We try to plan one big splurge for each of our trips. This trip we decided it was time to fulfill one item that had been on our French to-do list from the beginning: spend the night in a chateau. Through one of her innumerable sources, Anita learned of Chateau Brissac and we were able to book an overnight stay there. This chateau is sometimes called The Giant of the Loire valley, since it has a reputation as the tallest chateau in France. You can visit its website here.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by the Marquis himself, a charming man full of energy and hospitality. He showed us to our suite and to say it was beyond our expectations would be an understatement. The main room, a 16th-century bedchamber, covered about 600 square feet. Our minds boggled to think of who might have slept there in its 500 year history.
Between the bedroom and the bathroom was “my” study. This is what a computer programmer looks like hard at work in a centuries-old castle.
The home has been inhabited by the Cossé family for over 500 years. They were highly placed in the service of the kings of France, one of them having paid the ultimate price for that in the Revolution of 1789. But before that, Louis XIII chose this house for one of the most dramatic scenes in French history. The full details can be found here, but for my purposes, it is enough to say that this bedroom, down the hall from ours, was the scene of the famous, but temporary, reconciliation between Louis XIII and his mother, Marie de Medici in 1620. Bedchambers often served as the sites of official acts and ceremonies. According to the documentation, there were eight witnesses to the event.
Besides its sumptuous interior, the chateau is an architectural joy to behold. It started life as a fortress, and was in the process of being converted to a residential castle when work stopped for a variety of reasons. One of the owners a few generations ago called it a “partially finished castle built on a partially destroyed fortress.” Returning to it after dinner, we were greeted with this view:
I got up with the sun (except that it was a gorgeous overcast day with mist lying low over the park) and took a stroll around the grounds. Looking back to the castle, you get a feel for the magnitude of the place and its tranquility.
The “back yard” of a couple of thousand acres offered strolling, fishing, and just sitting. There is even a track for training race horses, one of the traditional family interests.
We also discovered in conversation with the marquis that he is the host of the FAI European Hot Air Balloon Competition. We had brought as a token of friendship a book filled with photos of the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. He was very interested in how it differed from the Brissac event, and was delighted to recognize one of “our” balloons as also being one of “his” balloons!
So why do this kind of splurge? It seems that Walter Benjamin had the answer. This quote is found on the trail leading away from the castle out to the park. My translation: The true measure of life is memory. We will remember this visit.