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What to See: The Château du Max

Located less than an hour from the Bourbonnais city of Moulins, Château du Max is a moated castle and chambre d’hôtes that offers a lively programme of family-friendly guided tours, escape games, and treasure hunts. To learn more about the chateau’s heritage and its public engagement activities, I spoke with Jacques Mazet, the president of Les Amis du Château du Max, the association responsible for the building’s preservation.

A.D. Manns: In your opinion, what is most unique about the Château du Max?

Jaques Mazet: Its own story. It is a castle whose origin and foundations date back to the thirteenth century, but whose visible parts are typical of the Renaissance. You can also admire a gallery that was designed in the eighteenth century, since modifications were made at that time. All these styles and transformations that it has undergone over time testify to the desire of each of the successive owners to leave a mark of their time.

AM: What is your favourite part of the property? Are there any areas in the castle itself or its grounds of which you are particularly fond?

JM: Personally, I really like the exteriors and the courtyard of the castle as well as the underside of the gallery.

Photo © Thierry Convers

AM: What would you say is the most challenging or difficult aspect of managing the château?

JM: The most difficult aspect is maintenance and repair. The height of the building as well as the high quality of the materials needed to restore it require considerable resources. Everything is disproportionate in a castle. We can create and set up a lot of activities with the association that manages the castle, but it’s very difficult. Except for wealthy investors, who are not the majority of castle owners in France, it is the same for everyone.

AM: When and why did you decide to start writing about the castle’s history? What inspired you to create the idea of an “escape game”?

JM: Having led tours of the castle for many years, I found it impossible to tell the entire story to visitors each time for time. Moreover, as soon as people find out that I am one of the owners of a castle, they ask me a lot of questions that I always answer very willingly. This curiosity on their part pushed me to compile all the elements we knew about the castle. Since escape games were very fashionable a few years ago, I felt the idea that it could be a good gateway to bring a new clientele to the castle. Starting from one of the legends of the castle, we created the activity with a friend.

AM: What legends or ghost tales is the castle associated with?

JM: As in all the castles of the Bourbonnais and elsewhere, there is a treasure that is hidden and a lord who has mysteriously disappeared. The stories are often similar. In this case, as far as the castle is concerned, the most emblematic legend is the disappearance of Jacques de Gouzolles.

One evening, Jacques de Gouzolles, returning to the castle, sees, to his surprise, a small light shining to the left of the portal following the drawbridge. Approaching quickly, he sees a narrow crack, dug in the wall at ground level. There, he can see a small man in black. Near him stands what seems to him to be a large, bright white hen, surrounded by huge golden eggs. Amazed, he tries to widen the crack, but suddenly, the light goes out…Patiently, day after day, the Sire de Gouzolles stays on the lookout and, finally, one evening, he is able to enter the underground passage, which immediately closes in on him.

Despite all the searches, Jacques de Gouzolles was never found, nor his fabulous treasure. For the repose of his soul, his grandson had a chapel built.

Years later, a peasant walking around the castle saw a ghost near the entrance. The latter said to him: “I am cursed and if you do not help me, I will never find rest.” He also revealed to him that under the walls of the castle there was an important treasure and that if he decided to help him, the treasure would be his. We don’t know what the peasant had decided; however, he was found dead a few days later…In the meantime, he had been able to confess to a priest and tell him everything. 

For more information on Auvergne’s castles, click here.