Fortified remains

A little while ago, I wrote about my visit to the local history museum in Puisserguier.  There’s a lot more to discover in this town, and today I’d like to take you on a visit of the castle, which is at the heart of the old village.

The origins of the chateau date back to the 11th century, when a fortified castle was built on a hillock.  At that time the people living on the plains were at the mercy of bands of marauders, and very soon a second fortification was built, encircling a small village.  Puisserguier became a circulade, a village built in the round.  Examples of such villages can still be seen in the area – Aigne is one such village which is in very good condition.

This link takes you to a map of Puisserguier.  The chateau is on Plan dals Cathars and the map gives you a good idea of how the village grew up around it.

Entrance to the chateau in Puisserguier

Entrance to the courtyard of the chateau in Puisserguier

The chateau became property of the French state during the French revolution, and was subsequently sold as several lots.  Doorways were created in the outside walls, and the inside was divided into a number of dwellings.

Outside wall of the chateau, with front doors to individual dwellings

When I first visited the chateau many years ago, the vagaries of time had not been kind to it!  Most of the courtyard inside the chateau was taken up by a block of garages, and the arches in the courtyard had been partly blocked up. It all looked in a pitiful state.  The fortunes of the chateau changed, when the municipality decided to claim back this part of local history, by buying up parts of the chateau as they came up for sale.

The garages in the courtyard were cleared away and the arches in the courtyard were opened up again.

Courtyard of the chateau, looking north

Chateau courtyard, looking south-west.

Some of the arrow slits are still visible on the inside the walls; the square holes in the wall would have been for wooden beams, and those beams would have supported walkways for the archers.

Wall showing arrow slit

If only some of those walls could tell their story!!  If you look carefully, you can decipher a little bit of the story:  the top of the wall was added later, probably in the 19th century.  As for the black patch at the bottom of the picture, your guess is as good as mine!

Old chateau wall, telling its story.

On the ground floor of the chateau, only one room is open to the public.  It is used for exhibitions, telling the history of the chateau.  This room was originally divided into two rooms, but the last owner decided to do some alterations!

Room on the ground floor of the chateau.

Room on the ground floor of the chateau.

Plans are afoot to restore parts of the chateau and to open more of it to the public.  As always, it will be a question of funding, but we live in hope!

On my way back to the car, I passed through another gateway, which was in the outer walls of the town.  Where once the walls might have been surrounded by a moat, today there is a car park.  Alongside the car park runs the D612 Beziers to Saint-Pons-de-Thomieres road, going straight through Saint-Chinian, to take me home!

Gateway in the old town walls

Remnants of town walls in Puisserguier

Bloomin’ marvellous

Spring can be the craziest time of year – things are sprouting everywhere, and nature is surprising me with new things every day.  And that’s before you count all the spring fetes and festivals which are seemingly everywhere!

This year we appear to be having unseasonably warm weather, and many plants are growing much faster than they normally would.  Look at the wisteria, it is out in full bloom!!  And the bees love it – there’s a variety of large black bees, with iridescent bluish-black wings, which seem to zip around the flowers like lunatics.

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The kiwis are also sprouting a fair amount of leaves, as well as flower buds!

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The California poppies have been flowering for over a week now, and there’s a lovely plant called Cerinthe Major “Purpurascens” growing next to one of the poppy plants.  The two of them seem to be having a bit of a cuddle 🙂

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In my garden both plants are ridiculously easy to grow – I just leave a few of them to set seed, and forget all about them until the fall.  When the seeds sprout I weed out the ones I don’t want, et voila!

My Papa Meilland rose also started to bloom last week; it has the most beautiful old-fashioned rose scent – I wish you could smell it!

