January 17, 2015

Deux Châteaux Sont Mieux Qu'Un

Our plan for my birthday was a bit loose last week. Grandma Carol passed away Monday, then the Charlie Hebdo attacks Wednesday put even more stress and sadness on everyone. Friday was spent watching terrorism news. We knew that Saturday, the actual day of my birthday, we wouldn't have the team van. Sunday it would be warmer and driving freedom would be ours.

We thought maybe we would finally go to the Château de Chantilly. Or should we go see the city of Arras? What about the abandoned Coucy-Le-Château nearby?

It wasn't until I happened upon a castle article on Twitter that things began to come together.

There is a château just outside of Compiégne?! That's not even an hour away!

On the way, we made a spontaneous detour to a gorgeous ruined château I've spied on my train rides.

I had to jump down into the entrance, the floor completely gone to earth now. Some debris from other curious people was around, but not much. I had to walk on a massive tree root to get to the side "door."

The main gallery.
Château de Mennechet doesn't have much of a history (built in the late 1800s, then abandoned and thrashed by World War I). But once upon a time, Monsieur Mennechet put all of his love and devotion into creating this building. We appreciated his efforts, even in its ruins.

The fleur-de-lys was everywhere!
Some locals cleaned up the place in the mid-2000s; nature had definitely dominated the structure to an almost unrecognizable jungle look. Now it is at least kept generally cutback and can breathe in its shelled state.

Hey, I'm 29, and I like to climb around abandoned mansions.

When we finally did arrive at Château de Pierrefonds (we took the scenic [lost] route), it far exceeded our expectations.

French châteaux are much better classified as mansions than castles, in our opinion. They also tend to be expensive to enter (Pierrefonds is only 7.50€), and choked with so many tourists (and their wailing children) that any magic that had the chance to exist has been long lost.

But Pierrefonds. Ah, the beautiful miniature village of Pierrefonds!
Pierrefonds is our new favorite exception to French châteaux.

A castle in the truest sense of fairy tales, Pierrefonds gracefully crowns the green slope above the quaint center.

The strong refurbished medieval towers lead the way to the drawbridge entry into the courtyard. The courtyard bore a strong and beautiful resemblance to the Musée Cluny (Paris middle ages museum).

One of the most interesting features of this castle was the wide variety of both real and mythical creatures represented in the décor. Horses, squirrels, porcupines, dragons, lizards, lions, pigs, deer, beetles, monkeys, hippogriffs, griffins, gargoyles - and those are just the ones we recognized! It was definitely a group of animals unlike we have ever seen in any kind of castle.

There may have been 30 other tourists there, spread out among the many rooms and spiraling stairwells. 

What a magnificent ceiling!

But more often than not, Marc and I found that we happily had the castle to ourselves for exploring.

Pierrefonds itself had even more incredible buildings to offer, and definitely warrants another visit in the future.

After a difficult week, a day of castle chasing was the best birthday adventure I could have asked for. 

There's nothing like a castle to take you to a land far, far away. 

Here's to my last year in my 20s - hoping it will top off a most excellent decade of life!