes away. It is 45 minutes south of Grenoble, with its TGV train station and 3-hour links to Paris, 1½ hours from Lyon-Saint-Exupéry international airport and 2 hours from Geneva. Adventurers can take off from this property’s grassy runway in single or twin-engined, light aircraft.
Although the exact date the stronghold house was constructed is unknown, everything points to that fact that it was sometime around the year 1000, that is to say the early Middle-Ages. Around 1450, King Charles VII, alarmed by the plotting of his older son, the future King Louis XI, simply gave him the province of Dauphiné to govern as he saw fit under the name of Louis XI. The latter was to live there for ten years and became very popular in the Trièves region, where the stronghold house became his favourite hunting lodge and took pride in his royal visits. Up until the end of the Middle-Ages, Montmeilleur belonged to the Bérenger-de-Morges family. Their coat-of-arms is still to be found today on the entrance gateway and the monumental fireplace in the large reception room. Following a succession of leading citizens, including the Marquis-de-Langon, Montmeilleur was destroyed at the time of the French Revolution, archives were lost and the castle fell into ruin.
Sold in 1841 to Constantin-Abrard, Montmeilleur remained for more than a century in the hands of this same family, descending directly through the female line and including the Thibaud-Gibbs family who undertook major renovation works around 1875. This tradition came to a halt when the son of Madame-Thibaud sold the property in 1957.
In one of his imaginary constructions, “A King Alone”, a Provencal, complex novel that takes place between Lalley and Chichilianne, Jean-Giono greatly enhances his memories of Montmeilleur, where he stayed numerous times, by taking inspiration from the personality of Madame-Thibaud.
Its three levels are reached via two stairways, one of which, a magnificent spiral stairway on the south side, is housed in a tower with a square base, becoming octagonal. A large part of the main building, laid out in two wings facing south and east, was damaged on numerous occasions, before being pillaged during the French Revolution. Although most of the interior historic features were lost, the exterior still has a part of its medieval and Renaissance appearance. The four remaining towers bear witness to its vocation of fortress, probably up until the end of the 16th century. After the Wars of Religion, the building no longer had a military function and some of its defensive features disappeared: the moat, perimeter walls and drawbridge were replaced by terraces, gardens and outbuildings.
The main entrance is at the foot of the hexagonal tower, on the castle’s south facade. The floors are laid with terracotta tiles dating from the 19th century, some of which were found in the castle attic.
The south-south-west wing
This wing is entered via a reception area, fitted with a real café bar. One historic feature is its “potager” which was used to keep dishes warm on embers from the large fireplace in the kitchen.
With no basement cellar, the ground floor was no doubt originally used for storing provisions, water and firewood. A vaulted room on the west side, with a monumental fireplace, was most probably the fortress’ original kitchen, but is currently used as a dining room, with a large table from a monastery refectory, able to seat ten people. A frieze found under numerous layers of rendering and then restored adorns the west wall. The kitchen architecture is typical of old houses in the Trièves region. It links the current dining room by means of the fireplace via a cast iron plate to another little vaulted room. This layout, known as the “poêle” (stove) is still to be found in local farms. The “poêle” is now the actual kitchen, fully fitted with a Morice kitchen range. It is followed by a pantry and a dungeon in the tower, which is now used as a larder.
The south-south-east wing
Terracotta floor tiles, French ceilings and old stone fireplaces. A very bright lounge, with a fireplace and doors opening out on the courtyard and garden sides. It is followed by a large study, with a fireplace and also direct access to the garden. On the north side, guest toilets and cloakrooms. A large vaulted cellar with a gravel floor, a wine cellar in the north tower. An armoury is set between the bar and the back stairway.
The south-south-east wing
Old walnut wood parquet flooring, featuring marquetry and bearing the patina of time, throughout, 3.8 m high, French ceilings and lime rendering on the walls. A reception room with a monumental fireplace. In the Middle-Ages, this was a communal room for domestic staff, but in the Renaissance era it became today’s function room and every year Montmeilleur hosts numerous cultural events from jazz concerts to candle lit Baroques concerts, including the “Opéra du Louvre”.
The property is equipped with chairs and trestle tables so as to be able to accommodate 120 people in the large room and more than 500 people in the parklands.
The large room opens into the “Bouquinistes” suite, with a library, walnut wood furniture designed and crafted in the castle workshops. It looks out over the gardens. A lounge-bedroom and a bathroom in the east tower.
The “La Chapelle” suite can be reached via the main stairway. A font bears witness to the former vocation of the vaulted room which is now a bedroom. A bathroom in the tower is part of the suite.
The “Bouquinistes” and the “Les filles” suites open into a fully fitted kitchen, enabling guests staying upstairs to be independent.
