I wanted to see some castles. There was a castle tour outlined in our Lonely Planet book with a number of well known castles. On the way to the first one, we happened to come across a sign that said Chateau de Champchevrier – ouvert. “Do you want to go?” “Why not?” I said. I’m glad we did. This was a little known castle. The town of Clere-les-Pins wasn’t even on our map.
The castle was originally built in the 12th century on 2500 hectares. It was rebuilt during the Renaissance currently on a 250 hectare estate. It has been part of the current owner’s family since 1728.
Chateau de Champchevrier is famous for its hound hunts still held twice a week. It is the largest hunts held in Europe. They breed and train their own dogs. They need to learn how to walk with the pack and build stamina. They only hunt deer, which they divide up between the families who participate in the hunt. The dogs chase the deer until it is exhausted and the leader of the hunt uses a knife. It is a centuries old tradition which is still practiced at Chateau de Champchevrier. The display case of hunting knives and guns spanned the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Different knives for different types of animals (eg. Boar, deer) and the antique guns were ornately carved. A priceless collection.
The first part of tour was an introduction to the antique kitchen set up and a sample hunting room.
When we went on the guided tour of the castle itself, we were blown away by the family heirlooms and collections on display. We thought we would see a few rooms much like the ones in the self-guided tour. What we got was about 7-8 rooms filled with historic trophies, hunting knives, hunting costumes, ancestral portaits, original furniture, instruments, ornamental items and gorgeous tapestries. They had framed displays of the crests of all of the families who participated in the crusades, of which they were one. I have never seen items so carefully preserved especially the tapestries. Floor to ceiling tapestries made in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries still retained their original rich colours and depicted very expressive images of mythological stories.
One of the guest bedrooms was even slept in by King Louis XIII, a frequent visitor. He actually didn’t like to sleep in the bed with the silk sheets so he had someone bring in hay for him to sleep on. People in that era didn’t sleep lying down. They were superstitious about lying down, thinking they would die in their sleep. Instead they slept propped up on many pillows. I guess that’s why the fancily decorated beds always include an array of pillows!
We couldn’t take pictures of any of these rooms but we’d love you to take a look at them on their website: www.champchevrier.com It was an unexpected and fascinating look into the past. More adventures to come!