Sunday, May 3, 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - Hautefort

On Clark and Janis' last day here, (boo hoo) we head out for the Chateau de Hautefort, which overlooks its village (a beautiful village according to the book) and is well-known for its gardens as well.

Can you see the shears design in the boxwoods?
This is the symbol used on the Hautefort coat of arms
The trip takes about an hour with 3 people in the backseat. Let me tell you about 3 people in the backseat of a European "5" passenger car. The person in the middle ends up sitting on all 3 seat belts even if they have a skinny butt. We solved the problem with a pillow, but at least for our car, calling it a 5-person car is a gross exaggeration. We have been trading off the middle seat, but mostly with Janis and Judy taking the skinny butt duty. This touring stuff is not all fun and games, you know. There's suffering to be endured to get to the prize!

Anyway, the day is lovely, the flock of sheep we saw a couple of days ago have now been shorn, the fields are an amazing shade of green and the trees are pretty much leafed out (except for the walnut trees that just look dead).

Countryside around Hautefort. Beautiful greens.

We see Hautefort from the distance and it is impressive.

Parking near the chateau is easy as there are very few people here at 11 am. Not sure why - until we walk into the grounds. We knew we were too early to see color in the gardens laid out in the French style of intricate boxwood designs.
chateau seen from the parking lot
boxwood hedges laid out in a French design

But we weren't prepared for the construction. One tower is covered in scaffolding inside and out, a disappointment in itself. But even worse, the courtyard is undergoing major repairs, ruining all the panoramic views of the countryside as well as making it impossible to get good views of the chateau exterior. Had I looked on the website for the chateau, I would have discovered that a massive reconstruction job to replace all the slate roofs was undertaken in 2014 due to damage caused by a 2013 hailstorm and won't be completed until 2016.
Stone mason carving balustrades for the courtyard
Inside the chapel - scaffolding covered inside and
outside of this tower

Even so, we are impressed with Hautefort. There's a good introductory video with English sub-titles and a good English guide to the interior rooms. It's a fun chateau to explore (no guided tour needed). This would be worth re-visiting when the construction is all completed.

This chateau was built to mimic the Loire valley chateaux and the opulence of their life-style. Built over a medieval chateau, this 17th chateau was not built for protection but for pleasure. The chateau survived till the end of the 19th century when the last Hautefort descendant sold it to an industrialist who died without heirs. The house was then ransacked in 1925 by real estate agents and left to decay. It was purchased in 1929 by Baron Henri de Bastard (yes you got that right) and he and his wife restored the chateau, completing it by the early 60s. But in 1968 there was a devastating fire which destroyed most of the castle. The widowed Baroness rebuilt once more and the chateau is now open again.

The rooms are well laid out so you could imagine how they might have been used during the 17th century and in modern times. Signage in English and French explained the furnishings of each room.

This table is original to the chateau

The great hall had magnificent floors and carved fireplaces.
These are modern, replacing those lost in the fire.
But they are crafted as they were originally.

You can still see some of the remains of the original fortified castle in the medieval-looking entrance and the basement corridors that were used for services like kitchen and storage. They're really cool even if they are dark.
Main entrance to the chateau is through this fortified gate with drawbridge

Basement tunnels are remnants of the medieval castle
Dave and Judy reading our English guide.

Doors off this long hallway lead to service areas of the chateau.
Like the kitchen, wine cellar, etc.
The gardens with the hospice down below the chateau walls.

We spent quite a bit of time wandering the gardens. They are truly beautiful and must be stunning when there are flowers blooming in the middles of the designs.
We were quite impressed by these designs cut into the boxwoods 
Judy and wysteria

Looking toward the castle from the end of the gardens
The gardens as seen from a chateau window
Clark setting up to take a whole group photo.

The funny trees that looked dead are now starting to leaf out.  They still look weird, but I expect they provide a good shady canopy in the summer.

Gardens are laid out on all four sides of the chateau, even in the dry moat.

After lunching on the picnic tables near the car park, we walk below the castle into the town, We are not impressed by the town. It seems to have very little character and very little activity. But we did find some pretty flowers along the way.
the street below the castle

A hospice was built in the 17th century by the Marquis de Hautefort to house the impoverished to include 11 young men, 11 young women and 11 old men, adding to 33, the age of Christ at his death. It now houses the tourist bureau and a medical museum which costs 6 Euros to visit. We decline.

It's now early afternoon, so we bid goodby to Hautefort and its "main architect" of modernizing it, Jacques-François de Hautefort.  This Marquis served both Louis XII and Louis XIV and amassed a fortune, enabling him to completely rebuild the castle into a "modern" (for the 17th century) château.

Jacques-François de Hautefort
Main entrance to the chateau

We have time to see other things in the area. We head toward Badefals d'Ans where there is a church and a castle (aren't there always a church and a castle?)  Badefols-d'Ans turns out to be a sleepy, quiet village where the castle is surrounded by high walls and privately owned, thus difficult to see anything but the tower. I learn from a sign that the castle owner was taken by the Nazi's in April 1944 and died in a concentration camp that fall. The castle was burned by the Nazi's but rebuilt and returned to its owner by France after the war.

The castle, Clark taking a picture of it, and our car
The church is pretty, but locked.
 There's supposed to be an "observation table" with views over the valley, but we don't find it. Nevertheless, I find the village picturesque, very French, and with a feel of having been there forever and changing never.

 Onward to another church and village. This time we are headed to Sainte-Orse. This Romanesque church dates from the 11th and 12th century and has a crypt underneath it which holds a piece of the belt worn by Pope John Paul II the day there was an assassination attempt on his life.

Crypt of Sainte-Orse with relic of Pope John Paul II (in the little
window below the basin).

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