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Durfee Castle

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Les origines
Les Raybe d’Urfé

The family  d’Urfé

La famille d'Urfé avant la Bastie.
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La famille d'Urfé
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by David Durfee

Well, fellow Durfees, the castle exists. A three hour TGV train ride due south from Paris put me in St. Etienne this summer. My escort for the day was Vincent, a very congenial college student whose family lives in Montbrison, the same Montbrison mentioned in the "Origin" article that I had stumbled onto several years ago. Vincent knew of the castle and had been given directions as to its location, but had never been there before. Buckled up in Vincent's car, we were soon sprinting up winding roads in lush French backcountry, engaging in that special activity that Europeans seem to enjoy so much...tailgating at high speeds on narrow roads! Ok, it's an odd metaphor, but I promise you I closed my eyes and looked death in the face.

I had started to think that Vincent may be slightly lost, when we saw the first "Castle d'Urfe" sign and directional arrow on a signpost beside a pasture that has probably been in some issue of National Geographic. A few minutes later and, voila, there we were. I had purposely kept my expectations down. Truth is, I would have been happy to have found a couple of old stones or a little rubble. Instead, I was standing in front of a very well preserved wall of a structure that has withstood the passing of 800 years of human history.


David Durfee
in 1997

The interior of the castle showed more of the ravages of time, making this castle one of the more "mundane" castles in southern France. There was no roof. Not all the walls were standing. Those that were standing were mainly chunks of walls with gaping holes that afforded breathtaking views of the valley below. Flowers and grass grew throughout. One of the turrets was almost entirely intact, however. A climb up the steep and winding steps inside the turret was rewarded with a wonderful view that was rapidly lost in the enveloping haze of a swiftly advancing cloud cover. The local historical society had caringly reinforced the "roof" on the top of the turret and had installed informative plaques around the top that described what the visitor would be seeing as he looked out over the top to the manicured fields and purposeful forests below.

After I finished walking around, climbing on, peering under, scrambling over, observing, photographing, smelling and touching ( tasting) the d'Urfe castle, my bemused host and I headed off for lunch with his very gracious family and then on to the bastie. The bastie is the chateau (i.e., real fancy house with an estate around it) that certain of the d'Urfe family built in and lived in during the 1500's/1600's. It is well restored and comes complete with an admission fee and a tour guide. It is a bit of a museum and attraction in this area, and is used as the location of various cultural events. The real truth is that I was still awestruck by the castle, and this "new" structure was just a little anticlimatic. It was nonetheless fascinating.

Having a little time left to kill, and back in Montbrison, Vincent proudly showed me the town's cathedral (which would have been the envy of any American city). Adjacent to the cathedral, we stepped inside another old building. In addition to being the headquarters of the historical society, the building's main distinction was that it was constructed by Guy IV (ok, ok, I don't know who he was but he obviously lived a darned long time ago and was pretty important) specifically as a wedding hall on the occasion of his daughter's marriage. The cool thing is that this Guy IV had painted on the ceiling the family coat of arms of all the aristocrat families that were in attendance at this wedding. And, yup, there was the d'Urfe coat of arms...just like I had seen it in the "Origin" book and also at the bastie. "Party on," I thought to myself.

Well, I spent only 6 hours on my mini-tour of the castle, the bastie and the Montbrison area. And, yes, I know that if any of us go back more than just a couple of generations we find that we have lots of "roots" and we're related to lots of people, not just the one person who, as a result of a quirk in cultural decorum, was responsible for our name. But, you know, it felt good and maybe it even felt right to touch and walk where ancestors of mine long ago touched and walked and to feel a connection to a place that has always seemed so foreign and now seems much less so. And one thing I'm certain of...many, many years ago, in a beautiful countryside, on a shady lane, an ancestor of Vincent's was out for a ride in his carriage and gave a ride to an ancestor of mine...and scared the living hell out of him! What a ride.

Thanks, Montbrison, on behalf of all the Durfees, Durfeys, and d'Urfes.  


How to find the Castle. . .

Here are the directions Dave Durfee gave to get to the d'Urfe castle near Montbrison:

I don't have a map or directions to either the old castle or the bastie. The best thing to do is simply get to St. Etienne (which you can do by train from Paris) and then get to Montbrison (there may be public transportation, but I really don't know) and ask someone there. In particular, the Historical Society is downtown and they could give directions, but my guess is that most of the people there know how to get to the castle, even though it is off in the boondocks a ways, and I'm sure they know how to get to the bastie, which is closer in. But it is a little convoluted to get to the castle, as best as I can remember, so my real suggestion is probably to hire a cab or hire a local simply to take her there.


Large view of France First level zoom
A tad bit closer view The close up shot!
1. Castle d'Urfe.
In the mountains near Montbrison, France.
2. Castle d'Urfe.
One of the two turrets.
3. Castle d'Urfe.
The walls are starting to show signs of wear
4. Castle d'Urfe.
Ovens used for cooking bread and cookies.
5. Castle d'Urfe.
Relaxing in an alcove.
6. Castle d'Urfe.
The view of the valley below.
7. Bastie d'Urfe.
Closer in to Montbrison. At the front gate.
8. Bastie d'Urfe.
Renaissance era estate of the Family.
This photo is from a brochure.
9. Bastie d'Urfe.
On the front porch.
10. Ceiling of old hall in Montbrison.
The d'Urfe coat of arms is the second from the right.



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