2016 Château Advent Calendar Storybook

Here, day by day we share with you the the 2016 Château Advent Calendar...


December 1st

Opening the first shutter, and welcoming Winston and Alfred to the Château...

Winston Waters

Winston Waters

In August we took a drive to the local animal refuge in the nearby medieval village of Mirepoix. We were hoping to find a little, mature, cat friendly dog in need of a home. The story unfolded somewhat like our original property search – where a few years earlier, when we went looking for a small village home in the south of France, imagining up pale blue shutters, we ended with a giant, ruined, historical Château.

That day in the summer of August, we drove home with two large and very anxious dogs in the backseat of the car.  It felt right to take them both of them home. They had shared the same cage at the refuge for months.

We knew little about them except that Teddy, the beagle, had been left tied to the refuge gates six months earlier, and Alfred, the German shepherd cross, had been dumped in the mountains, and for nine months hikers had been leaving him scraps of food. 

The first few days at the Château went well… until Teddy mysteriously escaped over the fortress walls!  For days and days we searched, until eventually the local Mayor came hammering on the front door. He very sternly explained that Teddy had been harassing some rabbits belonging to a lady in the local village. Luckily, the rabbits had been caged. The owner of the rabbits had tied Teddy up in her backyard and refused to let him go until arrangements could be made. The Mayor insisted we take Teddy back to the refuge or he would.  Our neighbour also wanted to be compensated for her traumatised rabbits and ruined tomato vines, and demanded that the old oak tree in the Château park across the road from her home had to be cut down!

Sadly, we had to take Teddy back to the refuge. As it turned out, he wasn’t so great with cats either (although we had been told the opposite before we took him home). But it was when we went back to the refuge that we noticed, in the corner of his cage, a black and white terrier cross curled up tightly in his basket. Now in the corner of his old cage was a black and white terrier cross, curled up tightly in a basket. He too had been tied up at the refuge gate, a few days earlier, and since being left abandoned hadn’t eaten or left his bed.

And so, we picked up this sad, little dog with a broken heart and without another thought immediately took him home. He was named Winston. 

A home is not a home without a dog… or two!


December 2nd

This year I came across a pair of elegant pastel portraits in a bric-a-brac shop in the city of Carcassonne. Intrigued, I began to do a little bit of research, discovering that the use of readymade crayons was popular during the 18th Century, mainly as they had several advantages over oil paints. For the artist they required fewer sittings, little drying time, and they were more affordable. The colour in these portraits is fresh and brilliant, and having been looked after so carefully, they look more as if they were painted yesterday than hundreds of years ago.


December 3rd

This shutter opens to give you a peak directly into the Salon de Musique.  When we purchased the Château this room was fortunately intact, and was one of the only rooms to have a floor and ceiling. On each wall are gold gilded trophies of instruments, from the period dating to King Louis XV. Over the past two years, restoration workshops have been held at the Château, and everyone who has so kindly participated in these has worked hard at cleaning, repairing, and replacing the golden jewels. Next year, this salon will undergo further restoration, grâce à the support and proceeds from this year’s Château Advent Calendar.


December 4th

In March of this year, the Château welcomed a vintage car rally visit and lunch. Hope you enjoy the short video below…


December 5th

The village of Château-Verdun

The village of Château-Verdun

Château de Gudanes sits upon the knap of a hill in the little village of Château-Verdun. Back in the 13th Century their existed two Châteaux. Now all that remains of the other are a few crumbled dry-stoned walls. Few people live in the local village, about 40 on a good day. There are no shops in the village, only a phone box. I always laugh when I am on the Château’s Facebook site and an advertisement comes up on screen saying – “if you boost your post you can reach 67,000 people in the local village of Chateau-Verdun!”


December 6th

In January we planted over seventy perfumed climbing roses. This was our first bouquet…


December 7th

Opening the seventh shutter gives you a peek into what was once an 18th century bedroom, with delicate, pale blue, quilted wallpaper. Much of the original fireplace in this room still survives, and where it hasn’t we have saved the mouldings in hope of reinstalling them in the future. 

À la prochaine! 

The Medal of Honour Celebration!

Walking down into the Château parc and woodlands it is hard to not feel nostalgic. Looking upwards towards the Château and wondering about the owners and families who lived here long ago. 

Thinking about how the trees, now fully grown - so tall and so wide - were planted by hands who knew they would never see this moment.  

Once upon a time, back in the 18th Century, a party was held in the parc where three thousand glass venetian lanterns were hung delicately like Christmas ornaments on the branches of the fir trees.  Walking through these woodlands now, I try to imagine what it must have looked like. 

