Château Living Part III – The Grounds
A full year of Pandemic life. It seems to be what everyone is talking about these days, reflecting back on what life looked like just over a year ago, what we thought would happen and what actually did happen.
It’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? March 15th of last year was the exact date I wrote my post “COVID-19 Needs Action -> Decide Where You Wanna Be, And Go There Now“. At the time things were just starting to go seriously south, and I felt an urgent need to write about it and get the word out to my fellow travelers. Looking back on it now I was spot on about the urgency part, but I was totally naïve about how long all this would go on for, and how many lives and livelihoods would be lost in the process. I thought we could flatten the curve, and then it would all be more or less OK. Perhaps some months of sacrifice and then a return to “normal”? Ah yes, hindsight is 20/20 isn’t it?
Two lockdowns and a year later, and we’re still not done….
I realize all this doesn’t seem to have much to do with my blog title about Château living, but in some ways it has everything to do with it, at least for us. This past year has forced us all to live vastly different lives than we had originally planned. In our case we had to stop everything and stay still which was both painfully difficult, but also quite eye-opening. Without COVID-19 Paul and I would likely never have stayed stationary in France this long, nor would we have come to love this particular area as we do.
And Château-sitting? That’s certainly something we’d never have considered!
Who could ever have imagined that we’d be able to stay in such a grand place, lounge in history, walk our own “personal” woods, and stroll the vast green grounds with Polly? It’s a chance to experience something that most people only ever dream about, without any strings attached. All the fun, with none of the hard-life ($$$) responsibilities if you will. And none of it would have been possible if we hadn’t been right here, right now.
Life karma moves in mysterious ways….
So there you go. As France teeters on the verge of a 3rd lockdown (it really, really doesn’t look good right now IMO), we’re living our very own mini-adventure in our very own little fairytale castle. I have no idea where it will lead us, but I do know we’re very lucky to be able to try it.
So, let’s take a walk in our beautiful grounds and see where we end up….
The Grounds Layout
The Château grounds span 11 hectares (or 27 acres), a portion of which is grass & landscaping (right around the main building) while the rest is wild forest.
It’s not a fancy garden, by French Château standards. There are no hedge mazes, or elaborate fountains or such. Mostly it’s just a large grassy area with a few flower patches, and an assortment of climbing roses, lavender, grasses and flowering trees. Nice, simple, spacious and green.
There are also quite a few buildings on the grounds.
There is a big swimming pool, a tennis court, the 2nd Gîte building (with another 4 bedrooms), and a large, covered outdoor terrace area which is perfect in the hot summer months. There are also a few fascinating historic artifacts such as an old water pump and well (no longer in use). And last but not least there is a treehouse (!), which is just a child’s dream complete with drawbridge ladders and traps to create the perfect treetop fortress. I used to spend no end of hours as a kid pretending I had a hidden den, so this was a complete joy to discover. Are you ever too old to play “fortress”??
We are set well back from the main road so everything is extremely private. In the few weeks we’ve been here we’ve seen no-one around except for the grounds manager, and the next-door sheep who come over to graze every now and then.
The wildlife on the other hand is very active!
The surrounding forest provides a home to countless birds, deer and smaller animals so there’s always some kind of ruckus going on. During the day it’s a never-ending symphony of bird song, while at night you might hear owls or other eerie calls as well as shuffles in the bushes, and twigs being cracked. It’s a wonderfully entertaining and lively play.
The Old Trees Are Incredible
Perhaps the thing I love most about the Château grounds are the large pine trees right around the main building.
I am always in awe of old trees, humbled by these living creatures that have endured hundreds of years of history. I still remember when Paul and I saw the oldest of them all, in the Ancient Bristlecone Forest in 2012. And of course anyone who has ever seen the redwoods of N.California will know the feeling of wonder and incredulity when you stand at the base of those incredible giants. It’s a different world under there, much like the diving under the sea.
Here there are several immensely tall and wide pines which must be hundreds of years old. I’m hard-pressed to say how tall they are, certainly much bigger than the Château itself and with trunks so thick it would take 3 people to wrap them. Their branches are many meters long, some so heavy they curve and dip into the ground and with hundreds of pine cones each much larger than my hand.
