Down the lane and through a gap in the gate there’s a place almost forgotten. The façade is crumbling and the gates are overgrown. Vines that once bloomed prettily and framed the iron scrollwork have choked the hinges so that only feral cats and curious explorers scrape past.
And yet her appeal hasn’t completely vanished. Like the discarded set of a play that once drew admiring crowds, she is still beautiful. The old château sits in Brie, but there are many like her scattered throughout France. Her only admirer now is an ancient groundskeeper who has been there so long he knows the secret trails as well as the goats that he tends do. He still loves her though her days are numbered.
We stopped to picnic in the ruins of the château’s stable. They once housed dozens of horses, but on that day it was just our little group and the doves cooing in the rafters. We ate and then explored. First in the stables, but what really interested us was the main residence. With a nod of permission from the groundskeeper we pushed past the gate, skirted around a disapproving billy-goat and walked through tall grass towards a service door leading to the basement of the château.
With the beam of a flashlight as guide we made our way down cracked steps before finding a way back to the ground floor. Debris and animal food stores replaced any furnishings that had been there. Ceilings decorated with detailed wood veneer peeled overhead and plaster came crumbling down as we made our way up a once grand staircase. Many places were no longer sturdy enough to support our weight so we tread carefully before heading back outside.
That afternoon was unplanned and not a recommended tourist stop in any guidebook yet it is one of our favourite memories from last summer’s holiday in France. For D, the kids, and I travelling means finding paths not marked on modern maps, poking our noses through doors left ajar, and discovering beauty and fun in unexpected places.
There’s a big part of me that jumps for joy that Bou and PG are as excited exploring lost places as we are. I think it makes for interesting tales. What secret places have you discovered?