Just a little over a year ago, I wrote about my visit to the Chateau de Seriege near Cruzy (read that post here). This year, the tourist office of the Communaute de Communes Canal-Lirou Saint Chinianais organised another visit, connected to last year’s visit by a common theme: Gustave Fayet.
Gustave Fayet was a rich art collector and artist, business man and patron of arts. He had inherited great wealth from his parents, which he put to good use.
Our visit was to Chateau Milhau, near Puisserguier. This estate had been passed to Gustave Fayet in 1893 by his father on the occasion of Gustave’s marriage to Madeleine d’Andoque de Seriege. He moved to Milhau with his new wife, and immediately made a start on improving the vineyards and embellishing the buildings. When his father died in 1899 Gustave and Madeleine moved to another of their newly inherited estates, and gave up living at Milhau. After the death of Gustave Fayet in 1928, his son Leon Fayet sold the estate at Milhau. The Maison de Maitre was abandoned in the 1970s and fell into total ruin. In 2008 Norman and Diana Tutt, a couple from Britain, fell in love with the buildings. Since then they have carried out a restoration project, using original materials wherever possible. Our visit of the buildings was guided by Norman Tutt, who met us in the garden just outside the house.
We admired the facade with its terracotta decorations, sculpted by Louis Paul, an artist friend of Gustave Fayet.
A frieze of grape-and-vine-leaf relief tiles runs along the roof line.
The porch underneath the tower connected the courtyard behind the house with the garden in front. On the wall was another terracotta relief, and below this relief would have been the front door into the Fayets’ private accommodation.
We entered the house by a door from the courtyard, and ascended to the first floor. When the Tutts had started restoration works, the building was a total ruin, with rotten floors and leaking roofs. They did uncover a few traces of the former habitants: here and there, patches of old wallpaper had escaped the ravages of time and could be preserved, either in situ or as part of a collage:
Some of the wallpapers were made by the French firm Zuber, which is still producing high quality wallpapers today. I was totally charmed by some of the details of the restoration, such as these porcelain light switches, produced by Fontini.
We continued to what is today Norman and Diana Tutt’s library:
The French doors overlook the garden, and open onto a little balcony. At one time a grand double staircase would have led down to the garden from where the balcony is today. The spiral staircase in the left hand corner leads up to what had been Gustave Fayet’s atelier. Before his time, that part of the tower had housed a clock mechanism. Gustave Fayet had larger windows installed, and used the room to paint.
Here is a picture which Gabriel Fayet, Gustave’s father, painted of Chateau Milhau – you can see the clock still in place, as well as the grand staircase leading from the first floor down to the garden.
Gustave Fayet painted these watercolours, which were later used as motifs for carpets:
The views from the house are spectacular. On a clear day one can see as far as the sea! This is Domaine La Bouscade, the closest neighbour:
The spiral staircase is very similar to the one in the dining room at Cafe de la Paix in St Chinian.
I ended my visit with a little walk. Here are some views of the garden:
The chapel was built by Gustave and Madeleine Fayet:
The enormous wine cellars were enlarged by Gustave Fayet’s father in 1875:
If you are interested in finding out more about Gustave Fayet, there’s a very good book, which is available from the tourist office in Capestang, entitled “Gustave Fayet, chateaux, vignobles et mecenat en Languedoc”. The book is also available on the Midihideaways Bookshop (Amazon) under the heading “Books by Local Authors”.
You can also visit the Musee Fayet in Beziers, a former residence of Gustave Fayet and his family, as well as the Abbaye de Fontfroide near Narbonne, which still belongs to Gustave Fayet’s descendants. I’ll visit both with/for you before too long!