We spent the evening of our first day in France admiring the scenery as we sailed downstream from Paris while we ate dinner. I was struck by the prevalence of white chalk cliffs along the way – but it stands to reason, really. The White Cliffs of Dover and the chalk downs are just a few hundred kilometres away and the geology has to be similar. All of this area would have been underwater, with tiny little creatures living and dying and building mountains until the world changed and their graveyards were thrust into the light.
Most of our fellow passengers were American but there quite a few Aussies and Kiwis, a smattering of Brits, a bunch of young Spaniards (I think) and one Kuwaiti couple, Ali and Heather, with whom we shared quite a few meals. Heather is English and Ali is Kuwaiti. They met in the ’60s at a British university where Ali was studying architecture and Heather was training for nursing. It was fascinating for us to speak with people who live in an Arab country, listening to their views on the Middle East.
Our first stop on the tour was at the chateau de la Roche Guyon. The ruins of a keep above the chateau up on the hill is medieval, dating back to the twelfth century. (Interesting that the French word for ‘keep’ is ‘donjon’.) As is so often the case, the location was recognised early as a spot for a fortification, with commanding views of the river and surrounds and overlooking a river crossing. The Romans took advantage of that location, too. This area borders Normandy which from 1066 was English territory since the Duke of Normandy had successfully invaded England and taken the English crown. A fortified manor house with a tunnel connecting it to the keep was built beside the river in the fourteenth century. It was expanded and renovated over the years, especially in the eighteenth century.
We had been warned before we left Australia that we were in for a hot time, with Europe and the UK due to experience unheard of temperatures. Indeed, it was a favourite topic in the UK news. And the day we visited the chateau was, indeed, hot, even by our standards, approaching 40c. To be honest, if we’d been at home we wouldn’t have chosen to wander around in that heat – but we’d paid a lot of money to be here. The younger and fitter among us had the option to hike up to the keep. Er… pass. Not young, not fit, and not stupid.
Our guide walked us through a wonderful, productive garden which would have been used to supply the chateau and surrounds. Pear trees were common, along with apples, plums, and grapes, as well as vegetables. Apparently citrus doesn’t grow well here, probably because of the micro-climate. Flowering plants grew between the fruit trees to encourage the bees.
We ascended broad steps into the chateau. It was easy to discern the lines of the original fortified manor with its towers and ramparts. The more comfortable, decorative home had been built around those bones. The descendants of the original family still live in rooms on the second floor, which, of course, we did not visit. The rest of the building is empty. In the past the oldest son inherited everything, leaving younger siblings with nothing, but the last generation agreed that wasn’t fair and the art and furniture were sold.However, the ornate decorations on the floors and ceilings hinted at the comfortable style. Learn more about the chateau here.
During World War II when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was given command of the Atlantic Wall in 1943, he set up his headquarters in the chateau.
After a few too many stairs and close rooms, I started feeling quite ill – lack of sleep, jet lag, and the heat – so we went back to the boat a bit early. It would have been nice to visit the little town adjacent to the chateau. Maybe some other time.