Photo Essay:  The Gardens of Chateau de Chaumont

Photo Essay: The Gardens of Chateau de Chaumont

The Chateau de Chaumont sur Loire doesn’t immediately impress you with its grandeur.  Instead you are struck by the country garden charm of the place.  Right behind the entrance office, there is a giant rabbit topiary.  Garden paths meander past contemporary art and view points onto  fields with wonderful views of the Loire Valley.  Almost as an afterthought, the Chateau de Chaumont appears on the side, a fairytale vision of silver-tipped turrets on top of alabaster walls.  Chateau de Chaumont was where Diane de Poitiers was banished after her lover died.  His vengeful wife, Catherine de Medici, wrestled Chateau du Chenonceau at long last from her rival and gave her Chateau de Chaumont as a consolation prize.  Nowadays the gardens of Chateau de Chaumont and the internationally-renowned Chaumont Garden Festival are the main draws for its visitors.

visiting Chateau de Chaumont and its gardens in the Loire Valley in France

The Chateau’s position, once defensive, now gives it amazing views.

The History of the Chateau

There has been a chateau on the site since 1000 A.D because it was a good lookout point over the border territories of two powerful noblemen. The chateau was part of the influential d’Amboise family holdings for hundreds of years until Catherine de Medici bought it in 1550.  The current Chateau de Chaumont architecture is a mix of the defensive style of architecture of medieval times and ornamental features dating from the Renaissance period.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The Chateau de Chaumont set like a jewel amongst the lawns.

When Catherine de Medici owned the chateau, she had elaborate parties at the chateau and hosted famous people, like the astrologer, Nostradamus and Cosimo Ruggieri.  If the legend is to be believed, Ruggieri showed Catherine the death of her three sons in a mirror at Chaumont.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The Catherine de Medici room has tapestries dating from the 15th century.

Eventually though Catherine forced her love rival Diane de Poitiers to exchange it for the grander Chateau de Chenonceau.  Diane de Poitiers only lived at Chaumont a short time even though.  As pretty as Chaumont is, it’s no Chenonceau.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

Beautiful stained glass windows.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

Catherine de Medici left behind her initials on the stonework.

In the 18th century, Chaumont was the beloved chateau of a French merchant who rose up the ranks, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray.  Le Ray was instrumental in providing French support for the American Revolution.  He housed Benjamin Franklin at one of his Parisian homes when Franklin was sent to Paris to drum up support for the American cause. Le Ray not only got the French King to cough up money but also provided money and equipment from his own funds. For example, he sent a gift of a warship to John Paul Jones who is credited with being a founder of the U.S. Navy.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The small chateau with extensive gardens is great for kids to visit.

Le Ray’s son moved to the United States and married an American.  The Chateau survived the French Revolution because it was seized by the French Revolutionary government from the absentee landlord.  Post-French Revolution, one of the sides got demolished so that you could get a better view of the Loire Valley.  Oh, the irony.

The chateau has an amazing panoramic terrace overlooking the Loire valley.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

A chateau with a view.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The Chapel had a modern art exhibit.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

My eagle-eyed kids spotted a Furby in the installation. Can you find it?

The Gardens of Chateau de Chaumont

The chateau is set in 52 acres of parkland which were created by famed 19th century French garden designer, Henri Duchene.  Until the time of Duchene, there was actually a little village of approximately 100 houses located right near the chateau.  The Chateau’s owners, the Prince and Princess de Broglie, had all the buildings demolished and then had the village relocated closer to the Loire.  Presumably, they had learned nothing from the French Revolution.

Unlike in the movie Poltergeist, even the village church’s cemetery was moved.  Duchene, then, created an English style manor-house parkland that affording fabulous views over the Loire Valley and was more befitting a prestigious residence. Taking four years and costing 560,000 francs at the time, the project was a massive endeavour.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The view of the Chateau from the gardens.

One of his Duchene’s innovative designs was the Rustic Bridge which spans a ravine between ornamental gardens.  The bridge is actually made of cement and then covered with iron and wood.  This creative idea brought the French concept of trompe l’oeil to a garden environment.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The fake rustic bridge really does look like the real thing.