The royal suite is that of the owners where the future King Louis XI would have stayed when he was still heir apparent in the province of Dauphiné, a great hunting enthusiast, who was a regular visitor to Montmeilleur. A large bedroom, with a four-poster bed, hunted down in Paris, complete with a coat-of-arms representing the heirs apparent of the Dauphiné province, with a fireplace, old doors found in the best of Parisian antique dealers, porcelain light switches, a 3.2 m high ceiling and lime rendering. In the ladies’ sitting room, oxblood-coloured walls, the whitewash tinted with a pigment coming from an old local iron mine. A bathroom with old hotel furniture in the south tower.
The master bedroom extends over more than 200 m², the lounge and dining room spanning the dimensions of the large room on the first floor. These two rooms are now separated by bookshelf and storage units.
The dining room and the kitchen on this floor look out via large mullioned windows over the wonderfully unspoilt, Trièves basin, with a backdrop distant by 25 km of Mont-Aiguille and Grand-Veymont, fortress of the Vercors mountains over these 25 km.
On either side of the lounge, a large bathroom, with a bath, a ladies’ sitting room and two bedrooms. (The view from the large bed takes in the Obiou mountain some 5 km away.)
Under the roofing framework, a vast attic resembling a cathedral, spanning approx. 200 m² with a 3.8 m high ceiling. It also houses a large laundry room, with an industrial washing machine and an ironing machine, as well as a large storage area.
The guest houses
The three guest houses, spanning floor surface areas between 120 and 200 m², are converted in the old outbuildings. Each has its own private outside area. They have been very tastefully restored, with underfloor heating, larch wood parquet flooring, wood and gas-fired cookers, each with a very large lounge-kitchen (between 90 and 110 m²) and a mezzanine bedroom, spanning more than 18 m². A piano, found in the old barns, is an allusion to the Austrian origins of the current owners as it was made by piano-maker, Franz-Ignaz-Pleyel, born in 1757 in Vienna, who then moved to Paris to create the famous Maison-Pleyel, hence the name “Musique” given to one of the guest houses.
An ultramodern and ecological, 70 m² boiler room houses two boilers, one of which is wood-fired and used mid-season, taking good advantage of the property’s abundant wood supplies. The other fully-automatic boiler, running on wood pellets, provides heating throughout the castle and the guest houses through 2 km of loops in the screeds of each room, excluding the master suite on the second floor. A farm shed, spanning approx. 80 m², is used for storing wood pellets.
A joinery, several garages, a garden shed and a vast barn complete the facilities required for the upkeep of the castle and its grounds.
The health centre: swimming pool, exercise room, sauna and Jacuzzi
A garden goes up in tiers towards a heated, 12x6 swimming pool, an exercise room, spanning approx. 40 m², with an upstairs sauna, and a Jacuzzi in a gazebo, ideally located in the parklands with a view of the surrounding landscapes.
The estate: the French formal garden, the meadows, the woods and the runway
In the midst of the Trièves region, clearly an area of climate and botanic transition, where the influences of the Provence Vercors, Dévoluy and Oisans regions meet, an unspoilt, little-known setting for these 43 continuous hectares, with their French formal garden planted with boxwood and yew, meadows, a vegetable garden, woods and private hunting grounds. The 2.789 m high Obiou mountain, forming the backdrop, dominates unspoilt countryside, exuding absolute peace and quiet, in a pastoral decor with, in the distance, the emblematic Mont-Aiguille, a peak standing out from the Vercors mountain range. And lastly, this property has one of the most beautiful, mountain runways, with a 10% gradient. But as it is a private aerodrome, it is not necessary to hold the French “Mountain Pilot” licence.
With its medieval origins, its long, thousand-year-old history and despite having known very troubled times, this old stronghold house exudes perfect harmony: life here is pleasant, the home comforts exceptional. The beauty and majesty of these premises are striking from the architecture of the castle and its outbuildings to the exceptional quality of the restoration works, a long, patient task that took the current owners more than twenty years, and all of the furniture, most of which is sold with the property, was meticulously hunted down. Exuding a peaceful, balanced atmosphere, nothing disturbs its pleasant way of life. The omnipresent natural surroundings are beautifully unspoilt. Visitors can but dream of flying up into the air in a small airplane from the grassy runway in order to contemplate the unique, magical landscape.
|Land registry surface area||45 ha 87 a 95 ca|
|Main building surface area||900 m2|
|Number of bedrooms||12|
|Outbuilding surface area||800 m2|
|including refurbished area||450 m2|
Fabienne Pillard +33 1 42 84 80 85
NB: The above information is not only the result of our visit to the property; it is also based on information provided by the current owner. It is by no means comprehensive or strictly accurate especially where surface areas and construction dates are concerned. We cannot, therefore, be held liable for any misrepresentation.