Sunday, July 07, 2013

A Tale of Two Châteaux

It was such a beautiful day yesterday, but very hot. I decided I needed a walk in the forest and found an itinerary that started an ended at a château. Perfect!

But first I had to walk to the château in Eybens, about four kilometres away. Napoleon stopped here in 1815, on his way from Laffrey where he had confronted the King’s army and come out of it rather well. It is said that on arriving in Eybens, he was offered a footbath by an old woman, la mère Simiand, before continuing his route to Grenoble. Lucky man...

I, meanwhile, set off beneath the blazing sun in my khaki shorts, acutely conscious of my pasty, muscular Welsh calves - inherited from my hill-farmer ancestors – as I trudged beside the busy main road and over the motorway bridge. It was a relief to finally reach the shady lanes around the château gardens.
Of the château itself, I barely caught a glimpse. It perches high on a hill overlooking the village, the rooftops peeking above the trees.

There is some mystery concerning its origins. Documents suggest the existence of a château before 1120 but it was rebuilt in the mid 17th century by, claims a rather salacious legend, Christine de Savoie, the daughter of Henri IV. Apparently, she built it as her personal royal Den of Iniquity, to entertain her numerous lovers and host all sorts of wickedness such as black masses and necromancy. As there is no hard evidence for this story, it was probably made up by someone who didn’t like her very much.

I had no feelings about Christine one way or another, I was just intent on getting started. The track ran alongside the walled gardens for a while, winding gently upwards until it reached a crossroads where I took the track to Herbeys. This track sloped down into a deliciously-cool, dark forest where birds sang, streams gurgled and a nasty horsefly stung me on the arm.

Then it was upwards again into the sunlight and a view across the meadows to the glorious mountains beyond.


I finally reached Herbeys. I had been here before, to climb the colline des Quatre Seigneurs and I knew I would be able to see the château from up there. But I was too tired and too hot and too thirsty to do that. So I wandered around the village looking for it ("easily visible from the road" they said) and…I couldn’t find it.

I do know that the château was once the Bishop’s Palace, that it dates from the year 1310 and that it is now privately owned. I also remember it being quite large so I had no idea why I couldn’t see it.

I splashed my face and arms in the icy water of the village fountain and headed back to Eybens, my sturdy calves now glowing pink in the late afternoon sun.

I may not have seen my beloved châteaux but at least I hadn’t got lost - just slightly confused. Most important of all, I felt - if such a thing is possible - both happily exhausted and completely revigorated.

And that, after all, is what it's all about...