At Chateau du Rivau,
History Meets Harmony
Within France’s historic Loire Valley lies the charming and lovingly restored Chateau du Rivau, a 13th-century castle turned luxury hotel property.
And lovingly is the operative word. While the property has always been breathtaking, centuries of wear and tear will take its toll on even the most resplendent of castles.
Today Le Rivau owes its pristine charm to Patricia Laigneau, who owns and operates the property along with her husband. We caught up with Patricia to learn a little more about the property’s rich history, its most famous visitor and the heroic undertaking she and her husband took to restore it.
The Slow Road: Let’s start with your connection to Rivau. How did you find yourself operating a Renaissance castle?
Patricia: It all started with a coup de foudre for a forlorn castle of the Loire Valley (the valley where the kings of France used to live with their court in the 15th C). Actually to be perfectly precise: Le Rivau was built in the Middle Ages. The Royal Stables on the other hand are from the Renaissance time!
Rivau dates back to the 13th century and the castle has a storied history—Joan of Arc even visited in 1429. Can you tell us the story of her visit? What brought her to Rivau?
Joan of Arc came to Le Rivau to pick up the horses she needed to expel the English army from France. Joan of Arc was a young girl living in Lorraine, in the east of France. She heard the voice of God instructing her to go and see the uncrowned son of the king of France, Charles. She convinced prince Charles, then exiled in the town of Chinon, to become King of France and to give her an army to go and siege Orleans, which was occupied by the English. Prince Charles granted her request and told her to go and pick up his best bred stallions at Le Rivau.
So how did the castle go from a training ground for war horses to a luxury hotel property?
At the end of the 20th century, my husband and I fell in love with Le Rivau. As new private owners, we embarked on a major restoration campaign essential for the building’s survival. We reunited the service quarters with the castle and completely redesigned the gardens. All this work had one purpose: to share our passion for French Heritage with the public. The last piece of that puzzle was naturally to open the castle not only to visitors but also to guests who can now enjoy a blissful and luxurious retreat in a Renaissance castle.
Rivau owes its exceptional condition to an 18-year restoration campaign that took place in the late 1990s. Can you give us a sense of what work was done to restore the property?
Well, before we could restore the interior, the outside needed a tremendous amount of work. We started our journey with the restoration of the outside walls as water infiltration caused the mortar to disintegrate and damage the stone. This was all the more important as the stone used for the castle is tuffeau from Touraine, a very fine-grained limestone which is particularly soft and porous.
Then we undertook restoration of the façades: many questions had to be resolved and to be perfectly honest we didn’t expect the work to be this important. Don’t forget that the castle is more than 500 years old and that no maintenance of the stone has been undertaken since its construction. So, it took two years of constant work to accomplish this rescue mission!
Last but not least, all the dormer windows of the castle had to be redone. In fact, the dormer windows are characteristic of the region as they are the main decorative element of the façades, which are relatively free of other embellishment. These dormers (lucarnes), because they are inserted into the roofs, are technically demanding: the slates must be shaped to conform to the roof and to allow the water to run off.
The perfect harmony of the building depends on the perfection of the sculpted part of the dormer. It was therefore essential to restore these windows in order for the castle to get back to its former self.
Mission accomplished. Your team has done an amazing job—there’s so much to love about Rivau! Its charms are undeniable, but the Loire Valley is a region famous for its castles. What makes Rivau unique among them?
Its soul and harmony. While we obviously did a lot to restore the castle, it was not altered by modernization, whereas most of of the other Loire castles were remodelled in the 19th century. I am in love with the authentic yet incredibly harmonious feel of it all! The site tells a story: that of a fairy tale that comes true.
This is of course a reflection of my husband and mine own personal story: falling in love with the place and living a dream – although sometimes a difficult one! But this also materializes within the 14 gardens of Le Rivau, which conjure up 14 different fairy tales, where art and nature fall into one.
What impression would you like your guests to have?
To feel at home and pampered in a historical chateau, without having to sacrifice any modern comforts.