April 24, 2014 – Château d’Ussé – The grandest approach to the castle is along the narrow lane turning from the road situated high above the Loire River, from the direction of Brehemont where we stayed in a lovely French cottage. Farms with barns stacked full of hay, and green fields with horses and ducks are down below on one side of the road, while views of the wide river are on the opposite side. A wise person keeps his eyes on the narrow road, watching for the many bicycles and cars. Husband Jim was the designated wise person behind the wheel, and I was the roving photographer looking at the beauty flashing by, with no pull-over spot. I called for a quick left when I saw a perfect combination of stone-built barns, white ducks, chestnut-colored horses and tall green trees in the background. After Jim did a perfect 180-degree turn with only inches to spare, I clicked and recorded the pastoral beauty. When I walked to the car, an elderly gentleman rode his bicycle quickly past in the early morning light, smiling and returning my greeting. It happened so fast that I had no time to adjust my camera, and I didn’t want to offend him either.
I sat quietly in my seat, with no other quick-stop alerts for the designated wise person driver until we stopped at the bridge over the Indre River, which flows below the chateau. We lingered to enjoy the view, and who should appear but the the gentleman I greeted a few minutes earlier? He wheeled alongside us on his bicycle, pedaling along on his merry way.
My camera was ready, and when I raised it for his picture he beamed and waved to me broadly. He even turned again to wave when he was near the bridge. I still smile when I think about him.
Welcome to the Château d’Ussé! It is currently the property of the Duke de Blacas. The first known owner was a fierce Viking, Gelduin I, who erected a wooden fortress around 1004. Since Jim’s ancestry is Finnish with Vikings likely in the mix, I’m intrigued by this history. Jim’s mother Aili was the fiercest, lovable Viking I will ever meet! I could easily imagine her in the fortified castle. Her piercing eyes alone could have kept enemies under control and caused the staff to toe the line, not to mention any dreamy-eyed daughters-in-law. Aili would have perfectly cooked the venison presented by the hunters, and her Finnish baking would have rivaled any French boulangerie.
Now that I’ve paid tribute to my mother-in-law Aili who passed away too many years ago, I feel safe to proceed with the description of the Chateau’s gardens. Hoping not to offend her even after all these years, I tip-toe quietly away and say here on this page in a whisper: “She did not have a green thumb.” Smiling at this thought, I remember the bright tulips, irises, calla lilies, wisteria, pansies and lilacs in the formal gardens of the chateau that were designed by Le Notre, the famous architect of the gardens of Versailles.
Legend tells that while staying at Chateau d’Ussé, the writer Charles Perrault (17th century) was inspired by the romantic feature of the chateau and wrote the tale of Sleeping Beauty.
The ceiling is painted in imitation marble and it dates back to the renovations done in the 17th century. This room contains many of the souvenirs brought back from Count de Blacas’ travels. The collection of weaponry and oriental objects were brought back in the 19th century from a trip around the world by the Count Stanislas de Blacas, an ancestor of the present owner. The Duke of Blacas (1770-1839) was a friend and adviser to King Louis XVIII and King Charles X. The genealogical family tree of the Duke of Duras, owner of the chateau in 1807 is displayed on the wall.
In the 15th century, this was a passageway with arches which opened onto the courtyard. Here, one can see the Chateau’s finest collection of Flemish tapestries (Brussels), woven in the 18th century by Davis Teniers, a 17th century painter, married to Bruegel’s granddaughter. They show typical, daily life in Flanders with some bawdy details for that time period.
The King’s Bedroom:
Under the reign of Louis XIV, some of the larger castles were obliged to prepare rooms for the King. The original silks on the wall were woven in the 18th century in the factories of Tours, with Chinese patterns.
I have only mentioned a few of my favorite rooms, leaving much for your imagination, and even more for you to see for yourself. Next, we will meet Sleeping Beauty in the rampart walk, high in the tower above the pretty village.
I took a short break from writing the blog and joined Jim in the living room where he was eating dry roasted Shur-Fine peanuts from the grocery outlet and watching CNN for his daily dose of news. I rattled off the gist of the story of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, and he asked, “Now, you are not going to say my mother cast the spell on Sleeping Beauty, are you?” Hmm, never thought of that!
No, I will not follow a story-line with my mother-in-law in that role. Although, you might just be surprised at the audacious thing Jim’s brother-in-law John Alwyn did. He presented a broom with a saddle to Aili as a gift! He really handed over this outrageous present to her with his big-boy smile, risking life and limb and hoping she would laugh it off. He is braver, or perhaps more foolish than I am!
At the conclusion of our tour of the chateau, I told Jim that I had just one more picture to take in the garden. He’s heard me say that one many times! I wanted a picture of the hard-working gardener in the front garden digging flower bulbs. Can you imagine the hundreds of pansies and other flowers that he plants? Think of the sweat and aching muscles after days of digging, hoeing, watering and pruning! His work, along with the others working in the gardens, produces beautiful results through the entire year.
Jim leaned over to see where my Canon was aimed and said with a grin, “Seems like you have a thing for chubby guys!” My goodness, Jim, you are certainly an observant, designated wise person.
May Aili’s firm Viking stance with generous love continue within this family and the generations to come!