Catherine de Medici owned the chateau of Saint-Saturnin…and it is said that Marguerite of Valois lived there…
– Jean-Baptiste Bouillet
Florence is a long way from Auvergne, but traces of its most influential political dynasty — the Medici family — can still be found in the village of Saint-Saturnin. Long recognised as one of the most beautiful villages in France (even in the nineteenth century, English writers called it a “marvel of picturesqueness”), Saint-Saturnin is perched in the rolling hills between Clermont-Ferrand and Saint-Nectaire. Although Saint-Saturnin features a number of beautiful attractions, including a breathtaking Romanesque church, its most impressive landmark is a hotel that’s largely unfamiliar to most holidaymakers: the Château Royal.
First constructed in the thirteenth century, the Château Royal was owned by the noble house of La Tour d’Auvergne for centuries, enduring a succession of military conflicts and regional power struggles. “The castle has seen three sieges in the religious wars,” Sébastien Yepes, the Château Royal’s new director, told me. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century, though, that the Château became a holding of a Medici family member destined to become France’s future queen: Catherine de Medici.
The daughter of Auvergnat noblewoman Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne and Florentine dynast Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino, Catherine gained the status of queen in 1547, when her husband, the Duke of Orléans, acceded to the French throne and became Henry II. But Catherine was not the only French royal associated with the Château Royal. Tradition has it that her daughter, Marguerite de Valois (also known as “Reine Margot”) also used it as a temporary residence. “They didn’t live in the chateau,” confirmed Yepes, “but they did spend nights there.”
The Château Royal, which offers several suites with furnishings that date back hundreds of years, provides guests with a unique opportunity to immerse themselves into the lives and intrigues of the early modern French aristocracy. According to Yepes, the castle also has its fair share of secrets, including eery, hard-to-reach underground chambers, a rooftop viewpoint, Renaissance gardens, and at least one room that was the site of a grisly hanging.
Yepes sees the Château Royal as the perfect place for history enthusiasts. “I love old stones and fortresses,” he said. “When I was younger, I visited around twenty-five castles. I was always dreaming about living and working in one. Life is full of surprises!”