I used to think I was the one who had fallen down a rabbit hole into a world of curious happenings. But now I imagine the wonder of Louis Gaspard, his wife Marie-Therese, and their family of eight little children, seeing their beloved home which they built so many centuries ago, continuing to stand proud, undefeated by time and change. The home that they created, with its warmth and love, pulled apart during the revolution, now shines far beyond just the surrounding mountainous valleys, and into an entirely new world to be shared, seen, and felt by many from all far reaching corners of the earth. 

Which brings me to share with you the Medal of Honour, which our family received recently from the Institute of France for the ongoing restoration of the Château. We spent a few days in Paris together as a family to attend the ceremony. Nowadays, we rarely have the ability to all be together as a family, so this was a special occasion on many different levels. With Craig working in Perth and with me onsite at the Château, we generally accept that it's rarely possible for it to be any other way for now. So, all of us being together for the occasion was a blessing in itself. 

We attended the ceremony in October in the presence of Prince Albert II of Monaco, the Prince of Belgium, and numerous French dignitaries. It goes without saying that we never imagined that the Château would have brought us there.

Three medals were awarded that evening. It was a glamorous affair with photographers and smouldering velvet jackets.

But underneath the glamour there was a beautiful and authentic balance in the ritual of giving and receiving. Prince Albert II congratulated each of the prize recipients and spoke graciously and genuinely. He had made himself familiar with even the smallest of details when presenting each award, in sofar as mentioning how our son Ben had happened upon Château de Gudanes on the internet. The grand recipient Monsieur Serge Rezvani gave the most tender speech of acceptance, and as he spoke, his tears fell.

'Appreciation is a wonderful thing;
It makes what is excellent in others
belong to us as well.'

Voltaire visited the Château back in the 18th Century and so true are his words. The Château has her own special way of doing this, and it could be easy to forget that this medal truly belongs to her. It is her honour, for what she has given for so many centuries. It was her fairytale come true.

Thinking about it, it was not only a medal of honour but also a medal of remembrance. I reflected about those who have been part of the Château over the centuries, from the families who once lived inside her walls, to the 92 year old man who delivered the ice to the owners when he was 10 years old and still lives in our local village, to the brass buttoned footman, to the many Mrs Patmores, to our Catalonian builders, and to all of us who have contributed and believed in the journey along the way. 

On behalf of Château de Gudanes, we sincerely thank the Institute of France, the Fondation Prince Louis de Polignac, and all the Princes and of course the person who so thoughtfully nominated us for this award (who remains a mystery). And, we thank Louis and Marie-Therese Gaspard de Salles for believing in their dream so long ago to create their Château de Gudanes, and everyone who has supported and contributed to the Château both past and present. 

During our stay in Paris, we were very privileged to be able to stay at the newly re-opened and restored Ritz. I will be writing a story for Expedia Australia about our stay there, and I look forward to sharing the story of their own restoration work with you very soon - their 178 clocks, tunnels underneath the hotel, 48 staircases, and a sneak peak of Coco Chanel's room. I also recently wrote another story about some of the places I visited in Paris, from the antique auctions to specialist restorers of ancient wallpapers. You can read this story at Expedia Australia.

A bientôt 

Château de Gudanes







We Never Expected This

Château mail is always a box of chocolates - sometimes junk, though mostly unexpected, inexplicable, and expensive bills. Thankfully, on occasions, mixed amongst this regular assortment there are cards with warm and heartfelt messages from around the world.  

On one particular day not long past, I walked casually down to the letter box to discover that a very formal letter had arrived indeed! 

And inside, were these carefully written words...

We are glad to inform you that the council of the Foundation Prince Louis de Polignac is pleased to discern you the Medal of Honour 2016 of the Foundation, in order to thank you for the remarkable worksite restoration of Château de Gudanes in the Pyrénées Ariégeoises, part of the French historical patrimony in the south of our country.

After recovering from a premier reaction of shock, I conducted some research. 

I found out that the Prince Louis de Polignac Foundation was created in 1997 to promote French and European culture, and contribute generally to the development of science. Each year three awards are given within different fields of science, the arts and preservation.  Over the last few years, the prestigious medal of honour has been awarded to several historical monument restorations, including Château Saint-Clou in Provence and the Hermitage Pavilion at Fontainebleau. 

I immediately returned the R.S.V.P with our guest list, and a few days later received the official invitation. Apparently, Prince Albert II of Monaco will be attending! 

Upon receiving the official invitation, all the red, white and blue tape, which we have tightly wrapped ourselves up in over the last year, and all those obstacles along the way, gently fell aside. 

This award is a wonderful surprise, just like the incredible journey the Château continues to take us on. 

We would like to extend our sincerest thanks to the Prince Louis de Polignac Foundation, the Institute of France, and also to the kindred spirit of our kind hearted nominator for believing in and recognising our beautiful place on Earth. 

A bientot

Château de Gudanes