My Stay At Chateau De Gudanes
The address simply says Chateau de Gudanes and the tiny 49 person town it’s located in. No number, just an assumption that the mailman knows the way.
The trip to the Chateau started with a 6 hour train ride from Paris to Toulouse. I was gazing out the window almost the entire time as the terrain changed from flat to hilly to mountains in the Midi Pyrennes with little villages dispersed along the way.
My first look of the Chateau was pure excitement. After months of planning and waiting, I was finally there. A field of yellow flowers stretched in front of the Chateau. It stands at the high point in the valley where it’s located, surrounded by mountains and keeping a protective eye on the two villages below. I’d caught quick looks of it through the trees as we were driving up but it was nothing you could have imagined. Smaller at first, but as you walk up larger and more imposing with an aura of mystery.
My stay started with exploring the Chateau (I went up almost every day to do a little wander and see what work was being done), preparing for a workshop on renovation techniques, visiting brocantes, and entertaining several guests that popped by with sweet treats.
Going through my pictures of the Chateau was like saying hello to an old friend. So much has changed and happened within those walls over the years and even since I took my first pictures. The front rooms cleared out to make space for the restoration workshop, a new table brought in that had been built from wind-felled trees on the Chateau grounds, the temporary kitchen came together, and electricity and plumbing were brought to the Chateau for the first time in years. I took most of my pictures in the first couple of days that I was there when everything was new and discoveries kept popping up. The Chateau is surprising in that way though, there’s always something new to be found even after you’ve walked the rooms a number of times.
I made so many memories and met so many incredibly passionate and talented people during the two months I was at the Chateau. It’s easy to say that it was one of the most amazing summers I’ve had.
A week in, Ariana became my new roommate. She was at the Chateau writing her dissertation on complex interiors (it’s on my reading list to get through the 50+ page paper). Ariana did her best work at night and usually went to bed after me. One afternoon, she came up to me with a big smile. “Last night,” she said. “you were making normal sleeping noises and then you whispered ‘chocolate sauce.’” Apparently I talk in my sleep and dream of chocolate. Later we discovered that I also laugh in my sleep? hehe
A new massive table weighing several kilograms was heaved in, beam by beam of cut wood from a wind felled tree on the Chateau grounds. It was constructed in the 18th century style by the talented David Clark. He even used old handmade nails that were found in the Chateau and brought his own tea kettle, for at hand refreshments for the day of work that lay ahead.
Right before the workshop started we moved into the Chateau from the apartment we’d been staying in. We weren’t sure it was going to happen but, electricity had successfully been installed in a couple locations (mainly the room that would become the kitchen) and plumbing!
We spent several days sweeping out the rooms and putting together these fantastic old bed frames. It took a little convincing but Ariana and I spent the night. It was her last night and my first night of my month long stay in the Chateau.
That first night I slept the best I’d slept since arriving, that is once I got over the heebeejebees that were all in my head. I was in what was deemed the “goldilocks” bed- all carved wood with a high back and front. Ariana was actually sleeping on one of the old beds from when the Chateau was a holiday camp in the 60s that we’d found in the pigeonnier (house where the pigeons were kept!).
The next night I moved into another room with a new roommate, Sarah. The ceiling had pieces of exposed painted woodbeams from the 17th century that had been plastered over for a clean white style in the 18th century.
Karina recently posted this photo in a Vogue article about recent happenings at the Chateau.
Karina had picked two beds for the room, in the same pink padded upholstery style. When you entered the room a large window was directly in front of you, covered fireplace and two built in closets to the left, and (not shown in the photo) an open doorway to another large open room to the right.
The beds had been placed on the far wall on opposite sides of the window (as seen in first photo by Karina). The first night I slept in the bed furthest from the open doorway. Sarah was rather close to it. The next day I walked in to find that Sarah had moved her bed to be in the corner away from the line of sight of the very creepy, Dracula was going to come through, black doorway that it became at night. After a quick look at the situation I said oh hell no, and moved my bed next to hers in the corner of this very large room for what was to become several slumber parties.
Everyday I managed to fit in to every conversation the subject of creepy doorways, vampires, and possible ghosts. I think it finally worked because one day I came up to a black flowy curtain in the place of the dark scary open doorway. hehe Open doorway … black flowy curtain… Dracula now had a dramatic entrance that he could make!
The sun was going down on Chateau de Gudanes. Dracula was out in style, flying around before spotting the perfect place to transform. Around a bend, something caught his eye- black, floating in the wind and the perfect shroud for what was soon to take place…
Every night I would come up to the soft glow of candles that had been lit in our room and the sound of the river rushing by.