In 1877, the Princess de Broglie instructed an architect, Paul-Ernest Sanson, to build her some stables.  These stables were considered the most luxurious in all of Europe at the time.  The de Broglie horses were seriously pampered and even had Hermes saddles.

Sadly for the de Broglies, the good times ended.  The Princess de Broglie blew through her fortune and the French government had to take over Chaumont in 1938.  Even impoverished, the Princess lived among the Ritz and the George V hotels in Paris and her own private Parisian apartment.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The great salon recreates the Belle Epoque style of the Princess de Broglie.

The Chaumont Garden Festival

Chateau du Chaumont is known for its international contemporary garden festival which started in 1992.  Running annually from June to October, it has approximately 30 gardens spread throughout the grounds of the chateau.  This year is the festival’s 25th anniversary.

The gardens are designed by artists and landscape designers from all around the world.  Over the years, the people who’ve worked on the 700+ gardens that have appeared in the festival is a who’s who of art and garden design.  They are internationally renowned big names like Shigeru Ban (Japanese architect), Peter Walker (American landscape designer who was part of the design team for the National 9/11 Memorial) and Ernesto Neto (Brasilian artist).

According to the festivals rules, the gardens are in bloom in 6 months with the best of the display supposed to occur in the autumn.  Approximately 400,000 people visit the garden festival every year.

The exhibits are kid-friendly.  It’s like a contemporary open-air art museum.  My kids really liked the garden of the mists which is a permanent exhibition. During July and August evenings, the gardens are lit up at night.

Every year the garden theme changes.  In 2016, the gardens’ themes are about the issues facing the world today – climate change, rising sea levels and the link between people and their environment.  The festival was overseen in 2016 by Maryanne Pinault, the wife of French retail billionaire, Francois Pinault.  The Pinaults know a thing or two about modern art because they have an extensive renowned collection of contemporary art which is housed in its own Venetian palazzo.

I thought the International Garden Festival was fantastic and will dedicate a separate post to them. Not only were they attractive, but they raised a lot of issues about our environment.

Photo Gallery: Gardens of the Chateau de Chaumont

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

Fields of flowers in the sunshine

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

More fields of flowers.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

So pretty. Sorry I had to throw in more flower photos.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

Lush flowers interspersed with lawns.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

My daughter thought someone had gone a little artsy/craftsy to the ends of these flowers.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The gardens are very lush and immaculately maintained. Seating areas throughout enable you to rest and enjoy them.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

One very noisy frog in the gardens. I can see why the French like to eat them.

Visiting the Chateau de Chaumont

The Chateau de Chaumont is open seasonally. You can easily spend a day here. There are several restaurants on site, too, which are only available to chateau visitors.  We liked the garden restaurant which serves sandwiches and salads in an alfresco setting with a pretty view.

 

The Royal Love Triangle That Shaped the Chateau de Chenonceau

The Royal Love Triangle That Shaped the Chateau de Chenonceau

There were three of us in this marriage, it was a bit crowded.

Diana, Princess of Wales in an interview on BBC Panorama (1995) 

With those infamous words, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, blew the lid off her husband, Prince Charles’s, long-standing affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles on prime-time television to a mesmerised nation.

Royalty in previous years did not have the luxury of a publicly televised tear fest to name and shame.  Their marital strife was conducted in private but was no less complex.   One of the most beautiful chateaus in the Loire Valley in France, the Chateau de Chenonceau, was caught up in such a love triangle.

Chateau de Chenonceau

The Royal Love Triangle

First, the players in the biggest love triangle of the 16th Century.

Poor Little Rich Prince

When Henry II was a prince, he was the spare living in the shadow of the heir, his older brother.  His father, Francis 1 was a larger than life figure.  Francis I brought the Renaissance to France, waged war to all and sundry, was a notorious playboy and met Henry VIII of England on the Field of The Cloth of Gold.  Henry II knew his father preferred his brother.  Worse,  his mother, the queen, died when he was a child.  Amidst this family dysfunction, Francis I lost a war to the Holy Roman Emperor and had to send his two sons (aged 7 and 8) off as hostages until he could pay the ransom.  It took daddy 4 years to pay the ransom while his sons languished as foreign prisoners.

