Thursday, May 31, 2012
We spent the weekend in Normandy, tucked into the middle of a countryside with very few towns of any size and with more cows in the pastures than cars on the roads.
Our hosts live in a manor house built in 1900, not far from a small spa town called Bagnoles de l'Orne, with a pretty little lake and a small casino. The prices in the local antique shop are a third those of the same item in Paris. This is the deep country.
Our first afternoon we were taken, along with some other city folk visiting friends of our host, to see a 14th century chateau built as a fortress and destroyed when its owner chose the wrong side in the Hundred Years War. The son of that unfortunate fellow took the other side and was rewarded with the return of the chateau, which he was obligated by his liege lord to rebuild once again as a fortress. It was his bad luck that this might have been the last fortress built in France since the wars had come to an end and the Renaissance chateau, unfortified and graceful, was all the rage.
He rebuilt it nonetheless, with moat, portcullis, battlements, machicolations, arrow slits, donjon and all.
Now sheep may safely graze in the filled in moat.
The family still owns the chateau and the cost of upkeep is phenomenal. The roof of one of the towers has collapsed and the cost of repair is said to be half a million euros.
It's quite lovely on a sunny spring day though, if you're not paying the bills.
The gargoyle waterspouts on the roof have apparently been restored.
And someone is still polishing all the copper cooking pots in the kitchen.
The next day we were taken to see the local Renaissance chateau, much prettier and more like what we think of when we hear the word 'chateau'. This one belonged to a single family through the female line until 1936, when it was finally given to the state, probably in lieu of taxes.
Looks sort of like Cinderella's castle, doesn't it? Or Beauty's?
This one too has a moat, but it's purely decorative and the geese that protect it are the only guards.
Beautiful weathered brick replaces stone in this chateau, not least because the original owner also owned the means of brick production in this part of the country.
The interior has been well-preserved and is remarkably light and airy for a chateau dating in parts from the 15th century.
The remarkable vaulted brick staircase is a marvel of engineering and design, with the bricks regularly alternating direction. Hard to believe that at one time in its history, fashion dictated that the staircase be plastered over and painted with a faux finish. They chose faux brick. I'm not kidding.