ST-SEINE-SUR-VINGEANNE, France - Bertrand Bergerot always wanted to live in a castle. Actually, he grew up next door to one. But he had to wait decades before he could fulfill his dream.
Originally, his Chateau de RosiÁeres was just an isolated cluster of farm buildings outside this village in eastern Burgundy. The property would have remained a farm forever had the lords of St-Seine and the Duke of Burgundy not agreed that a fortified manor at RosiÁeres wasn't such a bad idea.
It was the 15th century, and wars were continually laying waste to the region. They recognized the property's defensive position overlooking the Cote d'Or's flat Vingeanne river valley; besides, the stone grange and barns were already at right angles to one another, forming a kind of enclosure. So the lords closed the gaps, added ramparts, dug a double moat, and built a 62-foot-high keep - a refuge for farmers of the domain and a fancy residence for nearby nobility.
The chateau never saw much combat, but after a succession of neglectful owners it may as well have been sacked. In 1930, Bergerot's grandparents began renting the property to farm it. In 1980, his parents bought the deed and moved into the adjacent 11th-century cottage. During adolescence, Bergerot would sneak across the quad to sleep in the uninhabitable, caved-in castle ruins, scheming how someday he'd return the chateau to its former splendor.
He and his brother eventually took over the estate, and the restoration took many years. Bergerot worked then, as now, as a train conductor. Between red-eye Dijon-to-Paris shifts, he'd come home to his castle, knock down some walls, shore up a split timber, install subfloor heating, or repair the terra-cotta tile roof.
Along the way, he met Odile, a local woman; they married and had two children (Cassandra, now 5, and Enguerrand, 7). The family has been running their ``chambre d'hote'' (bed-and-breakfast) for a decade.
With only three guest rooms and acres of tranquillity, the manor remains an exceptional refuge. Hotels from the Middle Ages are sometimes filled with kitschy period fakery, but here the details are the real deal. Expect hot water, heat, and modern beds, of course, but you won't find countrified Jouy fabrics or cheap, brass-plated wall sconces.
The RosiÁeres's weathered wood, chipped stone, and rusty iron are left pretty much as Bergerot found them; any new construction materials tend to blend in with the prevailing decor. (The only modern downer is the Chambre Eudes IV's shiny, gray-tiled bath.)
Over apertifs, ask to see the remarkable before-and-after photo album that details the scope of the ongoing project. In the corner tower, Bertrand wants to convert one room into a library; he's also eyeing a barn for a sauna/fitness room.
The castle itself is divided into two wings: the 15th-century ``donjon,'' or keep, with its 68-by-44-foot footprint and 6-foot-thick walls, and a wing added two centuries later, adorned with pastel-colored plaster, frescoes, and the coat of arms of a previous owner.
A less-impressive room, Chambre du Puits, is located on the ground floor of the ``new'' wing. But two other magnificent guest rooms are accessible from a limestone staircase that spirals through the heart of the main donjon. Eudes IV seems enormous until you see the Suite Marguerite de St-Remy, an oak-timbered, two-room apartment with stone fireplace, long wooden table, and medieval graffiti carved into the walls of the kitchenette.
The Bergerots do a fair business renting out the entire estate for weddings and private parties, and it's easy to see why: Ignoring the lack of bedrooms, there's plenty of room for company. A large pavilion for functions faces the former drawbridge entrance. Inside the chateau are three 650-to-1,000-square-foot halls whose monumental hearths and painted ceilings set the scene for a regal reception.
Unlike many historic properties, the Chateau de RosiÁeres is no showpiece. It remains a working farm. The Bergerot family lives and eats here. If you order the four-course dinner, you'll all dine by candlelight in the cavernous salon. It was Valentine's Day the Saturday my companion and I stayed over. Odile Bergerot served chilled shrimp, salmon terrine, wood-fired roasted chicken (cooked in the dining room's cast-iron stove), a cheese platter, and apple tart, all washed down by a lovely Bourgogne Passetoutgrain and a sparkling white petillant.
If you see folks wandering about, don't dismay: The Bergerots open the chateau to self-guided tours (to keep out intruders, a ``prive'' sign hangs on the rooms' doors). Unfortunately, three of the donjon's original four corner towers are gone, but you're invited to scramble up and down the stairs and explore the remaining passages and chambers: the watch tower (now the children's playroom), the walkway outfitted with machicolations, the beamed interior of the castle roof (also home to owls), and the former guard post (now auxiliary kitchen).
Stroll the grounds, too: the arched gate, the old dovecote, and the hedge maze recently planted by Bertrand Bergerot. Once you've conquered the castle, an easy, 21/2-mile walk to St-Seine-sur-Vingeanne takes you past mammoth Charolais beef cattle and a pond teeming with waterfowl. The village doesn't offer much more than rural bliss. But heading back as night descends, the amber-lighted Chateau de RosiÁeres looms magnificently over the pasture, a humble fortress still worth defending.
Ethan Gilsdorf is a freelance writer living in Paris.