 

When the boys finally returned to France, Francis I gave his younger son into the care of a court noblewoman, Diane de Poiters, a woman almost 20 years older than him.  She cared for him so well that they became lovers while he was still a teenager (because he didn’t have enough parental issues).  As was the custom of the day, he was married off in a political alliance to Catherine de Medici.

Little Orphan Medici Maiden

Orphaned as a baby, Catherine de Medici was a rich heiress and a pawn in her relatives battle for power.  Although the Medicis controlled Florence, they were not royalty themselves but merely glorified bankers.  Catherine’s ‘safe spot’ became a convent where she was left in relative peace.  Her relative, the Pope, secured a great marriage for her to the second son of the King of France.

Henry II and Catherine de Medici were married in Marseille to much celebration when they were both 14 years old.  Henry’s randy old father stayed in their room on the wedding night to make sure the dirty got done.  Can someone say awkward?!

Anyway, Catherine de Medici loved Henry II but he was under the thrall of Diane de Poitiers.  And, to make matters worse, poor Catherine was hardly a looker and Diane an unrivalled beauty.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Diane and Catherine were both strong women who carved their own future during a period of history when women had little power.

So at age 14, Catherine de Medici found herself in a loveless marriage surrounded by French courtiers who were unimpressed with her lack of royal blood.  If you remember the movie, Dangerous Liaisons, the French court really was a nest of vipers.  Worse, it took Catherine almost 10 years to have children.  Although the French courtiers blamed her, it was likely that Henry had some performance issues.  After a doctor was able to solve the couple’s problems, Catherine went on to have 10 kids, making up for lost time.  Three of her sons became Kings of France and one of her daughters became a Queen of France.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Despite Catherine’s best efforts, the throne passed onto Henry IV (pictured here as a boy). Although Henry IV was married to Catherine’s daughter, they were childless and he chucked her aside. Henry IV went onto marry another Medici heiress, Marie de Medici.

You can almost forgive Catherine for being bitter and living through her children. If the excellent film, La Reine Margot, is to be believed she may have loved her sons a little too much.  French courtiers were convinced that she was a schemer and poisoner, but Catherine came across as positively nice in comparison to her relative, Marie de Medici.

Chateau de Chenonceau

This panelled room was Catherine’s study. The panels hid drawers which is where she is rumoured to have hid her poisons.

The Cougar With the Golden Body

Diane de Poitiers was an acknowledged beauty who had a tendency to make the best of any situation in which she found herself.  At the age of 15 she found herself married to a relative of the French King who was 40 years older than her.  After his death, she wore black and white for the rest of her life.  Not only were these mourning colours, they looked good on her.

Diane’s beauty was immortalised in both sculpture and painting.  She reputedly drank liquid gold every day as an elixir to keep herself attractive.  A modern-day analysis of her body indicated really high levels of gold which is probably what killed her in the end.

As soon as he was made king in 1547, Henry II gave Chateau de Chenonceau to Diane de Poitiers even though Catherine de Medici wanted it.  Diane adored Chenonceau and went about sprucing it up.

The Love Story

As is usual in those days of high mortality, the heir to the throne died and Henry II ascended to the French throne. You can only imagine how thrilled the Medicis were.  They had only aspired to be related to royalty and hadn’t expected to have Catherine ascend the throne herself.  Unfortunately, as the King’s official mistress, Diane de Poitiers had a lot of power and influence.  Catherine de Medici found herself sidelined by the king and court.  Henry II even gave Diane the French Crown Jewels (and not just metaphorically).

Chateau de Chenonceau

Catherine de Medici took as her personal motto odiate e aspettate  (hate and wait).  I’d be so afraid of anyone with that sort of motto rather than say something positive like, Every Day is A New Day or Don’t Worry Be Happy.  It was probably good propaganda though to scare the French courtiers a bit.

