Langres in the Haute-Marne region of Champagne is a sleepy sort of a town where people are friendly and say hello to strangers. It wasn’t always so. The original Chateau de Pailly which was built in the 11th century was destroyed by the people of Langres. They acted in retaliation for the Burgundian owner’s support of the English in the 100 years war.
The history of Chateau de Pailly near Langres
English guide Toni who volunteers at the Chateau is happy to show visitors round the “new” chateau which was rebuilt in the 1400s by the de Saulx family. It has a fascinating history, though the facts are a little sketchy on account of the documents about this white stone castle being destroyed in a fire in Langres in 1892.
Useless fact fans will appreciate knowing that one time owner Gaspard de Saulx, known for his excessive persecution of Protestants in France, appeared in British TV series Doctor Who. Well, not actually him, actor André Morell played him in a 1966 series “The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve” in which Gaspard played a role. Sadly, if you’re keen to watch – no known footage of the serial featuring William Hartnell as the Doctor, and Peter Purves as his assistant, is available.
During the French Revolution, the façade of the castle was defaced. Later it was used as a school for local kids. In the 1950s the family who owned it but didn’t really rate it that much sold it to an insurance company. They left it to rot as they just wanted the land that came with it. By the time the state stepped in, the Chateau was in a terrible state.
The Chateau de Pailly today
This lovely old castle has these days found love from local volunteers. And that’s essential because the funds are just not there to restore it. One of the volunteers, Georgette, remembers visiting the castle chapel in the 1950s but says that the key has been lost, the stairs have rotted and no one has been in there for at least 50 years. I tried to persuade them to fetch me a ladder but they wouldn’t!
Inside the castle mainly resembles a mysterious medieval building site. Slowly the volunteers are bringing it back to life but it’s a huge job. One of the rooms is complete, and completely stunning. To enter you need to pop plastic sliperettes over your shoes to protect the ancient wooden floor (and polish it at the same time). You will find yourself in a vast room with ornately painted ceiling and carved fire places and a life-sized portrait of a rather stern looking Gaspard staring at you.
A huge mirror is propped against one wall. It looks old but strangely out of place. “Ah” said a local Frenchman “rumour has it that this was the village classroom many years ago. The teacher put this mirror on the wall in front so that when she paced the classroom she could check what the children were up to behind her back!”
Visit the Chateau du Pailly
The gardens are being restored and are lovely to wander in and are free to access. This ancient and rather beaten up old Chateau is embracing its resurrection and a bit of TLC. There are lots of events in the summer and visitors are made very welcome. Guided tours are available in English, French and German.
Over the door of the chateau is a Latin inscription. It translates as “Follow where fate leads us”. It certainly tempts you in to find out more about this authentic and rather romantic chateau, it’s well worth a detour from Langres.
The Chateau is open from April to September (details in the website below).
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