France: Heroic labour of love
Parts of this medieval chateau, lovingly restored, are available as holiday lets
When Edinburgh-born Alan Geddes and his Parisian wife, Laurence, bought Château de Mayragues in 1980, it was in such a ruinous state that his brother jocosely offered to bring over a bulldozer “to finish it off”. The château, near the bastide town of Gaillac in Le Tarn, north-east of Toulouse, is one of the few surviving fortified castles in the region. It has a half-timbered gallery that runs right around the top floor – perfect for defending it against attack.
“When we came here, the whole area was being abandoned,” Alan recalls. “There was nothing happening, no tourists and it was a 14-hour drive to Paris. Now, with the motorway, we can go to concerts in Toulouse.”
In 1980, its oldest part – built in the 14th century – was about to collapse and the Geddes spent several years painstakingly restoring it, while they lived in a two-storey house in front.
“We had cold water and an outside loo. A lot of the early work was done by friends, but we had to bring in a contractor to do the foundations because there was an enormous diagonal crack in the end wall.”
It took years to make the château habitable. But now it is as glorious as in its heyday in the 16th century, when the Tonnac family, who owned it for generations, added a new wing to match the old.
Standing on 172 acres (70 hectares), it is a working château producing bio-dynamic wines. The land also includes ancient forest and some arable land, which the Geddes lease in return for some of the crops.
The château has high ceilings, oak beams, huge fireplaces, period furniture, canopied beds, uneven stone flags in the diningroom and its own chapel (not in use) off the family livingroom.
Outside, on sturdy stone legs, is a pigonnier – a kind of prison for pigeons destined for the table. The little house in front now holds estate offices and a gite.
There are also two chambres d’hotes, which rent at €110 a night (including continental breakfast) from March to November. Listed by Alastair Sawday, the chateau and gite attracts a range of tourists.
The restoration of Château de Mayragues has been a heroic labour of love.