Thursday, April 4, 2013

Chateau de Gizuex

One of the closest chateaux to us is in the village of Gizeux.  It doesn't feature heavily in the guide books and is certainly not on the itineraries of the whistle stop tour buses that visit the Loire.  It is, though - in my opinion - well worth a visit, for several reasons.
The chateau is owned by Géraud and Stéphanie de Laffon and has been in their family since 1786.  They live there with their 6 children and the on-going restoration of their (very large!) family home is a life-long passion.

Visits to the chateau are guided - often by the owners themselves - and this gives you a fascinating insight not only to the very personal history of the building and its inhabitants, but also what it means to be the owners and - as they call themselves - safe-keepers of this heritage.  If you are lucky enough to join the summer visit at 10.30am, in addition to the usual tour, you will get to visit the private salon and the attics and learn in even more detail what is involved in the upkeep and restoration.

One personal story which sticks in my mind relates to the chateau's cellar.  Here there is an underground tunnel which leads to the presbytery next to the church in the village centre.  During the war, French resistance members were hidden here, despite part of the chateau being used by German soldiers.  A few years ago, Géraud was conducting a visit and whilst in the cellars, an elderly gentleman gave him the first names of 4 people and asked if they still lived there or locally.  Géraud answered 'yes, they are my mother and her brother and sisters, my mother still lives here - do you know her well?'  The gentleman said he didn't know her at all; whilst he was hiding in the cellars during the war (he was a resistance member), he heard those names being called each day at mealtimes, and had remembered them all that time.

The 'jewel in the crown' of the visit is the gallery of chateaux - 400 square metres of art painted directly onto the walls by art students in 1680; you can see the progression of their skill as you move from the first painting to the last.  Currently undergoing skilled restoration, these almost 400 year-old tableaux are truly remarkable.

There is plenty to interest all ages, in English as well as French - as well as the chateau visit, there is a treasure hunt in the gardens, special events in summer for children (bread baking, costumes for the children to wear and coat-of-arms workshops) and even a wine-tasting visit at 11.15.

The chateau is open every day from Easter and we have details of visit times and special workshops.  It is on a pretty cycling circuit (38km) through the forest and you can either take a picnic to enjoy in the chateau grounds or have a simple lunch in the orangerie.