Happily Ever After is for Fairytale Endings

So the hating and waiting paid off.  Henry II died from injuries sustained in a jousting tournament where Diane and Catherine were onlookers.  He had chosen to honour his mistress by wear Diane’s colours for the tournament.  Coincidence?  Who knows?  Maybe Prince Philip really did have a quiet word with MI5 about his scene-stealing ex-daughter-in-law.

Catherine wouldn’t let Diane say her final farewell to Henry II even though he kept asking for her.  Catherine also chucked her out of the Chateau de Chenonceau and took it for herself.  Diane retreated gracefully.  First, she took up temporary residence at the beautiful nearby Chateau de Cheverny.  Then Diane gave her Chateau de Chaumont as a trade for Chenonceau. Chaumont is a beautiful chateau but its no Chenonceau.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Even though this is the Queen’s bedroom, Catherine preferred another bedroom.

The only way a long-standing love triangle ends is when one of the members of the triangle dies.  In the medieval version, it was Henry II in a jousting accident and his two women were left to spar on their own.  In the modern day version, Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car accident and Charles and Camilla went on to get married.  I guess it is a happily ever after of sorts.

Chateau de Chenonceau

The bedroom of Catherine de Medici.

The History of Chenonceau

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Chenonceau several times.  I took a tour with Context Tours with atour guide who gave a colourful explanation of its history.

There has been a chateau at Chenonceau since the Middle Ages.  One of the owners rebuilt the chateau in the 16th century.  A small portion of the 15th century chateau was kept to let people know that the chateau may be new but the family weren’t.  French King Francis I took Chenonceau in 1535 as payment for debts owed him.  In 1547, Henry II gave it as a gift to Diane de Poitiers even though his wife wanted it.  I can’t decide if Henry II was brave or foolhardy.

Chateau de Chenonceau

The little stump of the medieval keep was kept so people wouldn’t think the owners were new money.

Diane de Poitiers undertook extensive renovations to Chenonceau building both the bridge across the river and an elaborate garden.

Chateau de Chenonceau

These gardens were created for Diane de Poitiers. She had great taste as well as beauty and brains.  Pretty much a nightmare mistress if you are the wronged wife.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Diane’s garden was laid out with borders, fountains, and topiary.

Once Henry II died, Catherine turfed Diane out.  Catherine loved Chenonceau, too, and undertook renovations as well.  She added rooms over the bridge and an Italian garden on the other side of the Chateau.  Diane liked to put her initials everywhere but Catherine changed the lettering to make them look like her initials, sort of like people do with tattoos nowadays.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Henry II really liked to have his initials everywhere – walls, floors, ceilings. In the last one you can see how easy it would be to entertwine the initial H with both a C and a D.

Anything Diane could do, Catherine wanted to do better.  She even staged the first fireworks display France had ever seen at Chenonceau when her son Francis II ascended the throne.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Even Catherine’s Italianate garden was less interesting than Diane’s.

Catherine had grand plans for massively enlarging the chateau.  For example, she wanted to add service buildings to each side of the chateau.  Unfortunately only side got built.  Nowadays, the chateau’s cafe is on that side.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Catherine’s extra buildings can be seen behind the sphinxes at the gate.

After Catherine, Chenonceau passed through a series of owners, royal and otherwise.  It survived the French Revolution because it was one of the few bridges crossing the River Cher.  During World War II, the Chenonceau was the link between Nazi-occupied France on one side of the River Cher to the other side which was part of the resistance forces.

Inside Chenonceau and its Gardens

The chateau that the Queen and the mistress both coveted is indeed beautiful.  It is one of the most popular chateaus in the Loire Valley and gets hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.  I would suggest you go early or late in order to minimise the tourist crowds.  Even when I have been there in the early spring when the gardens were not in bloom, Chenonceau had its fair share of tourists.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Take a walk in the woods to avoid the masses and appreciate the beauty of the estate.

Although the Chateau is pretty, our favourite part were the gardens.  My children especially enjoyed the maze.

Chateau de Chenonceau

It was a race to see who could finish the maze first.

I am not affiliated with Context Tours in any way, nor did I receive compensation of any type from them in exchange for writing this article. I paid for the Chateaux of the Loire Tour because I genuine love Context Tours.

