High on a hillside overlooking a broad fertile valley
sits Chateau Fontblachere, hidden behind a screen of
My daughter and I had a challenging time finding it.
Earlier in the day, we left the freeway from Paris in
our rented car, crossed the fabled Rhone River, and
entered the Department of Ardeche. Our goal was St.
Lager-Bressac, one of the strongholds of the Chambaud
family, but our GPS didn’t recognize the term.
We made a
few false starts, going through places like La Voulte
and Le Pouzin (names of which I recognized from
genealogical research on the Chambauds) before we hit
upon entering “Bressac, St. Lager” in the GPS, and got
headed in the right direction.
After years of seeing this village’s name on detailed
maps and referred to in places like Geneanet, I was
thrilled to finally be there in person. But Chateau
Fontblachere, where we’d made reservations for three
days, was nowhere in sight. After inquiring at the local
church, we eventually found someone who could understand
us and who actually knew where the chateau was.
by a couple of tiny signs that few people would have
noticed, we headed in the opposite direction, crossed a
bridge, and followed a twisting, narrow road upwards.
There in the trees, at the top of the hill, was our
goal, Chateau Fontblachere. We were not disappointed.
This was the place where Madeleine Chambaud, our
ancestor, had lived sometime in the mid 1500s before she
married Zacharie Menuret of Montelimar. The Chambauds
were seigneurs of the whole valley, stretching as far as
Privas in the north to several miles further south.
Madeleine’s father was Noe Chambaud, son of Claude
Chambaud and Catherine Chalendar de la Motte.
vary as to which of Claude Chambaud’s children actually
lived in Chateau Fontblachere and which ones lived in Le
Pouzin or Privas, further north, but most records say
that Noe and his descendants were seigneurs at this
According to the book Chemins Huguenots de l’Ardeche
(Paths of Ardeche Huguenots) the chateau belonged to the
family of Chambaud/ Charrier. Genealogical records show
that Claude Chambaud who married Louise Charrier
(Madeleine’s grandparents) was born in 1490 and was the
seigneur of Chateau Fontblachere.
We don’t know if
Claude was born there, but if he was seigneur there
during his adulthood, that would mean the chateau dated
from at least 1515.
According to another record describing the architecture
of various Ardeche chateaus, the Counts of Poitiers
Valentino owned it before the Chambauds. The Chambauds
lost their property in 1731, which fits in with
genealogical records. Later, the chateau was seized by
the revolutionaries during the French Revolution but the
family who owned it at the time bought it back a few
We had arrived earlier than we anticipated, but decided
we might as well check in, if that was possible. The
courtyard of the chateau was surrounded by a wall, but
we were able to open the gate, then make our way to the
main door. The gravel courtyard was flanked by a
beautiful garden of herbs and roses on one side and a
patio and orangerie on the other side. We rang a bell
but heard nothing, so we decided to come back later.
It was 2:00, plenty of time to drive to Montelimar, the
place I’d read about so much, the home of the Menurets,
our ancestors. Driving the miles between St.
Lager-Bressac and Montelimar, part of it through rugged
mountains, I reflected that travelling between the two
towns would have been difficult during the 16th century,
when Madeleine de Chambaud and Zacharie Menuret met and
How did they even meet? There was a Huguenot
temple at St. Vincent de Barres, part of the Chambaud
seigneury and not far from the chateau, so the Chambauds
did not need to go to Montelimar to worship. Perhaps
Zacharie Menuret, as a lawyer, did legal work for the
Chambauds, who would have undoubtedly had to go to
Montelimar or some other bigger place for those
Montelimar, on first arrival, looked like a very
ordinary town with little ambiance. But once we got past
the peripheral streets with modern storefronts and
started walking, we discovered the centre of the city,
the heart of the medieval town. The narrow streets, the
three-story buildings crowded cheek-by-jowl, with
Mediterranean roof tiles and narrow shuttered windows,
were probably exactly as they were during the era when
the Menurets lived here from at least the 15th century
to the 18th century.
