When we push open the gate, we are first taken back by the majestic scene. The sound of shoes clicking on the cobblestone within the immense courtyard. The verdant shades under the Dent de Lanfon and Mont Veyrier heights in the background.
In the distance, Lake Annecy seems frozen in time and space. Our gaze falls on the massive ramparts, tall towers, and traditional Savoyard roofs. Nestled in its gardens between the lake and the mountains, Menthon-Saint-Bernard Castle looks like something out of a fairy tale.
A FAMILY HISTORY
The castle’s incredible beginnings reach back to the 12th century. The Celtic word menthon means ‘house on the rock’.
At first, spherical paths linked together three tall, square towers. They sheltered a large courtyard where the village inhabitants took refuge during troubled times. The castle began to resemble its current structure in 1880. René de Menthon, great-grandfather of the current owner, built the characteristic towers we see now.
Count Olivier de Menthon remains extremely attached to the family-like character of his castle:
It’s a place that was full of life and continues to be full of life today. We have never wanted to make it a museum.
He knows each one of the 105 rooms in his ‘house’ by heart—from the kitchen to the guest bedroom ‘where our VIP guests still sleep, those who we know are receptive to this type of attention to detail’.
DID YOU KNOW?
Legend has it that Walt Disney, on holiday in the region, drew his inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty from Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard.
TREASURES AND STORIES
He loves to show book lovers around the library containing 12,000 works, including some rare editions, such as a copy of the Encyclopédie de Diderot.
He willingly recounts the legend of Bernard of Menthon—patron saint of mountain inhabitants— who was born in the castle in 1008. Engaged to the rich and noble Marguerite de Miolans, he abandoned his bride the night before the wedding to become an archdeacon. His name was adopted for the famous Saint Bernard dogs, who were used from the 15th to 18th century to save travellers lost in the snow in the Alps.
Even today, several rooms contain traces of the saint: the fully restored chapel, the finely sculpted woodwork in the library, and the oratory where Saint Bernard fled the castle before his wedding.
A TRADITION TO CARRY ON
Seated on a bench in the main sitting room, the owner recalls his childhood by saying, ‘You can’t imagine how much we ran through these rooms and courtyards’.
Several portraits of his ancestors hang on the walls, notably his father, François, Minister of Justice under General De Gaulle and an important member of the French Resistance.
They all fought for this castle. I would like to make it so this family tradition continues. Unfortunately, I’m not sure to achieve that. For the younger generations, a place like this represents a lot of time and sacrifice.
Every year from the beginning of May to the end of September, close to 200 visitors come each day for guided tours. For Count Olivier de Menthon, ‘This site is unique; it is important that we continue to share its history’.
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