A Château that won't lose her spring

Spring has arrived at the Château as if a doorway has been opened into a realm full of hope and renewed dreams. Those cold short winter days, where life felt suspended, have simply vanished and been replaced by a joyful chirpiness in the air. 

"Now that the winter's gone, the earth hath lost

Her snow-white robes; and no more the frost

Candies the grass, or cast an icy cream

Upon the silver lake or crystal stream"

Thomas Carew

A choir of chirping now fills the valley, and trees, green and thick as they can grow, flourish beneath the shiny cerulean sky. It is impossible to walk here and not breathe in this greatest refreshment, and then breathe out with loaded bliss. 

There is something magical about the Château in spring. Even the years of neglect and abandonment, and the wet and windy winter weather, won't make her lose her spring. Château de Gudanes has thrived during springtime for the past 800 years. 

In the beginning, when the site of the Château was a fortress, and was part of what was called the "Domaine de Gudanes", it included mountain ranges that crossed to Andorra,  and the woodlands, lakes, villages and churches in between.


In the 1970's this Domaine was carved up and sold off, leaving the Château and 11 acres of parkland on the last remaining title. Soon after, the Château was decidedly left abandoned, and without the people, her spirit and soul were left misplaced. In this tyranny of despair she began to fall into decay. But frayed and in disrepair, a testament to her history of use and misuse, the Château still sits today undefeated, with undiminished poise and grace. 

Now thawed by the warmth of spring, there is a promise of expectation in the air. Not just for the first blooms of spring and bees buzzing round them, but for the works happening at the Château. 

The past two months has been a bee hive of activity in our attempt to install a small summertime cafe. The Catalonion builders have been onsite plastering some of the salons, re-installing the original doors, and making provisions for plumbing and electrics to a few rooms.

We can't venture too far into the building process, rather its just a tip toe until we receive the correct approvals.  We are still waiting for the Monuments Historic (MH) to give us the go ahead. They have until the 12th of June to decide if we can proceed with the restoration. Next week the MH board  will be onsite for a 'tour', which then allows only one week for a response. They are formally allowed 6 months to make a decision, and I am guessing we will know on the last day possible!  I can't imagine them stopping the restoration, but I have this niggly feeling that it may not be as simple as a stamp of approval. 

Last blog I wrote about some of the problems onsite and unfortunately these haven't abated. We have felt let down by bureaucracy and a general unwillingness by the authorities to get together as a team and work out how to make things happen. Deem me a romantic and an optimist, I know, but I thought that this energy in the air would be embraced by the relevant restoration people locally. Rather, engineers, plumbers, electricians and basically everyone who walks onsite now wants a certificate of some sort. The consultant and certificate list is endless along with the shrugging of shoulders and arms up in the air when asked how to acquire them and how to proceed. 

Further,  the Toulousian painting and decorating school who previously booked in to decorate the cafe salon, have decided to postpone their work. Without any consultation the 2 teachers and 8 students just 'assumed' we weren't ready for them to start! Mais c'est la vie... 

The regional tourism authorities are so eager for us to open the gates, and we are trying hard to make this happen but the forces seem to be against us. They don't even realise we have a website... even when we tell them! Nor have they noticed or acknowledged the heartfelt support the Château has felt from people from all over the world, and the resultant regaining of her spirit. 

But we refuse to be beaten. So I try not to dwell on the worries and questions that keep me up at night, after a day spent walking through dark corridors with no windows or doors.  

And as I looked for guidance, I can't help but feel the Château being the glimmer of light to guide us, as if teaching us to slow down and be patient, and to take each step only in the present moment. The restoration is not just about designating moments along the way as being 'complete', nor is it about a final destination, but rather it will evolve like the flower buds that blossom in the parc each spring, centuries after centuries.

"To ignore the past to keep locked, a casket of 800 year old memories.

Everything we do has to link to the past in order to create a vision for tomorrow."




So the Château in spring has given us the opportunity to look at ways in which we may turn chaos into clarity. Our first thought went to the fallen trees in the Château parc.

A plan was put into order to make a large kitchen table to sit in the original cellar kitchen, just as it would have hundreds of years ago. How marvellous this will be - to have a tree, that was planted hundreds of years ago in the parc, not left to rot or be firewood, but once again to be connected to the Château.

I called David. He was the perfect fit to build such a large old oak planked table.

I met David, quite by chance. I was invited to lunch in a nearby village by Angela, the editor of a european magazine. David arrived and placed the most enormous set of old iron house keys on the table as he sat down. Turned out, he was renovating a Roman hamlet not that far away, so after lunch we took a visit. I spent hours marvelling at what he had achieved, where it was impossible to determine what was old and what he had recreated not just the hamlet but also the furniture and interior fittings. Even the Historic Monuments couldn't tell the difference!

So with some Australian backbone, I helped load up David's white van with the planks of wood from the parc that had been stored and cut into lengths at the local mill. Just click on the arrow for a behind the scenes video.

Imaginary or not, I can almost see the calico coloured bread dough kneaded upon the wide grainy planked table, flour lightly dusting the air and the gentle sweet taste of homemade plum jam waiting to be dolloped onto hot buttered bread.

Other fallen trees will also be made into Louis beds - Château sized to filled the voluminous chambres (plus perhaps 4 cats purring at our feet). With these things in mind I feel my dream of sleepless nights slipping gently away into the darkness...

This spring stirring underfoot is not only at the Château, but can be seen and felt in the merriness of the village air, and in the way people carry themselves. A time of year to fold away scarves and beanies and grab a berets and put on a smile. 

It also wouldn't be right of me not to share all of natures abundance in springtime.  

Mother and foal looking happy and well, and now living on a nearby village farm.

Mother and foal looking happy and well, and now living on a nearby village farm.

It seems that although Château life is challenging, we are constantly being guided to step forward mindfully. To not become angry, or to despair, but to enjoy each moment of life. 

Amongst the frantic activity the Château guides us to find time to pause and to give thanks. 

À bientôt, 

Château de Gudanes.