Monday, June 5, 2017

Sunday June 4 - Montreuil-Bellay

We have to be around by about 4 pm today as Tom and Terry arrive, we think around dinner time. So we head off to Montreuil-Bellay today to visit a castle.
Another Foulque Nerra fortification, this castle began as a citadel in the 11th century to protect and control traffic on the Thouet River just below the castle walls. As the Thouet joined the Loire further downstream, this rocky promontory was a strategic military site already when Foulque Nerra's vassal, Gerard II Beray (later misspelled as Bellay) held out 3 years before capitulating to Geoffrey Plantagenet in the 12th century. Old walls know the secrets of those years.

In the 17th Century, Henry II's wife, Geneviève de Condé was exiled here for her part in the Fronde. (Briefly, a period of French civil war that ended feudalism and created an absolutist monarchy in which no one could question the king's authority.) The château was used as a prison for women in the French Revolution and as a hospital for wounded soldiers in the first world war. Today it is still lived in by the Grandmaison family who have owned the property since the end of the French Revolution.

650 meters of fortified walls with 13 turrets and a barbicon entry remind of the Foulque Nerra fortress.

The 15th century château neuf (new chateau) is visited starting with the wine cellars where grapes were dropped down through a hole above and stomped by feet into the juice that would later become wine.

grape stomping  area
A "modern" wine press eliminated the need for foot-stomping.
A 3-litre wine jug called a sac à vin (wine sack) is the precursor to our modern box wine. It was part of the ceremonies of the Confrerie du Sac à Vin (Brotherhood of the Wine Sack) which apparently still exists, but likely uses the more modern French BIB (Bag in Box).

We're not allowed to take photos in the remaining rooms of the château, but as you can expect by now, they are decorated lavishly with beautiful furnishings, painted ceilings, paintings, tapestries, and historically important chests.

The kitchen was once attached to the Château Neuf by a covered passageway that allowed bringing food from the kitchen directly to the family quarters.
The kitchen is at the left, the canon's apartments are the round turrets, and the stairway of Honnor in the Château Neur is at the right. The lower courtyard is behind the well in the center. The Court of Honor is in front of the well.

A very modern stove with copper pans

The center chimney lets smoke escape from the kitchen. Like at Fontevraud.

One of the two major fireplaces for cooking
This passageway separated the lower courtyard from the court of honnor, the main entrance to the château. The lower courtyard was where servants managed the life of the castle and was not used by the family.

The family chapel was large and was set up as a collegiale - a church in which a group of canons performed the daily divine rites and other spiritual responsibilities.
Collegiale church

Thus, besides the church, the castle provided 4 individual apartments for the 4 canons who lived on site. These apartments each had their own spiral staircase entry which opened onto the lower courtyard.

And then there's the view from the ramparts of the castle overlooking the Thouet River. Most delightful.
view toward Thouet River (beyond trees)

The old part of town opens past the castle. Today there's a brocante (flea market) along the main street and while the town isn't packed, there are plenty of people sitting in cafés or perusing the wares of the vendors.

flea market near the castle

Home again by 4 pm, in time to make a ratatouille for dinner. Tom and Terry arrived about an hour later than we thought, but we were still able to enjoy a lovely dinner outside into the late evening.

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