The Château de la Mercerie, Versailles of Charente

The Château de la Mercerie, located in the commune of Magnac-Lavalette-Villars, is nicknamed the Versailles of Charente.

Jewel of the Charente, the castle is unique thanks to its exceptional heritage. It is the only castle built in the 20th century, with the longest façade in France of 220 m long in neoclassical style (listed in the Guinness Book of Records).

Built on the side of the Puy de Magnac, a hillock on the watershed between Charente and Garonne. It is visible from many places in the South Charente.


A bit of history...

Originally composed of a neo-gothic manor house from the end of the 19th century, the Château de la Mercerie was acquired in 1924 by the Rhétoré brothers, Raymond, an industrialist and then a Gaullist deputy from the Charente, and Alphonse, a self-taught architect. Passionate and fond of art, they undertook to enlarge and improve it. At the beginning, the idea of the two brothers was simple, they wanted to enlarge the Mercerie to house the paintings and statues that Raymond brought back from his trips to Greece, Italy and Portugal. In 1941, Alphonse began designing a wing in the Gabriel style. This first wing was followed by a second one, and finally led to a neo-classical façade 220 meters long. He coordinated the workers, about twenty men, most of whom came from the village.

All the 19th century rooms were decorated with sumptuous furniture, paintings, and sculpture collections. At the sale of the furniture of the 11th Duchess of La Rochefoucauld (1866-1933) at the eponymous Charente castle, he acquired furniture presumed to have come from the Count and then Prince Orlov (1787-1862)5, which can be seen on a Braun postcard representing the large living room of the castle in about 1900.

Raymond Réthoré traveled and brought back paintings, marbles, woodwork, statues, chandeliers, panelling and other treasures from abroad. For a time, he was attached to the cabinet of Charles de Gaulle, President of the Republic, and invited important French and foreign personalities to visit this great construction site.

For his part, Raymond devoted himself to the development of the park, an arboretum and a rose garden.

From 1939 to 1975, the building site was gigantic and progressed at the same time as the two brothers assembled an immense collection of works of art. Unfinished at their death, the Château de la Mercerie fell into neglect and the collections were dispersed. Due to a lack of maintenance, the roofs were quickly damaged and the interior decorations deteriorated.

The two brothers were unable to bequeath the castle to the Department, the National Assembly, or the City of Angoulême, which nevertheless accepted the 2,068 volumes of the library, which included a large collection of rare books on architecture.

After many ups and downs, in 2011, the municipality of Magnac-Lavalette-Villars and the volunteer association Saint-Etienne Patrimoine, undertook a restoration of the built parts and works of art in order to open the castle to visitors in summer from 2013, after 30 years of abandonment.

The entire castle, with "the Barn", a former farm located at its feet, is listed since 2012 in the Supplementary Inventory of Historical Monuments.


The Arboretum

In addition, the castle is surrounded by about fifty hectares of woods with rare plant species brought back by Raymond Réthoré during his travels, planted with the aim of creating an arboretum, as well as a rose garden.

It was necessary to remove 30,000 m3 of earth to create the extended 40-hectare gardens.


Château de la Mercerie

16320 Magnac-Lavalette-Villars

Tel : 07 89 63 03 57 


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To go further....

La Mercerie : Une folie charentaise

Un château construit en plein XXe siècle ? Par un architecte autodidacte ? Avec une façade néo-classique de 220 mètres de long ? Et, à l'intérieur, un musée privé de près de trois cents oeuvres et objets d'art, ainsi qu'une remarquable collection d'azulejos ? C'est l'étonnante histoire du château de la Mercerie, en Charente (à 25 kilomètres au sud-est d'Angoulême), dont les propriétaires, les frères Réthoré, sont morts ruinés dans les années 1980. Après trente ans d'abandon et de lente dégradation, une association de bénévoles a entrepris de sauver ce monument intrigant, fascinant, déconcertant. Et la Mercerie est à nouveau ouverte à la visite. Grâce à de minutieuses recherches, Thierry Groensteen est en mesure de raconter, pour la première fois, l'histoire du site depuis le XVIe siècle et de décrire, photos à l'appui, le château au temps de sa plus grande splendeur. C'est toute l'histoire de l'édification, de la ruine et de la résurrection d'un édifice hors norme qui revit au fil des pages.

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