Ruined haunted manor La Pré Fantasti in Caromb
When you approach the village of Caromb from the north west, you can glimpse on the right hand-side an imposing derelict house with ochre walls.

It’s easy to ignore it as yet another abandoned property, albeit larger than ordinary. But then, once you find out the infamous story you might reconsider and plan a visit to take a closer look…

La Pré Fantasti, that’s what it’s called, is a manor surrounded by vegetation and olive groves.

It’s home to a gruesome legend.

Some nights, strange bright lights, shouts and ghosts are known to haunt this isolated ruin at the foot of Le Paty hills.

The Barberini Family

About the Barberini family-unfoldingprovence
First, let’s have a bit of background.

The ghosts are those of the brothers Barberini, cardinals.

Antonio and Francesco Barberini enjoyed the privileged life of powerful Italian dynasties with links to the Vatican.

Francesco studied with Galileo Galilei at the University of Pisa.

On 2 October 1623 his uncle, Maffeo Barberini, was elected Pope and chose the name Urban VIII. He appointed his nephew, Francesco, aged 26, cardinal, state secretary and papal legate* to Avignon.

Ten years later, in 1633, he became Grand Inquisitor of the Roman Inquisition.

He presided over the trial of Galileo in 1633 and was one of only three members of the tribunal who refused to condemn him.

Antonio became cardinal in 1627 when he reached his twentieth birthday. In 1633, he became legate in Avignon.

In keeping with their position, they took every opportunity to assert the influence of the pope and their family and enriched themselves with impunity.

They also became significant patrons of the arts.

But how did two powerful cardinals end up in a small provençal village like Caromb and became the source of a myth?

Fortune Reversal

Following their uncle’s death in 1644, the papal conclave elected Giovanni Battista Pamphili.

Their fortune soon took a turn for the worst.

The new Pope adopted the name Innocent X and started investigating the brothers Barberini for embezzlement.

Forced into exile, the brothers decamped to Paris to seek the protection of Jules Mazarin, Chief minister to French kings.

The powerful Mazarin exerted pressure on the pope who eventually reconsidered his decision.

In 1646, he rehabilitated the brothers but tension remained. So the two brothers decided to keep a healthy distance and moved to Caromb in 1648.

‘La Pré Fantasti’

A view of La Pré Fantasti home to the brothers Barberini ©Unfolding Provence

There, deprived of the kind of lifestyle they were used to, they kept a low profile in the manor called at the time, ‘La calotte rouge’ owned by the Du Puy family.

Stairs in 'La Pré Fantasti' ©Unfolding Provence
Overtime, this residence became known as ‘La Pré Fantasti’, a derivation of the provençal – Espirit fantasti, fantastic spirit.

Can you imagine the gossip around the village. Two fallen grand men, of the Catholic Church, the local inhabitants seldom see about town.

And they’ve heard the cardinals visit great scientists like Berthet who lives in Carpentras.

They are up to no good. That’s for sure!

And so the legend was born.

Rumours has it the brothers engaged in occult practices: they turned base metals into gold with the Philosopher’s Stone.

And even worse, the reason for their downfall was a vile scam, selling a supposed elixir of life to unsuspecting victims.

But then, one day, one of the brothers accused the other of robbing the fruits of their swindle.

The dispute escalated. In a fit of anger, the other brother threw a bottle of vitriol in his sibling’s face. Hours later, in agony, he died.

The surviving brother, haunted by his crime, eventually lost his mind and died in the house.

Three Centuries Later, Another Tragedy

One afternoon in March 1909, Marius Jouve a rich land owner of the nearby village of Le Barroux is murdered at ‘La Pré Fantasti’.

A few hours earlier, a young man ate lunch at the local inn and unable to pay, left his bike as security.

He came back later, his pockets full of money, ready to settle the bill. The inn keeper was surprised and mentioned it to the police. They found the young man, arrested him and transferred him to Carpentras.

En route, they discover the murdered man’s watch as proof of the deed.

Bizarrely, the mystery deepens. The case was closed but we don’t know the name of the accused and no conviction papers can be found.

Even stranger, the two brothers did not die in ‘La Pré Fantasti’. They went on holding prestigious posts.

So what do you think happened in ‘La Pré Fantasti’? Is it under the spell of malevolent alchemists?


*A papal legate is a personal representative of the pope to foreign nations, or to some part of the Catholic Church.