Château de Passavant
There are not many estates in Anjou – or indeed along the entire length of the Loire – which owe their existence to the most powerful noblemen of Medieval France. In the case of Château de Passavant, however, the story does indeed begin with one such individual, Foulques III (c.970 – 1040), also known as Foulques Nerra, one of the earliest counts of Anjou. His great grandfather was Foulques I d’Anjou, who had been ennobled by Charles III (879 – 929), and was thus the first to bear the title of Comte d’Anjou. This he passed to his son Foulques II, who in turn passed it to his son Geoffroy I, and then it came to Foulques III.
Despite being the fourth generation to bear this title, it seems to be Foulques Nerra who was really responsible for putting Anjou on the map. He was a fierce adversary who did not shy away from making enemies of his neighbours, including the counts of Brittany to the west, at the time Conan I, as well as Eudes II of Blois, to the east. He was a prolific builder of castles and forts, and is said to have erected more than one hundred, many of which were situated along the borders of Anjou and obviously served a defensive function. Others, such as those around Blois and Tours, such as at Monbazon, Montrésor, Mirebeau, Montrichard and Loches, were more clearly intended to antagonise his neighbours and enemies. He also built several monasteries and abbeys, such as that at Beaulieu-lès-Loches, as well as funding schools. This activity betrayed his more pious side, as did his undertaking of several pilgrimages to the Holy Land. It was as he returned from his fourth such pilgrimage that he died, in Metz. He was ultimately buried in the chapel of the abbey he had built at Beaulieu-lès-Loches.
One of the many castles he built stood overlooking the headwaters of the Layon, on the southern fringes of Anjou. This grand fortress still stands today, complete with great walls, towers and remparts, and today also graced by residential quarters in the Anjou style (pictured above, clearly a much later addition). Today, however, it is no longer a thorn in the side of Anjou’s neighbours; instead it serves as home and cellars to the David and Lecomte families, the modern-day exponents of a now-viticultural Château de Passavant.