A Parisian Tale of Two City Railway Gardens

A Parisian Tale of Two City Railway Gardens

Turning disused city train tracks into urban parks are all the rage these days.  The grandaddy of them all, the Parisian Promenade Plantee was opened in 1993.  Other city railway gardens around the world now include New York City’s The High Line, Sydney’s The Goods Line, and Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail.  Philadelphia has set in plans in motion to create City Trail Rail Park.  On the other hand, Paris has yet another disused railway track, the Petite Ceinture, which lies abandoned and unloved. It is a Parisian tale of two city railway gardens creating the best of times and the worst of times (with apologies to Charles Dickens).

The promenade planted, a Parisian garden created from a disused railroad track

The Promenade Plantee

We have walked with the children on the Promenade Plantée (“Planted Promenade”), also known as “La Coulée Verte”,  a disused above-ground railway line which has been converted into a beautiful urban garden.  The promenade runs along the Rue Daumesnil in the 12th arrondissement.

The Promenade Plantee served as the model for the fabulous High Line elevated garden in downtown New York City which was opened in 2010.  Having walked both the High Line and the Promenade Plantee with the children, each park has a totally different feel.  The Parisians have made the Promenade Plantee gracious and elegant with lots of plantings, archways etc.  The High Line by contrast has a more contemporary garden design and feels more casual.cherry blossom

This Parisian promenade runs for almost 3 miles from the Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes. My children loved it and wanted to keep walking all the way to the end.  We turned back half way worried they’d be exhausted and need to be carried back.  Next time, we should bring scooters so they can zip along even further.

buildings in Paris

The views of the tops of the Haussman houses and the boulevards below are lovely.  The zinc roofs of the Parisian buildings shimmer in the sun.  The Parisians who are lucky enough to overlook the Promenade must have a fabulous view.

urban oasis

There were lots of locals out and about on the Promenade Plantee.  Blending effortlessly into the city landscape as if it had always been intend to be a viaduct garden, I could see what attracted the planners of the High Line into creating a New York version.  By the way, if you are a fan of Julie Delphy, you may recognise this park from the romantic film, Before Sunset (2004).

Promenade Plantee a converted railway garden in Paris

photo credit: Fiona Cullinan

The Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture

Contrast this urban oasis with the Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture (“Little Belt Railway”) nearby in the 20th arrondissement.  The Petit Ceinture is a railway that loops around central Paris for 17 miles.  The precursor to the Parisian Metro, it was abandoned in 1934 when the Metro came into existence and proved to be so much more efficient.

Le Petit Ceinture, a disused railway in Paris

Photo Credit: Hugo Clement

Recently plans have been proposed for things to do with the Petite Ceinture.  Plans to sell off bits of the Petite Ceinture (which sits on valuable land) are contentious many consider the railway to be part of the nation’s heritage.  I’ve read there are over 200 species of flora and fauna that live along the rail tracks.  I would think the Petite Ceinture would be a perfect film location for a post-apocalyptic movie.

railroad tracks

One entrance is on Rue Florian right across the Philippe Starck’s budget-friendly design hotel, Mama Shelter.  In fact, parts of the railway tracks are visible from the terrace of the hotel restaurant.

petite chemin

I had read about in in a post by Messy Nessy Chic, one of my favourite blogs.  Unlike when Nessy went, the day I was there, the gates were open but no welcoming flea market was about.  I wandered in and up the makeshift ramp of compost to get to the tracks.  I didn’t get very far before I found homeless people bunking down and a group of teens smoking stuff.  It seemed sensible to leave since I was alone.  Apparently in some parts the views are as good as on the Promenade Plantee.

men

You could tell some people were trying to grow vegetable patches. Someone had even planted a sedum garden on the bottom of an overtuned car.  There is a desolate beauty about the place.  Once the area turns trendy (usually not far behind a Starck hotel) the French authorities may finally decide to fix it up.

petite chemin

I wandered back to the former train station entrance, the Gare de Charonne, which is now a cafe and music venue.  The grandiose architectural details and soaring ceilings of the station are perfect for a grungy gig venue.

