Continuing with my travel essays series, this week I bring you: how a week in the tower room of a French chateau with my sister taught me the secret to family harmony.
The reason people like to travel in warm weather is obvious. But I don’t always like to do this, and here’s why…
If you like castles and history, I know a place you should go…
Don’t major in French, they said. It’s useless, they said.
What “they” failed to take into account was that someday, a relative could win a trip to stay in a French chateau for free. And that this relative may need a translator. And then, as the sole French-speaking niece in the family, you will be invited to spend two weeks at said chateau. For FREE.
I have an obsession with chateaus. This place was straight-up my dream house. A stone chateau originally constructed in the 1500s, it was purchased and restored by an American couple in the mid ’00s. It had three stories, eight bedrooms, a library, a turret, a wine cellar, unicorn tapestries on the walls. A pool. A trampoline. And wifi!
It was in the absolute middle of nowhere, of course. About an hour’s drive from Toulouse. The nearest town was Mirepoix. Grocery shopping required a half hour car ride to the nearest LeClerc. But it did come with abundant wildflowers, some cats, and a cute little old lady neighbors who brought over eggs from her own hens.
My sister and I stayed in the tower bedroom, like princesses. We consumed nothing but wine and bread and cheese the whole time we were there. We wandered around the area a bit, but really we just basked in the beauty of this place that had been there for centuries.
If that place ever goes up for sale, and if my plan to become a millionaire is ever realized, you’d better believe I’m putting in the first offer. Until then, I can only dream (and write my little heart out).
A few more images, keeping in mind this was taken with my ’05 point-and-shoot:
The current story I’m writing is about a group of high school kids on a school trip to Paris. It draws largely on my own experiences. I just wrote the part where they take a day trip out to the Loire Valley to see the chateaus, and writing about seeing those amazing places for the first time just sent shivers down my spine. I remember that everyone else liked Chenonceau the best, but my favorite has always been Chambord. It’s the one that makes you think What could I possibly do with this many rooms? and then your imagination goes into overdrive trying to supply the answer. When I retire I’m becoming a tour guide at one of these places, you wait and see.
Seriously, ever since reading A Year in Provence and seeing Under the Tuscan Sun, I’ve wanted to find my own chateau to restore. I’ve had a fascination with old mansions for as long as I can remember. Is it the history? The fact that I currently live in a 375-square-foot apartment? The fairy-tale setting of it all? Did I live in one in a past life? All of the above?
Whatever the cause, this fascination has naturally led me to set a number of my stories in old chateaus. My recently-finished novel takes place in an ancient chateau in Normandy, though it has only twenty-one rooms (I had to make myself a diagram to keep track of where they all were, so I can’t imagine doing it in a 94-room house!)
Three years ago I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to spend a week at a (much smaller) chateau in the south of France, not far from Toulouse. My aunt had WON a free week there and I selflessly volunteered to come along as her translator. The entire house was the stuff of dreams, from the unicorn tapestries to the library to the tower bedroom covered in ivy my sister and I stayed in. I haven’t posted those photos because it was before I bought my “good” camera, but maybe I’ll work some photoshop magic and post them soon.
Until then, I will continue to dream…