Beware of the guest bed – part II
Beware of the guest bed – part II
Provence is known, amongst hundreds of other equally divine qualities, for its powerful yet crisp fragrances of wild flowers and herbs. It was not however the fresh perfume of lavender and rosemary that greeted the du Rouret family inside the family château in the Summer of 1940.
The distinct smell of collapsed lavatory piping was so hideous that even after many exhausting days travelling down from Paris in the occupied zone and through the perilous ‘free zone’ South of Vichy, the Marquess and his family had to awkwardly retreat to the neighbouring sheep farm in the middle of the night.
The next morning the local plumber showed up - his old wrench and plunger at the ready - throwing the children in hysterical fits of laughter at the prospect of hundreds of years of ‘pee and pooh’ exploding in their faces.
Another warm, dusty and definitely smelly afternoon went by and the marquess withdrew to his study with a mission. A few days and many diaries and old letters later, he resurfaced triumphant. It turned out that his great-grand-father had flashed out in a fancy ‘hidden’ plumbing system in honour of his rather glitzy cousin Prince Grimaldi of Monaco’s visit to the château back in the 1840’s.
The heart of the system was finally located and it was decided to knock down one of the walls of the music room. The wall – an addition to the original architecture - did indeed conceal a complex but defective piping-work.
My mouth – in a not-at-all-sexy way - was wide open, my breath held in suspense. Caroline’s father, today’s Marquess du Rouret paused long enough for his New Year’s eve guests to nervously giggle in anticipation for a Grand Finale. Then he whispered to us to come closer to the music room’s beautiful d’Aubusson tapestry. Like children watching a magician we looked at him carefully lifting it.
The trick was almost complete when at the soft pressure of a carved rose within the wall’s moulding - a door opened onto a secret passage down a few steps. Needless to say, chills ran down all our spines.
In their haste to prepare the house for the intimidating Grimaldi visit, the masons had erected the ‘plumbing’ walls without investigating around it. Asking one of his sons-in-law to hand him his great great great father’s Napoleonic sword, the Marquess invited us to join him inside what had been walled up for two hundred and fifty years:
A pirates’ hideaway.
Glasses were brought down and the sword theatrically slashed through the wax-sealed bottles. Barrels and trunks had been sitting on the sand against the Provencal rocks untouched for centuries, I had a smile on my mouth and tears in my eyes. The wine had made its way during the thirty five year-long war against Spain partly under Louis XIVth’s reign. Luckily the pirates had stocked up on wine from Malaga and with its high content in sugar, this desert wine preserves exceptionally well. Can you believe it was actually drinkable?
I wouldn’t pretend it had travelled through time entirely unspoiled but that we could all admire its clear amber colour, swallow it without coughing it out and more importantly, share a moment of pure grace, was in itself a miracle.
I’ve never been a massive fan of New Year’s eve parties but this one, especially as I snored through the rather silly greeting and kissing bits in one of France’s most exquisite white embroidered linen will be hard to beat.
Guest room at Châteauneuf
Today, Lady Victoria, the Marquess’ youngest daughter turns the château into a guest-house from late Spring to early Autumn. I know she makes a killer breakfast, complete with home-made marmelades, and I recommend an evening drink on the panoramic terrace but I don’t know if Malaga 1658 is still on the wine list.
If you think you’d like to book a holiday at Châteauneuf, write to me at email@example.com