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And I’m very excited about my artichokes – I planted a row of five artichoke plants last year, tiny little plants, which were immediately attacked by all the slugs and snails in the garden.  Over the winter I managed to stop the damage to the plants (causing carnage amongst the snails and slugs :)), and they have grown into large silvery mounds of foliage.  And now the first flower buds have started to appear!!  If I’m lucky there will be so many that I will really be able to indulge – artichokes are one of my favourite vegetables!!  With the warm weather, I will soon be able to have an artichoke feast!

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And so, on to the spring fetes and fairs – lots of exciting stuff to go and see over the coming weeks!!

This past weekend, Chateau Perdiguier in Maraussan hosted the Journées Fleurs et Jardins for the 5th year running.

IMG_9486The Chateau is an incredibly impressive building, so it’s worth a visit to the fair just for a close-up look at the building.  According to the website, the Chateau got its name in the 14th century, when it was given to Jean Perdiguier by Charles V in 1375.  A few years later Perdiguier was assassinated in Montpellier, after introducing an extraordinary tax – modern-day politicians take heed??  Perdiguier didn’t have much time at his chateau, but at least he left his name behind.  Over the centuries, as the estate passed from one owner to the next, the building evolved into the impressive structure we see today.

The exhibitors of the “flower days” were spread out over a large area in front of the chateau, with stands selling all manner of flowers and other garden plants, including citrus trees, acers, and vegetable garden plants; there were decorations for the garden (some very colourful flower pots amongst them); and there was food!!  Tables and chairs were interspersed with the stalls, and the atmosphere was very festive and relaxed!

Today Chateau Perdiguier is a working winery, and part of the exhibitors were inside, in the big wine cellar.  The monumental casks are in reality made of cement, with the fronts made to look like traditional wooden casks.  There were also a number of wooden barrels (used to age wine) in the cellar, with the ends decorated with paintings.  To start off with I thought the pictures had been painted directly on to the barrel, but closer inspection revealed that pictures were detachable.

Upstairs from the cellar is a large function room, where there was an exhibition of paintings, as well as more painted barrels, and some painted wine bottles.

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There’s definitely someone with an artistic bent living there!

So there you have it – Spring in Languedoc has started!!

Wonder no more

The drive from La Croisade to Cruzy is a very picturesque one.  First you cross the Canal du Midi, and then you pass into open countryside, surrounded by vineyards.  The road makes a slight curve to the right and then you see it, ahead of you, slightly to the left, behind the trees.  You can take that drive on google street view, if you like!!

It’s the Chateau de Seriege which is the subject of this post, and it has intrigued me for more years than I care to remember!  The Chateau stands majestically on its own, surrounded by a mini park, and a cluster of buildings behind it.  Every time I have driven past it, all the shutters have been firmly closed, and there has never been any sign of life in the imposing building.  Over the years I had heard various stories about its history, and had heard that it had never been completed nor occupied.  But the mystery surrounding the Chateau was about to be lifted last Saturday, when its doors were thrown open for a guided visit.

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The visit had been announced for 3pm, and when I arrived there the car park was already very busy.  The lady who was registering the visitors told me that 200 persons had reserved in advance and that they were expecting an additional 200 visitors on top of that.  Groups of 50 would be taken around the property, and she apologised for the wait.  I didn’t mind in the slightest – I had waited for years already to find out more and get close up, so an extra half hour would not make the slightest difference!!

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When it was time for our group, we assembled around the steps to the Chateau, where we were welcomed by Gilles d’Andoque de Seriege, the owner of the Chateau, and Alix Audurier-Cros, Professor Emeritus at Montpellier University.

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Alix Audurier-Cros explained the history of the Chateau, and how it came to be built.  The Andoque family were first mentioned in the annals of Cruzy in 1495, and over the centuries they increased their wealth and power, to the point where they were able to buy the manor of Seriege in 1775.  With the manor came the right to call your home a chateau, even though it might not fit into the category of what we imagine a chateau to be like.  Alexandre Andoque decided to build a new Chateau at Seriege, and work started in 1884.