One city, two city gardens both made from disused railroad tracks.  They could not be more different from each other.  Interestingly, the Promenade and the Petite Ceinture intersect in South-East Paris. Perhaps one day their paths will cross with both of them properly beautified.

Depending on where you want to sightsee, you will want to stay nearby if you are short on time. These two city gardens are in different arondissements – the Promenade Plantee is in the 12th arrondissement and the Petite Ceinture section I saw was in the 20th arrondissement.

This post is linked with City Tripping.

Wander Mum
Under The Languedoc Sun, Another Side to the South of France

Under The Languedoc Sun, Another Side to the South of France

“Are you sure this is it?” I remarked to my husband. “It doesn’t look very fancy.”

“We have a weekend without the kids. That’s luxury in itself.” He responded.

We had found Maison Laurent on the main road in the town, a four-story cloud grey townhouse with sage green shutters and an unobtrusive sign announcing its name. We were in the Carcassone area sans children to take advantage of a long weekend stay my husband had won at Maison Laurent as part of a charity auction. Maison Laurent is a boutique B&B in the Languedoc countryside in the southwest of France.

Maison Laurent facade.

Maison Laurent, A Luxury Boutique B&B

The smooth grey of the flagstone floor and whitewashed interior was a welcome relief from the heat outside. A wrought iron and grey stone staircase beckoned us up to the main living floor. We were greeted by the cheery English owners, Anthony and Rachel, and their exuberant English Spaniel, Bella.

Maison Laurent bella

Bella, the undisputed star of the show

They ushered us out of the large French doors leading to a landscaped rear garden. Under the intense French sun, the greens and pinks of the lush planting in full bloom were a kaleidoscope of colour. The gravel-covered paths crunched under Bella’s paws as she trotted off at regular intervals to inspect her domain.

Maison Laurent garden

Sheltered under a canopy, we relaxed in the dappled sunshine with glasses of the local white wine. The plain-fronted buildings in Pieusse had held their secrets close – beautiful interiors and large private back gardens!  There’s a pool in the back of the garden perfect for relaxing in the sunshine.

Maison Laurent from the rear garden

Maison Laurent garden and pool

Our room, located on the top floor, was a perfect mix of traditional decor with modern conveniences. The open windows let in a gentle warm breeze which ruffled the pale linen curtains. We could see over the orange-tiled roofs of the town and, in the distance, the vineyards and the church steeple. You always knew what time it was because the church bells chimed the time on the hour 24/7.

We sank onto the restored Louis XV bed and, hurrah, our WiFi reception was great! I knew any concerns I had about the quality of our boutique B&B were unfounded.

Maison Laurent refurbished bed

maison laurent bedroom

maison laurent bathroom

Maison Laurent is a traditional Maison d’Maitre in Languedoc close to Carcassone, the Pyrenees and the Spanish border.  Anthony and Rachel bought the house from the previous owner, Laurent Sanchez, whose family had held it since it was built in the 1870’s. They painstakingly restored and modernised the house five years ago. The house was christened Maison Laurent because Maison Sanchez didn’t sound very French!

maison laurent refurbishment book

Breakfast in the morning was an elegant affair. The smell of toast hung in the air of the open plan kitchen dining room. Although I was tempted by the freshly baked croissants and baguettes on offer, I opted for a small bowl of grapefruit and orange slices with creamy local yogurt. I knew breakfast would most likely be my lightest meal of the day! Anthony made me a happy woman when he brewed me a pot of English breakfast tea with teabags imported from Yorkshire.

Apparently, one of the reasons Anthony wanted to run a B&B is his love of cooking.  His hobby is to your benefit because Anthony and Rachel offer dinner at the hotel several days a week if you are so inclined.

The Carcassone Region of the Languedoc

The hamlet of Pieusse has one main road with pastel-coloured houses bleached by the sun standing like soldiers to attention. The buildings were stark in their wood and stone simplicity adorned only with colour-coordinated wooden shutters.  At the end of the main road, there is a triangular roundabout spruced up with flowers, a bench and a monument of Jesus hanging on the cross.

pieusse languedoc france

The roundabout lead to the road out of town in one direction and fields of wine-growing grapes the other way. I wondered how many teenagers had sat under the Jesus statue with a bottle of local wine and prayed to get out of this one cheval town.  Unlike those teenagers in my imagination we thought Pieusse was the perfect escape from our hectic lives.