They’re healthy and pest-free too, which is a big relief for us as processionary caterpillars are common in pine in our area and a major threat not just to the trees, but also to humans and pets. If ever you find yourself in Southern Europe during Spring be very aware of these toxic creatures when you’re out walking with your dog. The long lines of caterpillars are unmistakable (once you know what to look for) and very dangerous indeed.
We walk out and commune with the big trees daily.
I always feel that touching these trees somehow allows me to feel the many hundreds of years they’ve been through. It’s not a human viewpoint, but rather a natural one, the history of the world as seen through changes in weather, air, drought and water. Their trunks keep a record of all this and I always imagine that knowledge can pass to me if I just touch them and open my spirit up to it. It’s a whimsical folly perhaps, and probably quite silly but I definitely feel something when I do.
The Forest Is Our Meditation
My other favorite thing on the grounds is the huge, surrounding forest.
I’ve always enjoyed walking in woods. For me it’s like entering a different world, moving from the outside to within. Everything changes in a forest, not only the sounds that are dampened by the thick undergrowth, but the song of the wind as it plays through the trees, and the quality of the light as it filters through the leaves. On sunny days it creates an abstract pattern of speckled footprints on the ground, while on grey days (or even better foggy days) it moves to beams of light that shine and move through the trees like lasers from some kind of alien world.
I’m able to think in a forest in a way I can’t do anywhere else.
As I enter the trees the outside world fades away and I am focused inwards, as if the boundaries of my mind are turned upon themselves. It’s a contemplative and incredibly quiet place. Without distractions from far away, I’m drawn into the moment and able to notice the small things that I might otherwise walk by. I’ll see a tiny violet in-between the fallen leaves on the floor, or notice moss on a bark, or become mesmerized by a white flower glowing like a halo in a spot of light.
I can spend hours in a forest like that; walking, photographing and getting lost in the small details of nature amongst the trees.
Hanging Outside Is Getting Nice
As the weather starts to warm, we’re spending more and more time outside.
We often take our morning coffee on the small terrace on the west side of the Château which is bathed in early sun, followed by lunch under the covered terrace right opposite.
Twice a day we walk then grounds, primarily because Polly has got to inspect everything and make sure no wayward sheep have erred into “her” territory, but also so that we can enjoy the forest, touch the bark of the old giants, listen to the birds and smell the buds of the flowering trees.
It’s a wonderful experience, but it’s also very different from our house up the hill. At the Château the tall trees keep everything hidden, so you are private and alone, but you can’t see the weather coming or how the light is changing in the mountains. I love how introverted it is, but I also miss the panoramic views from our house.
The mind needs to expand every now and then, and you need a horizon to do it.
We Hope To Travel Again Soon
A full year of Pandemic, a year in France and now almost a month in a Château .
It’s been a strange year of “sitting still”, our least traveled year of any that I can remember. Apart from a few small outings we really didn’t go anywhere, and despite being stuck in a house with dad through two full confinements (where we couldn’t even walk more than 1km from our home!), we all managed to get along and make it through. That is something.
With a bit of luck we will travel again this year (we have PLANS!!), but if for whatever reason we don’t (e.g. borders lock down again) we know that we’ve found a wonderful base to sit it out.
So will we stay in the Château? Perhaps even buy it?
I can’t deny we’ve considered it….seriously! And the Château does happen to be for sale (what timing, right???!), but having had the chance to live in it for almost a month I think we both realize it’s not what we want long term. It’s a beautiful spot, full of history and charm, and will make a wonderful passion project for someone who is so inclined, but we’re both far too freedom-loving for such a thing. Living the dream for a while is wonderful, but being tied to it forever is something else.
So yes, we’ll stay a while and then we’ll see where else the Universe takes us. Personally I’m crossing fingers and toes it involves an RV 🙂
So my dear blog readers what do you think of the Château grounds? Are you the type that loves trees and forest? Or do you long for wide, open panoramas? What would be your “ideal” base? DO comment and share in below!