Here, day by day we share with you the 2016 Château Advent Calendar...
Opening the first shutter, and welcoming Winston and Alfred to the Château...
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!
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.
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.
In March of this year, the Château welcomed a vintage car rally visit and lunch. Hope you enjoy the short video below…
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!”
In January we planted over seventy perfumed climbing roses. This was our first bouquet…
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.
"By day the bat is cousin to the mouse;
He likes the attic of an ageing house"
Today's storybook is all about the bats who live in the attic. Recently, we wondered what to do about them, and decided to take a course of action. Some research led us to the idea that bats don't like noise. So we decided to blast some ACDC into the attic space as loud as it could be played! They took off like bats out of hell! But as nightfall approached, and with the music turned off, they returned. I guess we just have to learn to live with all creatures great and small.
Cats and bats in the attic! When we bought the Château little did we know that Antoinette had been living inside on her own for over 10 years. Now we all together with her three sons - Sir Meowington (because he roams through the rooms at midnight wailing), Tom Kitten, and Tinkerbell.
"Where are you going, Mrs. Cat,
All by your lonesome lone?"
"Hunting a mouse, or maybe a rat
Where the ditches are overgrown."
This spring we decided to sow the front terrace in the hope of establishing a prairie of wildflowers. A local farmer turned up with his tractor and ploughed the land, and we then set about scattering buckets and buckets of seeds. By summer the prairie had grown, and in some places almost to two metres in height. But mostly it was weeds with just a scattering of variegated colour. C ést la vie! These were some of the pickings. The calendar photo was taken looking out from this window. It is the salon where the 18th century champagne fountain still remains.
The small chapel is nestled in the heart of the Château on the first floor. The vaulted ceiling is decorated by hand-painted gold stars shining on a midnight blue sky. When we first saw the chapel the floor had fallen in, and the back wall, where there is now white plaster, was mostly missing. We plan on eventually installing parquetry flooring, using the timber milled from trees that have fallen in the Château parc. The painted ceilings and walls will be repaired by art restorers, along with the stained glass windows.
Dreaming of a white Christmas...
Open this shutter for a view into the 18th century dining room, complete with a grey-pink marble champagne fountain. The champagne fountain was also used to display frozen desserts on a bed of ice once upon a time. Today, the champagne fountain overflows with wildflowers picked fresh from the front terrace.
The doors of the first-floor salons are opened to create a magnificent view of the corridor along the front façade.
During the first phase of the restoration, our building team discovered hand-painted Medieval beams when clearing out the rubble inside the Château before work began. Where possible, some of these beams have been reinstalled in the rooms in which they were originally found. Others we have saved are now on display in a room in the Medieval section of the Château, along with other archaeological finds.
Bastille Day celebrations are always held at the village hall at 12 noon. This year we were given the task of bringing home-made desserts! Thankfully, Cheryl, an amazing pastry chef from New England had joined us at the Château over summer. Cheryl baked trays and trays of the most incredible delicious pastries, so good infact that everyone thought we had sneaked down to the local boulangerie and bought them. Thank you Cheryl, it was a Bastille Day to remember by all.
Opening the central windows on the first floor to a mountain view. The delicate ironwork is decorated with the initials of the descendants of the family who purchased the Château just after the French revolution in the 1790s. The monogram stands for Charlotte dÁstrié de Limairac with the intertwined C, A, and L.
Last year, the local mayor arrived with an enormous tree - a gift for the Château at Christmas. It took eight of us to carry it inside. It was a Rockefeller of a Christmas tree, almost reaching to the upstairs ceiling. It filled the hall with the fragrance of sweet fresh pine, and on the odd occasion birds, flying in through broken windows, perched themselves on the long green branches decorated with coloured Christmas baubles. Each night, the antique chandelier would come alive with the warmth of flaming candles, and all would gather round the Christmas tree.
n 2015 we installed underground electricity and a water supply. It required a 200 metre long trench from the road to the front of the Château. Since then, wildflowers have sprung all by themselves where the trench was dug, as if unlocking a bed of memory held deep within the soil. Blue cornflowers, red poppies and an array of perfumed flowers caked in gold.
Opening the shutter for a peek into the dining room. This is the table that David Clark built from an ash tree that had fallen in the Château parc. It is held together by handmade nails, and pieces of iron that we salvaged from the rubble.
Château flowers decorating the temporary bathroom which we installed this year. Three bathroom pods and two extra toilets, placed in the same room and the same place, where the French government had installed a communal bathroom back when the Château was used as a school holiday camp. Not long ago, we discovered that this room was used as the kitchen most likely between the years, 1790 to 1950. When we purchased the Château it wasn't possible to identify this room as once being the kitchen. The ceiling had fallen and there was little left except plumbing pipes and peach coloured bathroom tiles.
Rich shades of pink and purple...
Over winter and spring, our friend in the local village, Jean-Marc, keeps his horses in the Château parc. They enjoy fossicking around and grazing, and are always on the ready for carrots or apples from passers-by! These horses are a native breed to the Ariège region of France, called the Mérens. In summer, the horses are taken back up the mountains to pasture. The horses are moved from the valley to the mountains in a cycle known as the transhumance, which is usually marked by a colourful festival.
During the Christmas season, we gather together in our homes, with our family and friends, and give thanks to the countless blessings of today and the miracles that togetherness can bring. For some it is not always a time to rejoice. Celebrations are woven with joy, as well as sadness for those no longer with us. But wherever we are, and whomever we share Christmas with, it is about being together that truly matters.
On behalf of the Château, we would like to thank you for your support and friendship throughout the year, and for your supporting the Château Advent Calendar and the Château holiday season boutique. It is your encouragement and support that inspires the Château project, and we hope that you loved having a piece of the Château to share in your own home.
We wish you a wonderful and happy Christmas and a safe and healthy 2017.
Château de Gudanes