Between Maison Laurent and the roundabout, the main (probably only?) restaurant in town, La Taverne a Bacchus, serves up rustic French food cooked on an open spit.  I think the delicious food, quirky restaurant and opportunities for people watching deserves a post in itself.

Armed with helpful tips from Rachel, we set off every day after breakfast in our rental car to explore the nearby vineyards, canals, rolling hills and stone villages. Maison Laurent was perfectly located to take advantage of all that this gorgeous pastoral region of France has to offer.

If you are after sophistication and cultural things to do in the south of France, there are plenty of things to do in Nice and its environs. If you are after a quieter, more relaxed charm, go a bit further Southwest and bask under the Languedoc sun.

Good To Know:

Maison Laurent, in the village of Pieusse, is located bout 15 minutes from Caracassone and 90 minutes from the international airport in Toulouse. The accommodation comprises of 4 double bedrooms which range in price currently from Euro 105 to 145 a night. There is a pool and loungers available for use during the summer season. Children over the age of 12 may be accommodated upon request.

This post is linked up with #AllAboutFrance.

How The Inquisition Made Friends and Influenced People

How The Inquisition Made Friends and Influenced People

And, the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Although Thomas Hobbes was writing about the conditions of war in 1651 not much had changed since medieval times.  Life was even nastier and shorter if you caught the attention of the Inquisition.  The ecclesiastical body set up by the Catholic Church to weed out those people who did not conform to its teachings, the Inquisition, was ruthless.  They effectively had declared war on heretics, homosexuals and supposed witches. The Inquisition had the authority to question thoroughly (i.e., torture) its suspects.

The Inquisition in the Languedoc

On our recent trip to Carcassone in the Languedoc region of the South of France, we visited the Inquisition Museum.  Unfortunately, the Inquisition held a heavy grip on the area the mid-13th century to the early 18th century.  The region was a stronghold of the Cathars, a Christian sect which dared to defy some of the teachings of the Catholic Church.  The Inquisition showed no mercy to the Cathars as it swept through the area.

inquisition museum carcassone

The Inquisition Museum was truly disturbing.  I had no idea there were so many different ways to harm people.  I usually deal with discomfort with humour and so I got to wondering how the torture would stack up in the modern world.

When I think of torture in the present context, I can’t help but think of ex-Vice President Dick Cheney and Guantanamo Bay.  He, of course, would not understand why.  After all, Cheney has insisted water boarding is not torture.

The Instruments of the Inquisition

From a scale of 1-5 with with 1 not being torture to 5 being a grudging acceptance that it is, I bring you the Cheney torture scale for 7 medieval torture instruments.

The Judas Chair

The Judas Chair was used on witches.  They were sat down on a chair of nails and the boards were slowly tightened until it really hurt.  Death was slow because the nails would stem the flow of blood loss from the punctures.

Cheney Torture Scale:  2/5 It’s only a slightly uncomfortable seat.  High back wooden chairs are never as comfortable as say a La-Z Boy recliner.  Get over it.

Nail Chair Torture Inquisition Museum

The Hell Cage

These cages were usually found on crossroads to serve as a warning to others.  Suspects were left naked in the cages.  People would die from hunger or thirst if they were left in there long enough.

Cheney Torture Scale:  1/5 Naturists hang out in the fresh air all the time.  How is this torture?

hell cage torture instrument carcassone inquisition museum

The Axe

These were relatively easy deaths saved for important people.  You know how it works.

Cheney Torture Scale:  1/5 How is this even torture?  The person just dies with the briefest time of pain.

The Axe Torture Inquisition Museum Carcassone

The Stretching Ladder

This ladder was used to stretch limbs to extract a confession.  Usually the suspect would dislocate a shoulder.

Cheney Torture Scale:  1/5 It gives you a good stretch.  Much better than yoga.

