Driving through the département of the Allier in central France can be like driving through Iowa or Illinois in summer. You’re surrounded by the agricultural richness of the region – vast yellow fields, giant bales of hay ready to be loaded and stored, barns and farmhouses clustered in little compounds alongside the road. The biggest difference? There aren’t that many ancient châteaux in Iowa and Illinois!
I was enjoying a drive like this a few weeks ago, taking the long way back from the extraordinary church at St Menoux to Moulins, when a medieval vision suddenly loomed over the little D-road in front of me. It was the Château de Fourchaud (curiously spelled Fourchault on the road signs in the area), a massive ruined hulk poking up from the sunflower fields.
I stopped for a walk around. The château is not open to the public, although efforts have obviously been made to restore sections of the building. It has a very large donjon surrounded by a courtyard; remnants of the gate once protected by a drawbridge remain. There’s a smaller donjon less than a hundred meters away, a little more rundown and forlorn, and the smaller buildings in the courtyard are in serious decay.
Obviously, some research was needed! It turns out that the first construction on this site dates to 1351, home of the great Mareschal family. They were still there in 1625, when ownership passed to Pierre Hugon, lord of several domains in the Bourbonnais region. As sometimes happens with these great old houses, Fourchaud passed from family to family until it was finally abandoned completely in the mid-1900s, despite being named one of France’s “historical monuments” in 1932.
So today it’s a sad but striking reminder of the glory days of the Bourbonnais. But it may yet have some life left in it. Owned now by a descendant of the Bourbon dukes, it is the object of a restoration plan; several dozen people have signed up for financial support and the hands-on dirty work of making this old hulk accessible to the public again, in the hope it will happen “soon”.
You can learn more on the association’s Facebook page.
In the meantime, have you seen a château in France that has fallen into ruins? What was it like for you? Please share your experience in the comments section below!