Experimenting “La vie de château” in South of France
I always thought that living in a château will be amazing, a dream come true where you walk in amazing rooms full of beautiful paintings on your walls, welcoming fires in your chimney and great libraries to bury yourself into during the long winter nights.
So when I saw an ad in a French newspaper saying that the "Château de Michel Eyquem de Montaigne", needed staff for the summer to lead tours of Montaigne's tower, I naturally applied, daydreaming about "La vie de château" :)
An interesting journey
Two weeks later I was on my way to Dordogne, this amazing part of France where you have one vineyard after an other as far as the eye can see. I took the train from Paris to Castillon La Bataille, a village about 10 km away from the castle. "The chatelaine" keeper was supposed to pick me up from the station and drop me off at the castle. Unfortunately my phone died during the journey so here I was, seating on my massive suitcase, waiting by the only platform of this tiny train station.
After 1 hour it became clear that she forgot about me so I start walking towards the city centre to find a cab. The owner of a charming little café comes to the rescue and tells me: "Ma Cherie, c'est dimanche aujourd'hui personne ne travaille!!" Meaning, keep dreaming about your cabbie darling it is Sunday.
After some research I manage to find a working computer with an antique internet connection and I book a cab. I have to say that I am quite relieved to see him arrive... We take off after drinking a lemonade at the terrace. There is nothing more bucolic than this part of the country with its rolling hills covered in vineyards, the little alleys leading to wine cellars that you can see from the main road, the white buildings covered in beautiful tile roof in the prettiest shade of orange with some mousse... Just a lovely sight.
"On arrive ma Chérie" the cab driver tells me. We enter a small alley in the middle of the vineyard, there is a lovely house on the left and a man stops the cab to say hi to the driver. This man is Joel, the Maître de Chais, who will show me around the next day once I'm settled. We continue or drive down this little alley, pass through a big arch and enter a beautiful yet almost abandoned courtyard. This is a medieval fortress! In the corner, a big dungeon, followed by what I think are former stables, then the keeper's house and a 19th century castle.
Beautiful place indeed, I can't believe that it will be my house for the 3 months to come! It is 6pm, everything is quiet in the courtyard, a cat is lying down, enjoying the last bit of sunshine. A typical Sunday evening when the time seams to stand still. Eventually, a little lady welcomes me, apologises for the little "quak" in the organisation and take me to my quarters, in the old barns. She shows me the facilities and finish by saying "hope you're not scared of bats". I smile bravely and assure her that I will be fine.
Discovering my new palace
My room is part of what must have been the domestic quarters when the activity of the domain still required an army of staff. Obviously things have changed. My room has an old wardrobe that would fit in the book by C.S Lewis. The walls are painted in a very interesting shade of green that must have been fashionable a hundred years ago and my bed is a beautiful piece of antique. My desk has so many ornaments that it could have been used by a princess. I just can't believe that I am going to live here!
The door slams, my new roommate has arrived. She runs in the staircase and jumps on me! Quite happy to have company apparently. She shows me the bathroom, at the end of a really narrow corridor. It is just amazing, the bathroom is the size of the living room with a huge bath tube beautiful mirrors a small shower but no toilets. Doumia tells me that they are downstairs ,under the staircase. She never goes there because a huge spider has made her home in it and doesn't welcomes her intrusion into her kingdom. But for now time to explore the place!
Here are a couple of pictures of the estate:
The next day, I meet all the members of the team, watch the videos about Montaigne, visit the estate, drink the wine from the Estate, relax in the grass drinking "Blanc Moelleux" with the other girls. We watch sunset from the castle roof, share our corridors with bats, mice and spiders. This is going to be my life for the next 3 months and I am loving it!
3 months later
Working in Montaigne estate has been an amazing experience for me. I've learned about wine, I am now able to distinguish Merlot from Cabernet sauvignon. I know the different stage of the production of wine, i have organized wine testing, I've read the "Essais" de Montaigne, It took me 2 months but I am really happy I did because it really improved my understanding of the Humanist movement. I had the occasion to use French, English, German and Dutch every day and most of all I met some amazing people passionate about wine, history and Montaigne. I've also read more books in 3 months than I usually do in a year but most important I've learn to enjoy silence, peace and quiet. Maybe this it what "La vie de château" is really about more than luxurious rooms. It is time to leave this little haven of peace and return to civilization with internet connection, news, cities and all these other things I took for granted before coming to this little village out of time!
As the cab leave the estate I'm watching the tower disappear and I know for sure that I will be back, but this time, just for a visit and a glass of wine :)
I hope that my experience will make you want to visit this beautiful place. If you do here is the Website: www.chateau-montaigne.com. The castle is an hour away from Bordeaux and 15 minutes to St Emillion. There are a couple of train stations around but it is better to rent a car as taxi might not be available...