At about 9pm each day the bats would come out. We would be sitting at the dining room table laughing over a glass of wine and out of the corner of my eye I would see a dark shape fly silently through the room, doing a big circle then back through an open doorway. After a little bit of coaxing the cats started to join us as well. I mean who wouldn’t if their food was being served on silver trays that had been bought as a joke for 2 euros. So it soon became a joke that the bats and the cats took over the Chateau at night.
The workshop hit the first week in July with Julie and the Italian Messors team arriving a couple days before. The first night the participants drove up to the Chateau to French music blaring from the windows and a champagne reception by candlelight.
The next two weeks were crazy and a serious highlight of my trip. It was what I had come to do! My role was to help cook in the amazing kitchen we had created with an incredibly inspiring chef and I was given free rein to come up with and make any dessert I could dream up. Seriously. What could be more amazing.
My workstation was made up of brocante finds: a ridiculously heavy wood table, piece of cut marble (for 20euros), and shelving piece.
The first night I had one of those moments. I was making two desserts- French and rustic, but impressive. It was magical! The kitchen dance was happening, everything was working, the savory dishes kept coming out platter after platter of beautiful food. In between helping on the savory side, I was making tart shells, piping choux, and infusing cream with lavender. And then I had one of those rare moments, where the whole world stops, and the background fades to a whisper. I was finishing one of my favorite desserts and I remember piping the last row, looking up and shaking my head like I’d been in a trance. It was one of those moments where you know you’re doing what you are meant to be doing. It was the perfect start to the workshop, a huge cloud of excitement hung over everyone sitting around the table and the food was just delectable.
Here are the first two desserts I made for the workshop: Tarte Legere au citron et lavendre and choux aux caramel rustique.
The workshop was run by Tonio, owner of Messors and producer of the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted (hurry up and offer it in Texas already!). He’d had several liters from Italy shipped to the Chateau for the workshop. It was Tonio’s first workshop outside of Italy where groups come to learn conservation techniques at a beautiful massaria (Italian farmhouse). To describe Tonio would be impossible. The best I could do would be to say that he is a passionate, extremely talented and driven person. He commands the room with his charisma and singing voice, and he sure knows how to read you (if you meet him, immediately ask him to play my favorite song “Verde”).
The workshop was run in a flexible style. Each day had been planned ahead of time but could change if something came up, or free up if a more relaxed day was needed.
One such day was planned after meeting two women from the nearby teeny tiny 49 person village. One lady used to run a local restaurant and the mother of the other woman, used to be the chef at the Chateau! A cooking lesson making recipes out of the Chateau cookbook was quickly changed to be a day in the kitchen with the two lovely ladies. We started with Apple Croustade, an extremely easy, very local dessert comprised of puff pastry, fresh apples, and apple compote. Even the small convenience store in town (called the Tabac) had an oven in the back to make it! The little secret here was that just before it was done, they took it out of the oven, sprinkled the top generously with sugar, and returned it to the heat, for a crunchy caramelized top. They also made rabbit stew and trout from the nearby trout farm, freshly caught that morning.
Over the next couple of days there was a steady stream of fun chaos, preparing for elaborate dinners and packing up elegant picnics. The food was simple and local. The presentation was gorgeous and the taste unbelievable. Julie, who also runs Kitchen Culinaire out of Vancouver, knocked it out of the park every single meal and acted as a huge inspiration to me, pushing me (unknowingly) to develop and make new dishes, showing me how long the lifespan of a carrot can be, and there was her undeniable sense of grace (and style :-D) that she brought into everything she did. She gave me pieces of advice that I will hold dear for years to come.
A couple days before the workshop ended, the Tour de France came through the village and past the gates. I get so excited when things like this happen!! I spent two days making red, white, and blue macarons for a macaron tower, and baking brownies and cookies to sell.
Part of preparing for the day involved a visit to the local butcher who had a crush on me to order 500 sausages. wahaha. oh brother.. or should I say oh meat order.. Sadly I was not tasked with ordering the bread from the boulanger, the other cute, but far too young guy in the village. The French are quite interesting in that they don’t really buy from stands (maybe it was just this instance?). Just about everyone had brought a picnic and was not interested in a sausage sandwich or cookies, which meant I spent most of my time at the beer tent talking on the microphone, dancing, and drinking beer with peach syrup.
