After our usual leisurely 10am breakfast and my usual trip to the post office, we set off south, driving along one of the straightest roads I’ve ever seen…well, outside Australia, anyway. The day was wonderfully bright and clear and it was as if you could see for the full 30kms. Lovely bit of road.
This got us to Gace which, like most towns, we drove straight through with just cursory glances at signposts to make sure we were still heading in the right direction. This is something you have to regularly do in Normandy. The signs can just appear at the turning and be easily hidden behind the truck in front of you.
After Gace we followed the N138 through a small town called Nonant-le-Pin, the birthplace of Alphonsine Plessis. Now that will mean absolutely nothing to most people, however it is she who Dumas based his character La Dame aux Camelias (The Lady of the Camellias) on and also La Traviata is based on her courtesy of Mr Verdi. And all we did was whiz right by!
Our first target was Chateau d’O. Now, I ask you, how could any dyed in the wool Simpsons fan NOT visit Chateau d’O? We did manage to find it, even given the difficulties thrown up by the various lack of signage. And it looked very nice from outside the huge iron gates chained shut to the world. ‘Entry Forbidden’ proclaimed a friendly French sign. As Homer would correctly say, “D’Oh!”
But have no fear, there’s always another chateau nearby so we set off down the road to Chateau Sassy – another excellent name. This is in a gorgeous part of Normandy horse country. Yet another friendly French sign alerted us to the fact that it wasn’t actually open until 3pm! So back to the road.
Things were now starting to get desperate as Mirinda hadn’t been to the loo for half an hour and we needed to find one tout de suite! A large town nearby looked to be the answer so we set off for Argetan.
Yet another war flattened Normandy town! This time by General Patton. There’s a castle there…or a bit of a castle…and a church that’s apparently never open. It’s like a ghost town. Lots of shops, no creperies, a bistro/brasserie where we stopped for lunch/loo break. Had a Leffe and an omelette then strolled back to the car. You have to wonder why places like this exist. I assume the fact that Argentan is in the middle of the most important European horse breeding area is probably the only reason.
A quick squizz at the map led us to Chateau Carrouges and, finally, something open!
It’s a dark and gloomy place, not inhabited any more except by a dark and gloomy bald man who took our money and a French Mrs Danvers who conducts the tours. The tour is in French so we had an English guide to read (and keep this time). Our group was a bit weighted down with very smelly people so we tried to hang back a bit but Mrs Danvers was quick to keep us all nicely bunched up together, unlocking one room, pushing us through, then securely locking it behind us.
The chateau, which was very cold, was built during the 100 Years War by the Carrouges family. When the family died out (I reckon from house induced pneumonia), it passed to the Blosset family. Jean Blosset was very close to King Louis XI who actually visited the chateau in 1473. In fact we saw the bed he slept in. Apart from the temperature, the chateau was quite nice, especially the floor tiles which Mrs D assured us were 19th century. In fact she insisted this was so.
Anyway, we shivered through the rest of the house until we reached the grand staircase which is a testimony to brick making. Apparently the area is big on clay so when they built the chateau they used the local bricks which are made in moulds, by hand. The colour is not JUST a result of the clay but also the temperature of the kiln on firing.
We wandered round the desolate gardens and strange apple orchard of 150 species for a bit but then it was time to speed off for Chateau Sassy!
An amazing place, still inhabited by some duchess and her kids, dating back some ‘x’ generations. All beautifully decorated with fantastic paintings of the Paul Batiste school which basically means pictures of animals ripping themselves apart in heavily wooded blood-spattered scenes.
The girl (and she was but a girl) who showed us round was excellent and had her spiel down pat – her English was more than adequate – then Mirinda posed the question: “Why did you have a revolution if you still have dukes and duchesses?” This stumped her! Speaking of all things royal, they have a letter from Queen Elizabeth II in English saying how much she enjoyed a weekend stay, which, I thought, was lovely and very human.
There was also a lock of Louis XVI’s hair which he gave to his defence council (a member of the Pasquier family) just before he went to Madame Guillotine. Unfortunately the defence council then followed his client but at least someone kept the lock of hair! I wonder whether Louis could be cloned from it.
I really liked this place though Mirinda did not wholly approve! We left for the long trip home to Orbec via a prehistoric site which seems to only exist on the map.
At 7:30 we had a few fabulous drinks with Veronique and Georges but at 8:30 Mirinda figured we’d given enough of our wit and wisdom so we trotted off to dinner at Au Caneton.
The woman who served us was the spitting image of Mrs Bale short of the shipping forecast that is. Before dessert she serves the cheese course on her ‘little chariot’ as advertised on the menu. Unfortunately, she took a corner a little too fast on her final approach to our table and blew out a wheel, lost some cheese and broke a plate. She then reappeared, empty handed to say “I’m sorry, I ‘ave lost ma leetle chariot. Which cheese would you like?”
It was an amazing meal! The most fantastic main course I think I’ve ever eaten! A delicious Sancerre with which to wash it all down and back to our room by 11pm to be greeted by Tom, the most unscariest Doberman ever born.