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!SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Terri Ann Reed says
Coffee for an hour or two in the morning on the terrace with a sunrise, a walk down the tree-lined path to the forest . . . a hidden treehouse to discover . . . a “get lost” walk in the woods with huge cathedral pine trees . . . . a walk back to the castle on another tree-lined path . . . supper on the terrace with a peek-a-boo sunset. Wow!!! You guys know how to socially isolate!
It certainly is nice and isolated, French super-style 🙂
A fairytale setting, no doubt. Enjoy every minute.
You know, if you two still had The Beast – that would be an ‘Okay!’ place to boon dock!!! Best to you both, and as always – enjoy posts and pictures. Stay Safe… Smitty/Deb/Poppin’s (Cody, WY Brief Encounter.)
I still miss “the beast” you know. Loved that RV. And I do remember you from Cody 🙂
I think you are living a fairytale dream right now, so why not enjoy it while you can. I love the grounds and forest. Lets cross fingers travel is soon to come.
How absolutely wonderful for you all. You’re having adventures even as you’re stationary. Life is good.
My ears perk up when I read the word “RV” though……
I can’t deny that RVing is on my mind. It’s going to Europe-side for now, so sadly it won’t take us near enough to hang out with you, but I’m hoping we get to do it. Fingers and paws crossed!
Sue Malone says
Love the cushy furniture and morning sunshine on the terrace for coffee. Just lovely. And the totally silent and empty forest right there at home. I honestly couldn’t quite imagine you two spending the time and money it would take to have a chateau….so not surprised that you might be letting that option slip a bit. But it surely is a lovely place to hang out for awhile. What a great experience.
You read us right, Sue! We love that we get to experience this, but I just can’t see us sinking all our savings into it. It would have to be “true love” for that!
Pauline Conn says
Being in the desert, I so miss the trees. We normally summer at a farm in the forest near Eugene, OR, with paths through the trees to walk and observe. This sounds wonderful and healing. We have an opportunity to housesit near Olympia WA the end of this summer. Health issues to resolve first, but the chance gives us hope! This was a wonderful blog, BTW.
GOOD healing to you, Pauline!! And here’s hoping you see that green before long. I know that feeling of longing, after months in the desert.
William C Fouste says
While I love walking in a forest in the warmth of summer (not much in cold, rainy, weather), I prefer the long range views of our rural setting in an agricultural area (why we can see for 40 miles). And, I really love seeing the geology of the Southwest (no trees) every winter (but this one).
Yes, I enjoy seeing the photos of a rural French chateau, but I always love looking at your photos of the Pyrenees from your Dad’s house!
I think I prefer the wide-open spaces too William. I can get lost in a wood (and love it for a while), but in the end it’s the big spaces and panoramas that really grab my heart.
Beautiful place. Like living in a wonderful dream.
Russ & Cheryl says
As we sit parked in space #9, Sea Rim State Park Texas, I’m blown away how a couple living in a chateau in France have so affected our path, many times literally. Thanks for the well thought out words and past suggestions on routes and parks. My wife (the trip planner) loves your taste and perspective. Enjoy your Euro chapter!
I love, love, love hearing from folks who we’ve managed to inspire in some way. It warms my heart that you’re enjoying a space we once enjoyed too. Best of travels to you!!
David Michael says
Beautiful grounds and beautiful blog update. The tree house got me. We built one as kids and it was our neighborhood headquarters for playing outside after breakfast to dinner bell calls and shouts. Spring and sunlight have finally joined us in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. We bicycled for several hours along the Willamette River yesterday along the bike trails to discover hundreds of University of Oregon students jammed along the river banks with their packs of beer, doing their ritual dance and music, and discarding Covid 19 to the winds. Ah…the wonder of it all. And where will the world be this time next year? We’d like to return to France and bicycle there once again, especially to your Chateau. In the meantime, keep safe and healthy and enjoy each moment.
The tree house is very special. I think I would have loved it as a kid. I too hope we can get back to “normal” somehow, those days of carefree travel (or bicycling). I’m not clear it’ll happen this year though.
Margaret Arthur says
Nina and Paul! Wow, have been reading ALL your Blogs and still Love your photos and writing Nina.
The Chateau life looks grand and beautiful. France does look wonderful!
I just want life to be Normal again, but don’t see that happening. Will be new normal and that’s sad.
We will just have to see what this year throws at us!
Enjoy your Chateau stay- cation! Looks Grand for sure.
Margaret in NC
So glad you are still following along on our adventures, Margaret. I’m with you on wondering what the new “normal” will be. Sometimes I find it hard to remember what it was like just over a year ago, and I find it equally hard to imagine what it’ll be like in the future. What a time we find ourselves in.
How beautiful and serene, and what a wonderful adventure to spend a month or so living in a chateau. As you said, the ‘great pause’ of the pandemic has taken many of us to places that we otherwise might not have chosen. For now, we’re enjoying the pine and oak woods of North Florida and our expansive views of the bay. It will be hard for me to ever again live somewhere without a view! Like you, we’re looking forward to the day when we can once again travel comfortably, even if it turns out to be part-time.
I’m glad you’ve found a place to “be still” for a while, even though I know the circumstances that led you there were difficult. Here’s hoping we all can travel again soon.
Your rich descriptions of life in French countryside and gorgeous photography are such a wonderful escape from this constricted life, it feels as if I’m myself wandering the grounds close behind. I wonder what the air smells like and water tastes like – how different it must feel to what I’m used to here in the suburbs of UK.
Thank you for this gift of vicarious living and here’s hoping that you get to quench the wondering spirit before long.