If by some magical means you could be transported to another country and you didn’t know where you were going, when you arrived there would be certain features of a country that would immediately tell you where you were. And if it’s castles, it’ll probably be France.
Now you can’t go far in any part of France without bumping into (not literally of course) a castle or two.
Most of them have become museums but a few of them have gone commercial and been turned into hotels. We decided to try a couple of the latter. The first was the genuine article as it had a history going back several hundred years. If you removed the cars parked near the entrance steps, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it would have looked like when it was first built.
There was a sense of the medieval in the entrance hall where the reception desk was housed and at any minute you half expected a bewigged flunkey with a flowing red coat to come bowing and scraping towards you. But instead a small fat tubby man in a grey suit welcomed us, who had clearly just stubbed out his cigarette, judging by the aroma he exuded as he greeted us.
Fortunately modernisation had taken place and although the rooms had retained their grandeur, central heating and running hot and cold water had long since been installed.
When we were handed the menu on our first evening, it was clear that prices were also firmly fixed in 2012. The hush in the dining room was tangible making us all feel very important. In case we should forget where we were, softly playing in the background was the sound of bowed strings, woodwind, brass and percussion – on tape of course, no sign ofstrollingg players.
The second castle cum hotel was a 19th century copy. It looked the part but It wasn’t the real thing. Efforts had clearly been made to reproduce the atmosphere of the past. There was a lake in the grounds and sitting near the edge was the figure of a faun contemplating life and clearing wondering what he was doing there. In the extensive gardens were one or two peacocks strutting along and ignoring any visitor who stopped to stare.
Outside our room was a giant chessboard with figures about half a meter tall.
In the morning just before breakfast I took a turn around the garden and the devil in me made me move one of the chess figures to one side. As we drove out of the grounds to continue our journey, I noticed that the figure in question had been replaced. Clearly order and symmetry were all.
By now the signs of autumn were showing clearly. Mists were appearing and the leaves on the trees were slowly turning brown, yellow or red. It hardly seemed any time at all before we were back on that boat crossing the channel.
For some 20 days we had gone French and now it was back to the UK. driving on the left, giving way to traffic on the right and reverting to my native British reserve.
It’s always good to go on holiday and see how other people live and it can help you to appreciate that the way you personally live can easily be regarded by someone from another country as strange.