The Ladder Inquisition Museum Carcassone

The Saw

The saw was a cheap and easy way to torture on the go because usually the Inquisitors travelled without their instruments.  Every village would have a saw.  Either people were sawed in half completely or only half-way so that they died of blood-loss and pain.

Cheney Torture Scale:  5/5 This method is pretty sick.  But somewhat pointless as two halves of a person will not divulge any information.

Saw Torture Inquisition Museum Carcassone

The Breaking Wheel

The person was tied to a wheel and beaten until the bones were broken.  Then the victim was left to be eaten by crows.

Cheney Torture Scale:  2/5 At least the person was lying down. Moreover, the nurturing of wildlife is an important government duty.

Breaking Wheel Inquisition Museum Carcassone

The Neck Violin

The neck violin was attached to a person’s neck and arms.  They had to march through the streets with a sign proclaiming their misdeed.

Cheney Torture Scale:  1/5 Exercise does a body good.

neck violin inquisition museum

Believe it or not, these methods are only a small sampling of the devices used by the Inquisition.  Their creativity and cruelty seemed to know no bounds.

Visiting the Inquisition Museum

The Inquisition Museum is located in the medieval walled Cite of Carcassone.  It is comprised of two parts located in two different houses- the museum and the jail.  The Museum has displays and detailed photos of torture instruments and their use.  The jail has waxed figures depicting how the accused would be accused and brought to questioning.  Draped in cloth, you walk through the dark house and listen to the whispers of accusers and the howl of the accused.  I thought it was completely creepy.  I would advise caution in visiting this museum with younger children.  Teenagers who have seen any number of horror movies will not be bothered by the implied violence and mutilation.

 

 

Not Just Pretty Medieval Faces in Carcassone

Not Just Pretty Medieval Faces in Carcassone

I was fascinated by the stone medieval carvings in the city of Carcassone, the largest and best preserved walled city in Europe.   The faces were so expressive that you could only marvel at how talented the stone masons must have been.

This statue is Lady Carcas who supposedly fended off an attack on the city by Charlemagne.  She used ingenuity to convince Charlemagne that Carcassone was stronger than it actually was so that he retreated without attacking the city.  Nice story but it actually is completely fabricated.

Lady Carcas

This statue is a replica of the Virgin Mary which graces the entrance to the Narbonne Gate, the main entrance to the medieval walled city.  She looks pretty ecstatic doesn’t she?  In the original statue which is now located in Carcassone Castle, she is holding baby Jesus.  Maybe she’s just happy about having her hands finally free.

Madonna on the Narbonne Gate

I love these gargoyles on the Basilica of St Nazaire located in the city.  The expressions make me laugh.

Gargoyle

“OMG! Why are my ears bigger than my hands” cried the first Gargoyle.

Gargoyle

“Did you see those fugly shoes?” gasped the second Gargoyle.

Gargoyles are glorified stone water spouts. When the statues were just decorative and didn’t serve any drainage function, they were called chimera.

chimera on Basilica of St. Nazaire

The medieval version of the Three Stooges.

chimera on Basilica of St. Nazaire

Even dental intervention wouldn’t have made this face attractive.

The statue of this lady in the Basilica of St. Nazaire is simply beautiful.  Of course, it could be a very pretty man with flowing locks as well since I think maybe the statue is wearing a suit of armour. I don’t know though – those hands look too pretty to ever have grasped a sword.

lady in st. Nazaire Basilica

“Moi? Beautiful? Why thank you kindly sir.”

In the Castle of Carcassone, there is an exhibit of statutes and other decorative stone work that has been salvaged from nearby ruins.

Doesn’t this man look like he is wearing a bad wig?  Or maybe it is a medieval combover.

face at carcassone castle

I am not amused.

This person looks really happy with life, or maybe they are just happy to be having a particularly good hair day.

Face at carcassone castle

Smile, you’re on stone.

Who knew medieval faces could be so expressive?  I expect those stone masons had fun creating these faces.  I definitely had an amusing time ascribing thoughts to their faces.

Which one is your favourite?  My favourite will always be the gargoyles.