Saint Ferriol, France, August 2016

One of the half-dozen six-foot fireplaces at the chateau

I just can’t believe we get to stay here, I kept telling myself at the castle in the tiny French village. After the heat and crowds of Venice and Rome, we relaxed under sapphire blue skies in the ancient, quiet, breezy, sunny place. We spent a magical time at the Chateau Saint Ferriol in southern France. A delightful couple from the UK, J and S, own the place and have lived here while restoring it over the past 20 years. They are fascinating company and they have a son, G, who made fast friends with the twins while we stayed at a sweet little house they own across from the castle. We worked doing odds and ends to barter for our time there. What a place! The church bell rings the hour around the clock, not just in daytime like other villages (apparently this village is proud of the distinction!). There are around 150 residents here, in this hilltop village that had been settled and had buildings before the year 1300. J is an expert on the area and we loved hearing about the chateau, the village, and the region’s history which includes Catharism and the Occitan language. 

Below: the restored Great Hall, Fiercely and me with shovels on the top floor, view from top floor window:

We spent time on the upper floors of Chateau St. Ferriol clearing rubble and organizing objects they have found over the years. I also did some cooking and cleaning and I’m here to say I’m not a fan of housework but it is downright pleasant when you’re in a real castle! I won’t say we didn’t get a bit daydreamy being surrounded by so much history and beautiful landscape. One room on the top floor had a grand fireplace and is said to have housed a tragic noblewoman who retreated from the world after losing three sons to the plague. The Spanish border is very close and the Pyrenees Mountains decorate the western part of the horizon. 

Below: Pyrenees and the church with bell tower next to chateau:

To the east, north, and south are small fields of crops, hills, and forests. Another castle (famous for its stories of sudden wealth and related to the DaVinci Code novel) is visible on a hillside in the distance. The views are heavenly when you peer through the castle windows and through the holes made for shooting arrows at intruders (below). 

We went on walks with S and the dogs and saw some of the surrounding land on foot with two very sweet standard poodles (below).

Below: Fiercely in the kitchen, S and me next to Great Room window 

We arrived by train in the town of Quillan. We rode on a one-car train; it is the end of the line for the French Rail system. S picked us up cheerfully in two trips up the hill to the village. She is an incredibly easy going chatelaine, accomplished gardener, wonderful cook, raiser of standard poodles, and she has many other lovely qualities, and she made us feel very much at home. The big girls loved her assignment of creating a museum area on the top floor of the castle, organizing and arranging historic agricultural tools and shoe maker equipment and the like. One day S took us to the farmers market at Quillan (below) and we saw the attractive homes and businesses there, perched on each side of a sweet river. 

We ate most meals in the Great Hall of the castle. No joke, this room is totally restored including  a six foot tall fireplace (the castle has five other six foot tall fireplaces). The first night we had trout caught by G, age 8, that very day! We sat at a giant wooden table and admired the collections of swords and other mideival objects mounted on the wall. One night, we watched a movie projected onto the wall in that room. Photos don’t come close to being there; the fireplace loses perspective for example, until I’m standing in it!

One day two other British families came over for lunch and rounders. We played this baseball-like game in a neighbor’s field with the stunning backdrop of the Pyrenees. There were nine kids aged from about three to 15, plus C, a volunteer from England in his early 20’s. It was darling and chaotic and perfect. I loved talking to C while doing dishes and hearing his views on the Brexit and the UK’s educational system. He also played with the kids. The whole time there felt like part harmonious commune, part mideival European loveliness, part archeology site, and part rural idyll with a dash of very satisfying physical work thrown in. I am running out of synonyms for ‘beautiful’ to describe our experiences there!

Above: working in the museum, a detail from top floor fireplace


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