Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Unknown Chateau of Belesta

Alan and Eileen had us hooked with one innocent sentence. "Have you been to the Chateau in Belesta?" they asked. We were dumbfounded. We knew nothing about a Chateau in Belesta. So, when they said we must go because we would understand everything about the renovations going on, we needed no more encouragement. As it turned out we knew nothing about the renovations. It was way beyond our realm of understanding. But that didn't diminish our enjoyment of the chateau.

Kate, Nancy and I went over to Allan and Eileen's one afternoon last week and we jumped in their car and drove over to Belesta. The two gentlemen who owned the place were home and were so gracious to show us around. Much was lost in translation as our listening skills in French are poor and his English was heavily accented. I often didn't know what language was being spoken. And as usual, his English was a hell of a lot better than my French. I won't be too specific, because it will probably be wrong. But here's the gist of the tour:

This chateau was given to the city of Belesta in 1924 by the former owners, the Delaballes. Apparently they could not maintain it. Nor could the city of Belesta. They sold it to the two gentlemen several years ago, for a song, with their promise that they would renovate it. And so they are renovating fools. Monsieur told us it was his fourth renovation of a chateau. We were impressed. When they bought the chateau, each room was basically a trash receptacle. Monsieur pulled aside a curtain and showed us a room with several decades, or perhaps centuries of trash. He said almost all the rooms were in that state when he took
possession of the chateau.

They are restoring the chateau with great care and whimsical taste. Above you can see the medieval kitchen. On the other wall was a monstrous fireplace that was, in the winter, the only warm place in the chateau. The monsieurs decided that it was too wonderful to keep to themselves and made it into a conservatory. The place was loaded with art that was for sale and it was done by a French artist named Constant who is still alive, and in Toulouse. There was some connection between le monsieur and Constant, but I didn't get what it was.

I love the medieval kitchen, the copper pots and pans and the 1950's social critic art all in the same picture. In questioning the monsieur, we found that there had been thousands of changes over the years. Some of the chateau dated from the 9th century and some of it was 12th, 16th and 19th. Monsieur didn't mention any murders, hangings, kings, queens or knights. Apparently nothing of any great historical importance happened here and the chateau will just exist in the footnotes of history, not the headlines.

One of the amazing features of the chateau is the uncovering of the medieval cobbled road with a gutter running down the center. It was apparently, at one time part of the stable. The cobbled road, when the monsieur's took over the chateau had about two feet of dirt and rubble over the top. They somehow knew the existence of the road, or stumbled upon the cobbles, but anyway they dug down and exposed the beautiful surface.

There was a beautiful view out the 19th century stairway window off toward the Pyrenees. The amazing thing is that you could wander around the Midi-Pyrenees and the Languedoc, two backwaters of France, for many years and not come upon something as personal as this chateau. You could wander around Belesta for years and never know it is there. I'm certain there are people in Belesta that have lived there for years who don't know of the existence of this chateau. It's hidden in plain sight, not far from the center of town, yet almost invisible behind a archway and a gate.


Anonymous said...

Just think what you two could do with a place like that. You could be replacing beams and floors for years to come!

Anonymous said...

I'm curious...are these "gentlemen of leisure" or do they work outside jobs and rehabilitate the castle in there spare time? It's obvious that they have done a lot of work...and probably have a great deal of work left to do!


Peggy said...

What an incredible place and adventure for les monsieurs! I would guess there are lots of places around France that are historic beyond measure but are either abandoned or closed up because the owners are unable to repair let alone restore. Is there any information about the family? I suppose these places are historic because they tell the story of one family and/or they are a glimpse into how they lived in these places.

Anonymous said...

The latest issue of National Geographic (August) has a great article about Venice. Judy