Today , I will be taking you to visit Château de Bonneval in southern Haute-Vienne!
The de Bonnevals are one of France’s oldest aristocratic houses, dating its documented origins in the Limousin from the early 11th century. Me? Nervous? Ok, just a bit! What does one wear to meet a Marquise ? Oh dear, I’m going to be late!
Coussac-Bonneval in southern Haute-Vienne The drive down to Coussac-Bonneval is an enjoyable one and once you reach the village, you can’t miss the castle! I am a bit early so I settle down on a bench by the castle gates to wait for my hostess. At 10am sharp, a couple appears, walking hand in hand down the castle alley. The smiles on their faces and their relaxed attitude instantly reassure me.
“Hello, I am Marta and this is Géraud. It’s so nice to meet you”. We chit chat on our way up to the castle and I can tell that I am going to enjoy visiting with such friendly people. I must admit that history was not my favourite subject at school, but with Marta and Géraud de Bonneval as guides, history takes on a whole new meaning. The thing is, the people who lived here – the knights and ladies, the Pasha and noblemen… they are all part of Marta and Géraud’s family! Incredible people with incredible destinies, presented to me as if they were my very own family!
A step back into the past Marta does most of the talking. She is much like a bubble of champagne and the amused and loving way that the Marquis looks at her is truly endearing. Marta knows each and every important date by heart.
We take a quick tour of the outer castle and Géraud explains that his parents put a lot of time and energy keeping the castle in perfect state. There are four sides to the fortress, each with a different architectural side. There’s even a tower called “The Devil’s Tower” with a fascinating legend (but I won’t spoil it by telling you about it here, you’ll have to visit the château to find out for yourselves! )
The inside of the castle is quite surprising. There is an inner courtyard and before I get to say “wow, this would be a great place for concerts”, Marta informs me that the central well is going to be removed in a few days…“for concerts”! We head upstairs and visit room after beautiful room, corridors and stairways: an impressive labyrinth whose architecture, art and furniture reflect nearly 10 centuries of the family’s residence here. Now, I have visited several castles before, but I must say that what amazes me the most at Bonneval, is that each room is decorated and furnished in a way that makes it seem that its occupant shall be returning any minute from now!
And now for the “piece de resistance”! The Bonneval Archive room : over 30.000 documents relating the family’s history from 1055, to today! Books and drawers chock full of information, and at the back of the room, the de Bonneval family tree. Have you ever tried drawing up your own family tree? Not a simple task to say the least. Well I bet you’ve never seen anything like this family tree! It starts way at the top with Gérault de Bonneval and goes on for 30 generations! And when the second millennium of the family tree is drawn up, it will also begin with a “Géraud”, today’s Marquis (different spelling, same pronunciation)!
Limousin is where the heart is
As the tour of the castle comes to an end and we settle down for a cup of coffee, I still have a few “down to earth” questions I would like to ask. Ok, so it’s a bit cliché, but here I am sitting in a castle with a Marquise and a Marquis. So what do I want to know? “How did you and Géraud meet, Marta?” I knew that Marta was Brazilian but what I didn’t realize is that part of Géraud’s family was also from Brazil. They met because Marta went to school with Géraud’s sister. “We got married in 1988, and 20 years ago, we decided to take the big step and move into Château de Bonneval, to continue the hard work Géraud’s parents and grand-parents had put into it. Our children grew up in Limousin. When I first moved here from Sao Paulo, I hadn’t the slightest idea about life in the countryside”.
When asked what she thinks of Limousin and what she enjoys the most here, Marta says, with a twinkle in her eye : “ The peacefulness… the serenity that reigns here is priceless. We have a tendency to take so much for granted. Peace is a luxury and that is what I love most about living here. My friends sometimes ask me if I’m not bored, but there is so much to do. The castle keeps us on our toes. There is always something to add onto the to-do list!”, she says with a laugh and a friendly hand on my arm.
Coming up at Château de Bonneval…
Before my visit comes to an end, I ask what their projects are for the upcoming year. “We have a retro automobile exhibition coming up on the castle grounds, on June 28th, as well as a conference about Jean-Louis Paguenaud, a renowned navy painter from Coussac, on July 12th. Something we’re really looking forward to : the opening concert for the Saint-Yrieix music festival on July 17th. The castle is also open for guided tours until September. We plan on giving special VIP evening tours (book directly on the château website) as well as regular ones. As for our other plans for next year, we’d like to open the castle up for events such as wedding receptions and we are thinking of organizing art workshops for children sometime in the near future.”
And so my visit to the Marquise and Marquis de Bonneval has come to an end. I hope you enjoyed reading about it and I hope it will make you want to take a tour of the castle and learn all about the fascinating history of the de Bonneval family sometime soon! Marta and Géraud, thank-you for making me feel right at home, in your castle! And see you soon!
Website : www.chateaudebonneval.com
Tours : 06 29 19 49 06 / 05 55 08 45 81