Serenely resting in the foothills of the Massif Central on the western edge of the Rhone Valley, the Chateau looks East to the Alps in the far distance. With its atmosphere of tranquillity the Chateau is truly conducive to restorative programmes and is an ideal location to get away from the stress of day-to-day 21st century life. The Chateau du Bijou feels more like a home than a castle. It is a haven of peace and quiet and the world spins slowly here.
The Chateau du Monbijou (‘Chateau for my mistress’) was built in 1751 by Charles de Fay, Marquis de Gerlande, for Anne Clemence Bouvier, the daughter of a doctor (Andre Bouvier) from Privas. Charles was a widower, hence the reference to ‘monbijou’, and he was the “seigneur” of Privas, the administrative centre of the Ardeche, thus an extremely important individual.
The Chateau was constructed immediately following the completion of the Hotel de la Prefecture building in Privas, which was also commissioned by Charles de Fay. Local rumours suggest that there once existed (or still exists!) a tunnel from the Duc’s residence in Privas to the Chateau itself, although this has never been found.
The ownership of the Chateau was passed down through several generations until eventually being sold to a local family who had made their fortune in the rapidly expanding local silk trade, which centred on Lyon. This family, les Chabert and then les Garel, also owned the silk factory and chapel that can still be seen across the lane from the entrance to the Chateau. At some point in these years the Chateau became known as le Chateau du Bijou, presumably for reasons of propriety.
At the height of silk production the Chateau was at the centre of industrial operations in the area. The disused railway track that is still clearly visible at the bottom of the front field was that along which the silk trains ran between Privas and Le Pouzin, on the banks of the Rhone, where the silk was loaded into boats for transport to Lyon or Marseille.
It is unknown due to lack of historical record whether the Bouvier family from the Chateau are related to the Michel Bouvier who emigrated from nearby Grenoble to the USA and whose great, great granddaughter married President John F Kennedy. Hauntingly, however, we do know that it was into the ‘mountain’ that forms the main part of the Chateau’s grounds (Mont Bijou, close to the village of St Bauzile) that JFK’s younger sister, Kathleen Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington’s plane tragically and fatally crashed on May 13 1948, en route from Paris to the French Riviera.