ARE YOU GETTING SICK OF THE CHÂTEAUX YET? I must admit that I feel weary. But I’m nothing if not stubborn, so there’s just Ussé and then Chambord and then maybe I’ll change things up and cook something.
Ussé is pronounced ew-say, with an accent on the say, and what’s impressive about this château is that the Duc of Blacas still lives there. It’s been in the family for awhile. What’s also impressive about it is – unlike the castle of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, which inspired the design of the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland -the Château d’Ussé is the real deal. Charles Perrault (1628-1703), who wrote the fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, was a guest in this castle and he based the story on this place.
He also wrote Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella.
Et oui! Those stories did not just appear out of thin air.
Alright, so Ussé. There are four areas of interest. There’s the chapel, the stables, the winery and the château itself. Let’s go one by one.
These two Lebanese cedars just outside the chapel were a gift to the duchess from Chateaubriand in 1808.
(You can see they have supports so that the low branches won’t take root).
The chapel was built in 1528 by Charles d’Espinay and his wife Lucrèce de Pons.
Another chapel was built in the village a couple of centuries later, so this became a private family chapel. The first wedding celebrated there was for servants (isn’t that so sweet?) in 1672. The last wedding that took place there was in 1918 (Count Louis de Blacas and his wife, who are both buried in the family vault underneath the chapel). The current Duke’s two children (Stanislas and Hortense) where christened here in the 80s. His grand-daughter, Aliénore, was christened here in 2011.
Five centuries of people have trod on these floors.
Here is the altar.
And the view looking out.
This is the view from the chapel towards the stables on the right. There are many tunnels in the cliffs, dating to Roman times when people lived in the mountainside. You can see the door to these caves in front of you.
In the stable it smells of leather.
And here you see the old ceiling, as well as various types of carriages, all used at different times and for different purposes (noble, peasant, work, entertainment, etc).
Here’s another view with the stable at our back. You can see the old carriages and the ancient homes in the wall/mountain. It’s possible I am wrong here, and this was used as a quarry rather than homes. However, in this area, there is an abundance of troglodytes (which I mentioned in another post) and I think I remember reading that that’s what these were in Ussé.
The winery is where the old quarry was. They harvest pierre de tuffeau, which means freestone. Freestone encompasses limestone and sandstone, and indicates stones that can be cut in any direction. This was perfect for building.
However, once the castle was built and they no longer needed the quarry, they turned it into a place to make wine.
This is what we’re really interested in, isn’t it?
The castle is shaped like a horse-shoe, and the left-hand tower is below.
Let’s take a look at some of the intimate details inside the castle. The stone is not super strong, and you can see how worn it is on the steps.
The money to visit the castle goes towards renovations, and honestly it is in very good shape. They’ve outfitted most of the stairs with wood to protect them from further erosion.
Inside the castle there are some little charming details. The wooden floors:
The sharp, angular roof, as seen from a window.
There are touches of home everywhere that remind one this castle is still inhabited.
Here is the duke’s crest:
And . . . this is the part that’s off-limits to the rabble. This is where the duke’s family actually lives (an annex connected to right of the horseshoe).
Here’s the view from high up. A French garden.
Ussé has treasures in every corner. Here are some of the toys from centuries past.
Miniature chair and table set for doll.
Guests to the castle can wander through the attic and peek at forgotten treasures that now gather dust.
I don’t know about you, but I like old stuff!!
Eventually, we need to get to what makes the château glamorous – the beautiful interior. Here’s the staircase.
And in the entranceway is a knee-high canon that they still shoot off every time a family member is born.
Here we have some of the early mirrors.
Can you see the servant’s door discreetly cut out of the wall?
Ussé has mock scenes showing costumes and customs from times gone by.
Sometimes they bring everything to life.
sometimes they give the castle an ethereal feel.
They also have a whole reenactment of Sleeping Beauty, but it was too dark to get good pictures. Your kids will love that though.
Below, the ceilings were painted to look like marble. This was the style a couple of centuries back.
All the colour gives warmth to the room.
There are also the long, sunny marble corridors. (Here it smelled like someone was making soup, which made the castle cozy).
And now we’re entering into the servant’s quarters of old – the kitchen and the furnace.
You take these steps to go down to the furnace.
And here it is. Very run down, but at one time it was top of the line to have central heating, and this ole thing heated the entire château, consuming many tons of coal a day, with four full-time workers shovelling it in. Today the new furnace consumes gallons of fuel each day, but I can’t remember the exact numbers.
Shall we stop here? On this rusty old furnace? Why, no! I say that’s sacrilege! Let’s talk about the history.
The château was first built by a Viking in 1000. It changed hands until it was bought by Jacques d’Espinay in 1485 (whose wife was a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Brittany (was that Anne?). Their son built the chapel. The château changed hands over the centuries, and after the Revolution, it went to the Dowager Duchess of Duras, who was a famous author, exploring sexual and racial equality. She held famous literary salons in the castle (to which she invited Chateaubriand). It went to her daughter, and then her daughter’s nephew, who was the Count de Blacas, the last man to be married in the chapel.
And that was Ussé.
Next up – last up – is Chambord.