In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation – I’m posting a shorter article each week with a twist on a specific destination or aspect of life in the deep heart of France. This week: a visit to the ruins of the Chateau de Domeyrat. Regular “feature-length” posts will resume in September.
A serendipitous find!
In fact, I discovered it a little by accident as I drove from Brioude in search of Lavaudieu, one of France’s official “most beautiful villages” tucked away in this wild, sparsely-populated corner of the country. When I’m on an expedition like this, it’s easy for me to get distracted by all the little historical markers posted beside even the most insignificant departemental roads – I’ll take off down almost any 1-lane asphalt strip or dirt road on the promise of a castle or an abbey church at the end of the path!
In this case, the chateau I found at Domeyrat really appealed to me because, in its ruined state, I imagined at first that it had been hammered by giant stones from a trebuchet during some medieval siege, or perhaps blasted by cannons during some later conflict. The real story is that the gashed exterior of the building is more a reflection of progressive decay over time.
A chaotic history
The story of the castle is classic in the Auvergne: started by Etienne de Papabeuf in the 1100s A.D., the chateau remained in their hands until 1348 when the Papabeuf family abruptly disappeared from the pages of history. (Historians speculate they may have been wiped out by the Black Death as it swept through Europe.)
Domeyrat then passed through the hands of several families, including the Langheacs, one of whom undertook to rebuild the place in Renaissance style in the early 1400s. Most of what you see in these photographs dates from this massive renovation. The last aristocratic inhabitants, buried in debt and anxious to sell, moved out in 1793, leaving the castle mostly empty since then.
Efforts to restore the ruin
The Haute-Loire departement bought the chateau in 1983 and tried to preserve it, but gave up in 2015 as the cost (and associated debt) climbed out of reach. Domeyrat has been closed to the public since then, although there is a website online for an association that is apparently trying to revive the restoration project.
In the end, the history is not as romantic or exciting as the visual image of the place – but that hasn’t discouraged me from imagining what life might have been like in this very remote region of the deep heart of France!
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