Seeming to float in the mountains above the crystal clear Lake of Annecy, the fairy tale pretty castle of Menthon-saint-Bernard has witnessed 1000 years of history – including the birth of a saint whose descendants still live in the castle to this day…
A legendary castle
It’s said that Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle was inspired by the Chateau de Menthon-Saint-Bernard. You can see why. With its towers and turrets reaching up to the sky, narrow archers windows and romantic architecture, it really does look like something out of a fairy tale. Disney visited the castle in 1932 when spending time in Annecy.
Home to the de Menthon family for 23 generations, the castle is open to visitors and it’s rooms are filled with treasures. It’s a fascinating visit. The walls are 2m thick in places and this medieval castle features a touch of Normandy and a hint of Alsace.
A beautiful library will have you dreaming of living here. There are Aubusson tapestries and grand fireplaces in richly furnished rooms. A dress which belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette, given to a de Menthon lady-in-waiting looks like it was made yesterday. The colours and textiles are perfectly preserved. I half expected a musketeer to run in and pull on the 300 year old boots that were in front of the fire in one large salon.
The kitchen is a folly of styles and was still in use until 1958. A miniature railway ran from the kitchen around the castle dropping off food and drink. You can still see the railway line (it’s not that miniature)!
The gardens of Chateau de Menthon-Saint-Bernard, Annecy
Wander outside for fabulous views from the ramparts over the Lake and town of Annecy far below. There’s a greenhouse that has stained glass windows – something I’ve never seen before. Stroll the hanging gardens at the foot of the castle. Here vegetables and medicinal plants grow in a stunning geometric pattern designed by Hugues Devries who holds permaculture garden training and workshops. Peacocks call, sheep wander and chickens cluck in this beautiful garden.
St Bernard de Menthon
Bernard de Menthon was born in 923 at the castle. When his father arranged a marriage for him, the young Bernard allegedly jumped out of a window (which you can see) to avoid his bride. Instead he devoted himself to the church. Over the years he became a priest, bishop and Archdeacon of Aosta, Italy. He was said to have worked many miracles and was made a saint. But he is most remembered for something else.
At around 8000 feet above sea level sits the Great St. Bernard Pass, Switzerland, a treacherous route across the Alps, covered in snow for most of the year. In it’s day it was a popular route with pilgrims travelling from Germany and France to Rome. In 963, Bernard established a monastery and a hospice at the highest point of the pass from which hospitality was extended to all travellers. To this day the hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard offers accommodation and community meals.
From time to time the monks who lived at the hospice rescued travellers lost in the snow and sometime in the late 1600s, they acquired dogs to help. The dogs would clear paths and had a phenomenal sense of smell and could discover people buried deep in the snow. They were called St Bernard dogs…
The Chateau is in the pretty little town of Menthon-Saint-Bernard with a restaurant and paragliding centre.
Find out about guided tours (including in English) at: chateau-de-menthon.com
Lac Annecy tourism en.lac-annecy.com
For inspiration and loads of ideas for what to see and do in and around Annecy Mountains head here: www.annecymountains.com