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At that point Alexandre Andoque was aged 69, unmarried, and without children.  He died at Seriege in 1902, without the Chateau being completed.  The property then passed to one of his great-nephews, who by all accounts was a city person and spent his time in Montpellier rather than at Seriege.

Let’s have a look at what Alexandre had built:  on a basalt base the Chateau is entirely built with quarried stone – one of the reasons why it has withstood the test of time and being abandoned without coming to too much harm.  The facade is highly ornamented, but here and there you can see bits missing – on the parapet, where bits of the balustrade never made it.  It was wonderful to see the Chateau with almost all the shutters open, and interesting to see that some windows had window frames, and others not, and some window frames had glass in them and others not…

Once the introduction was over we were invited inside – how very exiting!!  The walls of the entrance hallway were entirely tiled up to the ceiling, and the same pattern carried on into the staircase hall.P1080633

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An interesting effect, but I’m still not sure what to make of it…  The plaster work on the hallway ceiling was beautiful, and in fairly good condition, but you can tell the overall state of things by the peeling paint/plaster.

Because of the large number of people, only part of the ground floor was made accessible, and the first floor was unfortunately out-of-bounds.  The salon to the right of the staircase had been partly decorated, again with tiles.  In this room dark brown, embossed tiles were used as the background for some bright (tile) picture panels.  Our guide explained that the decor inside the Chateau was inspired by the Japanese art shown at the 1900 World Fair in Paris.  The graffiti on the wall seems to be Japanese inspired too; perhaps someone knows what they might mean??

The next room was another salon, which overlooked the front of the Chateau, again with some beautiful plaster work, but no decorations on the walls.

And then there was the tower room, a lovely, small room with windows on two sides, and the windows had glass panes in them!

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On the way out I shook hands with Gilles d’Andoque, and thanked him for allowing me to have a look at this wonderful building.  With that, the visit of the inside of the Chateau was finished – we went back out and down the stairs, where the next group was already lined up for their visit, and we then continued around to the side of the Chateau, for the next part of the visit.

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At the side of the building the abandonment feels more acute.  As it is east facing there was no sunlight on this part of the building, and it looked somewhat sad.  I’m not sure what is peeling from the cast-iron pipes – perhaps some insulation?

The reason for being here was a briefing about the genealogy of the Andoque family, and a little more information about how the manor developed over the centuries.  We were now outside the “old Chateau”, a U-shaped building, with the open side closed off by a curtain wall.  This is where members of the Andoque family still live!

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Here is a close-up of the clock – have a look at those two obedient greyhounds on either side of the clock face, they must have been sitting there for centuries!   I was puzzled by the greyhounds, until I found out that they are part of the Andoque coat of arms.

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Once we had listened to all the history of the family, we went on our next and last stop of the tour:  the wine cellars!  The estate has been a working winery for a long time, and Gilles d’Andoque took up the reins of the Domaine in 1945 from his grandfather, Andre d’Andoque.  In turn he passed the reins on to his grandson, Barthelemy d’Andoque, in 2003, and it was the latter who welcomed us in the cellar.  The winery at Seriege is huge, the cellar building is more than 100 meters long and has a capacity of 20,000 hectoliters.  A hectoliter is 100 liters, so that makes it 2 million liters of wine!!  In its heyday the domaine employed a small army of workers in the vineyards and the cellar.  Over the years, Gilles started to modernise the way of working, introducing the first grape picking machine in the area in the 1970’s.  His grandson continues with innovations, using temperature controlled fermentation to produce today’s wines.  The long history of the estate was well in evidence in the cellar, where the old equipment was still in place.

Unfortunately the wine tasting was only later in the afternoon, and I couldn’t stay for that, but I’m sure I’ll be trying the wines from the domaine some other time soon!

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A big thank you to the d’Andoque family of Seriege, for throwing open the doors to the hundreds of curious people, and to the organisers at the Office du Tourisme in Capestang!

Here are a few more pictures, from on the way to the car park…