Six Châteaux on the Loire: Ussé

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.

Cool, huh?

usse01He 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.

The Chapel

These two Lebanese cedars just outside the chapel were a gift to the duchess from Chateaubriand in 1808.

usse05

(You can see they have supports so that the low branches won’t take root).

usse02The chapel was built in 1528 by Charles d’Espinay and his wife Lucrèce de Pons.

usse06Another 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.

usse07Five centuries of people have trod on these floors.

Here is the altar.

usse08And the view looking out.

usse09The Stables

usse10This 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.

usse&1And 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).

usse&2Here’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.

usse14

The Winery

usse17The 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.

usse16The Château

usse20This 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.

usse22Let’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.

usse24The 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.

usse23Inside the castle there are some little charming details. The wooden floors:

usse37The sharp, angular roof, as seen from a window.

usse32There are touches of home everywhere that remind one this castle is still inhabited.

usse35Here is the duke’s crest:

usse36And . . . 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).

usse21Here’s the view from high up. A French garden.

usse19Ussé has treasures in every corner. Here are some of the toys from centuries past.

usse27Miniature chair and table set for doll.

usse26

Guests to the castle can wander through the attic and peek at forgotten treasures that now gather dust.

usse28I don’t know about you, but I like old stuff!!

usseb2Eventually, we need to get to what makes the château glamorous – the beautiful interior. Here’s the staircase.

usse46And in the entranceway is a knee-high canon that they still shoot off every time a family member is born.

usse45Here we have some of the early mirrors.

usse48Can you see the servant’s door discreetly cut out of the wall?

usse47Ussé has mock scenes showing costumes and customs from times gone by.

ussea4

usse53

ussea3

Sometimes they bring everything to life.

ussea1and

usse38

sometimes they give the castle an ethereal feel.

usseb3They 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.

usse33All the colour gives warmth to the room.

usseb4There are also the long, sunny marble corridors. (Here it smelled like someone was making soup, which made the castle cozy).

usseb5And now we’re entering into the servant’s quarters of old – the kitchen and the furnace.

usse40You take these steps to go down to the furnace.

usse41And 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.

usse42Shall 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.

ussea2And that was Ussé.

usseb1Next up – last up – is Chambord.

 

I am the daughter of a symphony musician who was raised in upstate New York, and I simply breathe all things classical, be it music or 19th century literature (English and Russian). I married Sir Renaissance in New York City, and before I knew it, he had swept me up and brought me back home to his own country. So here we are. Three children, a rather ordinary life in a rather exceptional place. I am now ‘A Lady in France.’

Posted in France, Tourism, Tout le Reste (Everything else)
18 comments on “Six Châteaux on the Loire: Ussé
  1. Alison says:

    I love old stuff too!
    And I’m not tired of your chateau posts at all :)
    Alison recently posted…Dreaming of My MotherMy Profile

  2. Oh, I love tours of old places! I have to catch up on your other castle posts. I love the history and the fact that this place inspired so many timeless stories.
    Kim@Co-Pilot Mom recently posted…Glory DaysMy Profile

  3. Natalie D says:

    Oh, Ussé. Sigh. Take me back there, lol.
    Natalie D recently posted…Une Serviette and Other WordsMy Profile

  4. Tamara says:

    It puts the castle at Disney World to shame!
    I’d love the Sleeping Beauty part – did they have scary Maleficent too? My daughter is terrified of her.
    Tamara recently posted…Ten Things I Love About You.My Profile

  5. Ann says:

    Gorgeous! I love the Sleeping Beauty re-enactment–wish you’d been able to take pics of that.
    And just so you know, I’m definitely not tired of this series–it is my mini-vacation while I’m at work!
    Ann recently posted…Sculpted Silhouette–Get the right fit!My Profile

  6. Judith says:

    I doubt I’d ever get to see a chateau in my lifetime so you being there and writing about it and posting the pictures is just great! :) thanks Jennie!

  7. Jennie says:

    I just returned from France; from now on, I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing posts of chateaus, old stuff, or anything to do with wine! Enjoying your blog immensely.

  8. Kimberly says:

    I love that the first wedding there was for servants. How cool is that?
    I have a confession:
    I am terrified of antique toys. I really am. My husband has a lot of old toys that belonged to family members and they just…shudder…I don’t know why.
    Kimberly recently posted…Just Say NoMy Profile

  9. iceprinxess says:

    Good writeup on chateaus :) Really a good read and makes me which I had gone to visit when I was there. Oh well, there’s always next time ^^
    iceprinxess recently posted…Streets of London @ British HainanMy Profile

  10. erin says:

    Nice to read about the love of history and beauty. Merci

  11. Andrea says:

    I just love the history, too. Nothing much in the US is quite as old as in Europe, so to walk in places that have heard hundreds of years of footsteps is interesting to me.
    Andrea recently posted…RSVP: The Art and The AgonyMy Profile

I'm Lady Jennie - Welcome to A Lady in France!

I think I was born in the wrong era. I am meant to live in the 19th century. In England. Born into an aristocratic family that is independently wealthy and doesn't need to marry off its daughters to save them from becoming spinster governesses. ( To continue reading, please click here. )

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