Ad Austrum is a luxury rental in the south of France full of charm, surrounded by fruit trees and vineyards. It is located 15 min from Uzès close to all the sights of Languedoc-Roussillon.
It feels like the end of the world but with views of the Pyrenees and wind from either the Mediterranean or the Atlantic.
What is the story behind Château de Sibra, what was your inspiration to create it?
I have friends who live in the region and I have been visiting for years. It feels like the end of the world. But with the views of the Pyrenees and the wind from either the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, you also feel connected to the world. It’s a region that’s touristic enough but not overrun.
So I started looking around for a property to buy but didn’t find anything, until a call from an acquaintance about a place that was about to go on sale. The day I first saw it the weather was horrible. But as we were strolling through the park, I completely fell in love. I did my master’s thesis on Romantic landscape parks, so it really touched me. I had a harder time with the main building but the location was so amazing that I decided to take on the adventure.
We began by restoring the outbuildings as they weren’t liveable, then in the second phase, we moved on to the château. I am an architect by trade, so I oversaw the restoration and the interior design, with a lot of great people working on the project. I bought the chateau in 2017 and submitted the building permit in 2018, ready for work to start that summer. It took three years to complete and we opened in the summer of 2021.
How would you describe the atmosphere and interior design of Château de Sibra?
The château is a weird building as it is designed in a mixture of different historic styles - it’s a collage. For my generation of architects who are trained in a modern style, it’s extremely difficult and it took me a little while to realise what Villary de Fajac (who had redone the chateau in the 1880s) was trying to achieve.
But once I looked at the building as he intended, as a series of stories to be told, it became quite loveable and fun. Through the restoration, I hope we were able to reawaken and retell some of these stories.
It’s not like some chateaus with these huge spaces that you get lost in. It’s generous in size but also warm and cosy.
While the ground floor was lived in (with a very 1950s French style), the second floor hadn’t been used in a long time and was largely untouched (except for a new roof). Because it was in its original state, we had the old wallpapers and flooring to work with. We were able to reprint many of the wallpapers using the original paper and pigments and we had a team in Morocco who redid some of the tiles. In the places where we couldn’t recreate the original features, we interpreted them as closely as possible using the same colours.
In terms of the interior design, I wanted to put pieces of furniture in the rooms that stood in the space. But if you removed them, it wouldn’t destroy the existing room. I love contemporary furniture and have been collecting it all my life, so designing the interiors of the chateau was a good opportunity to declutter my home in Switzerland.
For Villary de Fajac, the Château de Sibra was a living experiment - he was developing a concept around living. So I really didn’t want to create a museum but rather honour this living experiment and protect it.
To you personally, what is so special about Château de Sibra?
The Château de Sibra is hugged by two small hills but with these grand views. So it is like you are in this cocoon, but a generous, wide-open one. It’s something that our guests notice also and many don’t want to leave!
It’s also special for me because I spent so much time researching and trying to understand the project of the Villary de Fajacs. It’s like they have become good friends and the project they started is something that I have taken on. They had this vision of creating an Arcadian world, which is again appealing to many people today. To devote your life to that experiment is something I find extremely fascinating and to propel it a little bit into our time is a fun challenge.
On the northern side is a medieval-looking building that was originally a horse stable while on the southern side is a building constructed from concrete and steel that was quite modern for its time.
The stables have now been transformed into apartments while the storage area under the roof (where herbs and sausages were once kept) is now the studio.
Where the castle caretaker and gardener once lived with their families is now the Maison de Métayer, a symmetrically designed building with five rooms and one suite. There is a large communal kitchen and a salon, as well as a private garden. We tried to keep the renovations as minimal as possible, which is why the apartments are quite lofty spaces. All of the built-in furnishings were designed with the notion that if you took them out, the space would be left with its original purity.
The loft-like apartment 1 on the ground floor has 80 m² and can accommodate 2 to 3 people. There is one double bed and one single bed, an additional bed is available on request. The apartment is barrier-free.
This airy, whitewashed apartment on the first floor with its ceilings up to 5 meters high has 105 m² and offers plenty of space for 4-5 people. The beautiful castle carpet in the salon is great for relaxing, reading and chatting.
2 bedrooms each with 1 double bed
1 single bed in the master bedroom
Bathroom with shower and separate toilet
The 71 m² studio "sous le ciel" with its old exposed beams creates a cozy atmosphere. It is set up for 2 people and can be equipped with a cot on request.
The loft with an open kitchen unit has two windows with a view of the inner courtyard and the park, as well as a skylight.
The castle caretaker and gardener once lived with their families in the harmoniously proportioned caretaker's house. The previous, beautiful wall colors were documented in the course of the renovation, and the original color moods were reproduced after the renovation.
The Maison de Métayer offers 5 bedrooms: 3 bedrooms with double bed and bathroom with shower, 1 bedroom with double bed, bathroom with bathtub and 2 sofa beds, and 1 suite with double bed and bathroom with shower. A large communal kitchen, a salon, a terrace in the castle courtyard in front of the kitchen and a sheltered garden behind the house, which is directly adjacent to the castle park.
Breakfast is not included in the rates for guests staying in the apartments or the maison but they are always welcome to join us for breakfast on the chateau terrace in the morning. Alternatively, we can bring a breakfast basket to them so they can eat in privacy.
Dinners are served at the chateau on request and a few times a week we do cold platters with meats, cheeses and small salads, accompanied by regional wines. Alternatively, guests have access to a kitchen for self-catering. There is a laundry on the ground floor and cleaning is provided every other day. Bicycles are also available for rent.
Please note that a swimming pool will be ready by May/June 2022.
Within 30 minutes’ drive of the Château de Sibra, there is a great collection of cultural activities, including the centuries-old Cathar castles. The closest one is the Château de Montsegur, which is around 20 minutes’ drive, plus a 40-minute hike. You need good shoes! They built their castles on the top of very steep mountains but with fantastic views.
Carcassonne is also quite lovely but can get very busy with tourists in the summer months. Nearby is a wonderful little chapel that has been carved into the stone (in fact, it’s around four churches built on top of one another) and features beautiful frescoes. There are also prehistoric wall paintings nearby, one of the few in France that are still accessible, although you do need to make a reservation.
I also love following the old railroads that have been transformed into cycling routes. You ride beneath tunnels and bridges that look surprisingly similar to the walls of the Château de Sibra. A short drive south is the Lac de Montbel where you can bathe, go sailing or rowing.
The Château de Sibra is located in the southwest of France in the middle of the Pays Cathare, a region that has been heavily influenced by this 11th and 12th-century religious sect. We are eight kilometres from Mirepoix, a medieval town with supermarkets, bookstores and boutiques, which also hosts a produce market twice a week.
UNESCO-listed Carcasonne is 15 minutes away and surrounded by completely intact walls. The “Pink City” of Toulouse (France’s fourth largest city) is an hour from the property and home to the Airbus headquarters. The closest restaurant is around five kilometres away in an old monastery or there are lots of great restaurants in Mirepoix.
I love the beautiful landscapes - you are in the foothills of the Pyrenees with lots of wonderful hikes, little lakes and rivers, as well as different species of wild orchids. There is great wine in the region and it is steeped in history. With the exception of Carcassonne, it’s not completely overrun with tourists, so you have the opportunity to see these treasures privately. It makes for a tourist experience that is quite personal and I find intensely moving.
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