Right before the riders came through it started to rain. The promo trucks came by throwing products to the crowd. I caught a madeline and a hat! woo
The crowd was literally buzzing. Everyone on their feet and necks craning to see the riders. The hill in front of the Chateau is steep and was slick from the rain allowing us to see the riders for a longer amount of time. It was so exciting! Tons of cheering, everyone was soaked and had been waiting for hours but didn’t care. The Chateau was even on TV for a couple seconds!
The remaining days of the workshop were peppered with interesting discoveries and neat conservation techniques including an IV drip to stabilize the walls from the inside. Dracula managed to stay away. I made a two layer wedding-esk cake for an impromptu costume party with 18th century attire. That was cut well into several bottles of champagne that had been opened with a saber. Two of my ninja bandaids were used that night. haha Not on me!
The last day was filled with tears. It ended where it had begun, around the long dining table surrounded by a glorious feast and people that had just met a couple weeks earlier who were leaving as lifelong friends. Boy do I miss y’all! 🙂
My last day happened two weeks after. The Polish guys that were at the Chateau assisting with a furniture photo shoot helped bring my suitcases down the grand staircase. I’d been up and about since 7 that morning doing last minute things and finishing some desserts for a tea the next day. Karina and Bindy took me to the train station, tears barely held back. I remember looking back at the Chateau and seeing that the wildflowers I’d helped plant the first week I was there were blooming, and hoping in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be the last time I saw that view, but feeling with so much certainty that I would be back. If not for my two boxes of brocante finds shoved in the back of an old armoire, then to visit with Karina and walk the halls of the Chateau to see what she has in hold for me this time.
There’s absolutely no way that I can end this post without a huge huge Thank You to Karina for bringing me on and for the experience I had. It was crazy and hectic and fun and new and so so wonderful. It was nothing short of a dream. Karina is so humble, welcoming, and positive. Her passion to continue to discover and share this experience is truly inspiring. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her and her incredible family next and what more is uncovered. It was an honor to get to know you. 😉 xx
I can’t get it all down or it will be a ridiculously longer post, so here’s a list (mostly so I don’t forget). Other moments from this summer:
-a horse carriage ride around the Chateau grounds
-becoming friends with an elderly lady from a nearby village and then seeing her at the village fete. We couldn’t understand each other very well but it didn’t matter. I would follow along by her facial expressions and insert in the correct phrase based on how she looked. Dommage! oui!
-fabulous mountain car rides with Pierre and Sarah which included unlimited stops for pictures and a couple cow spottings.
-S’mores and BBQs on the antique rug covered front steps.
-hearing the Cotton Eye Joe at a village fete and learning that it had its own dance to go along with it in France. Videotaped. Holding onto forever.
-the multiple times Karina and I drove to the brocantes and they were closed. Quelle surprise! hehe But when they were open… spending hours combing through the shops looking for finds.
-the one bar in town that I went to several times for coffee or a beer, usually with the Aussies, once with the Brits, and meeting French along the way.
-discovering the game Carcassone (after actually visiting Caracassone) and obsessively playing it with Debra. I have so many great photos from there so I might have to do a post on it!
-getting lost in a (very) nearby (very tiny) village and asking a local for directions and ending up with a personal escort.
-eating rabbit and really not liking it so much the first time, and absolutely loving it the second time.
-the stars. I’ve never seen so many. To the point where the sky looked like the gorgeous photos of constellations you see in magazines with shadows, different colors, and all sorts of variation.
-the one weird day where the air was brisk and cold, promising that fall was around the corner. Visiting a market at a nearby village and marveling at the produce under the gaze of ancient buildings. Meeting the owner of a goat farm with incredible cheese and a snack of goat yogurt.
-sunflower fields on the way to Mirepoix.
-losing track of the super weird quiet passageway which lead to where the animals used to be butchered. I think the Chateau was playing tricks on me! I could never find it again. spooooky
-coming back to the Chateau literally glowing in the moonlight.
-on one of the last days, giving a tour and discovering that one of the basement rooms had been used as a dark room for photo developing. I’d never noticed the handwritten sign on the door before and walked past it so many times.
-those little radish, salted butter crostinis made by Julie…. ugh so good.
-the wide array of flowery toilets that made their way to the Chateau.
-how the song “thunder” got to be stuck in my head.
-picking flowers for bouquets and never really worrying about a lack of wildflowers from which to collect.
-an adventure with a locked front door, missing Chateau key and stinging nettles to avoid.
So what’s next? I’m actually back in Paris for another year to work at a cooking school, assisting the chefs, doing marketing, and all sorts of other things. 🙂 Look for more Paris posts in the future!