It was difficult to find anything we were looking for,
but we finally came upon the square dedicated to the
original Protestant church, where the Menurets, as
devoted Huguenots, once worshipped and where Alexandre,
one of the sons of Zacharie Menuret and Madeleine de
Chambaud, was the administrator of the consistory. He
was among the group who was ordered to demolish the
temple and pay back what the building cost.
seemed dispirited and lonely, some neglected roses
clinging to a wall and a cat looking down from a
windowsill. A plaque on the wall commemorated the
temple, stating that this is where the Protestants were
able to practice their “cult”, with little mention of
the bloodshed behind the facts.
Back at St. Lager-Bressac, we made our way confidently
back up the steep road to Chateau Fontblachere, hoping
our host was home now.
After ringing a bell and hearing
nothing but the shrill bark of a dog, the door creaked
open and a French bulldog greeted us, followed
immediately by his owner, Bernard Liaudois. Bernard, a
retired Parisian banker, bought the chateau many years
ago as a country retreat and now runs it as a guest
house. He told us that he is only the fifth owner since
the chateau fell out of Chambaud hands in the mid 1700s.
After showing us around the public quarters, which
included an expansive living room and a dining room, he
led us up the wide stone stairway to the upper floor,
where there were several rooms available.
I was intrigued by the small windows at the top of the
stairs, imagining our ancestors looking out these very
windows. Down a dark tiled hallway, we opted for the
suite in a corner tower, which Bernard told us was
formerly the children’s residence. At that time in
history, children lived in separate quarters from their
From there, Bernard showed us around the
grounds, with a pool, pond, spa, tennis court and trails criss-crossing through the woods. We were astonished to
learn during the next few days that our host was the
receptionist, bookkeeper, housekeeper, cook, server,
groundskeeper, pool guy, and gardener, as well as being
the artist behind the paintings on the walls and the
maker of the delicious confitures (jams and jellies) for
After resting in our room, my daughter and I decided to
go for a walk. Behind the chateau, we came upon a small
road and strolled along it. Bernard later told us this
humble road began in the west of France, hooked up with
the famous Santiago de Compostela pilgrim trail, and
eventually led to Corsica!
Wild flowers abounded along
the trail and in the deepening twilight, we could see
across this beautiful valley to the Ardeche mountains.
That night, despite the absolute dark and silence, no
ghosts evidenced themselves, although we woke
occasionally to the braying of donkeys in a lower field.
Two days later, after touring the Ardeche Mountains and
venturing into Provence, we decided to spend our last
afternoon at Le Poet Laval in Drome, a place we’d seen
briefly mentioned in a tourist brochure.
stated that the town had a Huguenot museum and was the
genesis of the Huguenot escape route to Geneva and
beyond. Going through Montelimar once more, we drove
west 18 km through flat farmlands and lavender fields
not yet in bloom. We had no idea what to expect, but
when we turned at the “Le Poet Laval” signpost, we found
ourselves transported back in time to a breathtakingly
beautiful medieval town on a hillside.
It was early
evening, the museum closed, and not a soul in evidence.
As we strolled through the eerily empty walled streets
lined with luxuriant wild flowers and weeds, we would
not have been the least surprised to have met medieval
peasants or a knight.
Standing on one of the towers, we could see across the
valley and into the steep hills, and it was no stretch
of the imagination to see Huguenots slipping through the
trees as they made their escape from the dragonnades and
certain death. For the first time, it was absolutely
evident how and where our ancestor, Alexandre Menuret,
escaped from France.
The young man, born in Montelimar,
eventually fought with William of Orange and settled in
Ireland, although records do not say exactly where he
joined William. But with Montelimar only 18 km away and
Geneva a place that his family was familiar with
(several of the Menurets had gone to the Geneva
University, established by John Calvin), the trail from
Le Poet Laval to Geneva would be the only logical escape
route for him.
How we would have loved to have hiked part of the
Huguenot trail, but this was our last day before leaving
for the airport in Paris. As we drove back to the
chateau through the deepening dusk, we fantasized about
staying for another week, exploring more ancestor sites,
paying our way by helping Bernard clean the pool, weed
the garden, and bake croissants for breakfast.
instead, we paid the modest bill in the morning and
regretfully made our way back to North America and the