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Keriolet castle: When imperial russia married mystical Brittany

The medieval origins of Keriolet

In the heart of Brittany, on the heights of Concarneau, stands the majestic manor house of Keriolet, whose roots go back to the 13th century. In old parchments dating from 1481, the name Keriolet appears for the first time, inhabited by Jean Trévaré, a ducal accountant. In the 17th century, it passed into the hands of Jean de Kerguen, notary at the court of Conq, and in 1752, the former mayor Jean-Pierre Billette took up residence there.

(Noé C. photography)

The Epic of Princess Zénaïde and Count Charles de Chauveau

It was in the twilight of the 19th century, under the Second Empire, that the story of Keriolet took an extraordinary turn. Charles Chauveau, a territorial artillery captain, met the Russian princess Zénaïde Youssoupoff, a woman of immense wealth. Their unlikely love caused a scandal, but Tsar Alexander II agreed to the marriage. Charles Chauveau became Count Chauveau and later the Marquis de Serres.

The Renaissance of Keriolet under the Aegis of the Princess

Count Chauveau embarked on a political career and needed to acquire a residence in his constituency. In 1861, he bought the Keriolet manor house. Under the direction of architect Joseph Bigot, an extraordinary metamorphosis began, spanning two decades and costing a fortune. The “new” Château de Keriolet was inspired by many styles, from Blois to Rustéphan, with crowns, ermine, stars and even Russian influences. The grounds are adorned with emblematic statues, testifying to the princess’s love of Brittany.

The Keriolet legacy

In 1882, the Comte de Chauveau died, leaving Keriolet to his sister. Princess Zénaïde bought the property, then decided to bequeath it to the Department of Finistère, on condition that it be preserved. After her death in 1893, Keriolet opened its doors to the public, exhibiting works by Camille Bernier.

The years of turmoil

In the 1910s, Russia experienced a serious political crisis that culminated in the Russian Revolution. The princess’s great-grandson, Prince Félix Youssoupoff, and his wife fled Russia in 1919. In the 1950s, he sued for the return of the castle, claiming that the provisions of his will had not been respected. In 1956, he won the case and recovered Keriolet, but left it to deteriorate and his collections to be dispersed.

The Contemporary Renaissance of Keriolet

(Noé C. photography)

In 1987, a devastating storm hit Keriolet, sweeping away the roof. The château fell into disrepair, and some of its precious decorations were stolen. All seemed lost until Christophe Lévèque bought the château in 1988. He embarked on an ambitious restoration programme to return Keriolet to its former splendour.

The new life of Keriolet

Since its restoration, Keriolet has been restored to its former glory. It has been listed as a historic monument since 1984. The castle’s inner courtyard, a veritable architectural patchwork, bears witness to the whimsical character of Princess Zénaïde. The castle’s crypt once served as a revolutionary boiler room, heating the entire castle thanks to an ingenious system.

Keriolet, a Place for Culture and Events

Keriolet has regained its cultural vocation. It hosts artistic and musical events, including the Astropolis electronic music festival from 1997 to 2001. The château, beyond its tumultuous history, has become a meeting place for art and music lovers.

The Keriolet legacy

Today, Keriolet continues to fascinate visitors with its rich history, neo-gothic architecture and timeless charm. The château, a symbol of love and passion, remains anchored in the memory of Brittany, reminding everyone that, even after the turmoil of history, beauty can rise from its ashes, always and all the same.

Published on: 23 September 2023  -  Filed under: History and Heritage, To be discovered