"Sharing memories ....." Personal Page by TheWanderingCamel
It started in the Travel Forum - a question about where to stay when visiting Normandy's D-Day beaches. Forum answers from me and Ranger49 led to emails, a walk down my own Memory Lane to a holiday gite in the area in one brought this response:
" I have often wondered what a funny turn would feel like.
I think I have found out.
Your reference to St Pierre--du-Val - was the gite by any chance called Le petit four du chatelle? and was the owner Michel the Marquis du St Pierre who wrote successsful historical novels?
Was there an ancient, put-out-to-grass Shetland pony called Dentifrice and was la Marquise called Jacqueline?
Did they live in the Chateau - much in need of "arrangement"?"
so there we were, twenty five years later and half a world apart, sharing memories.
Ranger's travelogue tells her tales - here are some of mine .....
The gite was called Le Petit Four du Chatelle (chatel - Old French - castle or fortified building). Built in the 18th century, it had been the bakehouse for the estate. The owners lived in what had been the 17th century Orangerie. The familyhad lived there since the time of Guillaume le Conquerant - there was a close connection, but I can't quite remember what it was - had the first de Saint-Pierre been the brother of the man who married Guillaume's mother, Arlette? All that remained of the original chateau were some sections of ivy-draped wall near the tennis court, a ruined dovecot and a bastion that had been converted into a chaumiere (a thatched cottage) in the 19th century.
It was an idyllic place for a holiday. Set down by a field that came complete with a pony (the family's very rotund, good natured and virtually immovable Shetland, Dentifrice), there were woods to explore - often accompanied by the family's dogs, Vodka and Nectar, an orchard to raid and country lanes for evening strolls.
20 kilometres away was Honfleur - still one of my favourite French towns - how many times did we come and go and yet we never tired of it.
We explored far and wide - Bayeux with its tapestry and D-day museum; Robert le Diable's great castle at Falaise; Trouville and Deauville - two very different faces of French seaside holidays; Pont l'eveque and Livarot - cheese heaven; Rouen, Jumiege, the cliffs at Etretat - even venturing as far away as Giverny. We came back three years in a row and there was always somewhere new to explore and old favourites to revisit.
How the children loved the woods around the chateau. Thick with bracken, cool and shady, their mystery enhanced by the presence of a massive moss- and lichen-encrusted stone cross. How old was it? Who carved it? Nobody knew but no holiday was complete without a pilgrimage to the cross and a posy of harebells or daisies laid at its base.
Our first visit was in 1985. I'd picked the place from the same Farm and Country Guide that Ranger writes about, chosen because it said the owner spoke English and so I phoned her direct. A few weeks before the holiday was to begin she wrote to say her younger son was getting married the day we arrived and we were to come to the wedding. Not having a clue about who our hosts were I thought, "How lovely, a French village wedding", went out and bought a wedding gift and made sure we all had something suitable to wear in our bags.
Well, yes, it was a village wedding but one with a more than slightly grand
guest list. We arrived late, coming from a week spent in Brittany, to find the drive packed with very expensive cars with number plates from Monaco, Rome and so on. Still, we shook out crumpled clothes and trotted over to the main house to be greeted as welcome guests, introduced all round without an eyebrow being raised - I think Madame's friends and family were well used to her ways.
Next morning Madame came across with a basket of cakes and icecreams "for the children", leftovers from the party. By the time we left at the end of the week, a booking for the following year was already in place.
The second visit brought another wedding party - Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson - and an invitation to watch the proceedings on television (MrL declined the invitation initially but MissL and I weren't letting him get away with that!) with Madame, eating Madeleines with whisky for the adults and Coke for the children, so hospitable, but the end of the week brought kindness beyond belief.
The last day before heading off to Brittany for a second week , we had an
accident that left the car too damaged for us to do any more than limp to Le Havre and leave it in a garage until we returned next day to put it on the ferry and have the AA pick us up in Portsmouth. No-one was hurt but the holiday was at an end.
We hired a car to go back to collect our stuff and went over to the house to tell Madame that the strange car at the gite was us and we would be leaving the next day. She took complete charge, called the people in Brittany and sorted everything out with them, did the same with the garage where our car had been left and then said "What about the rest of your holiday? .... You must stay here."
And she really meant right there, in her house! The gites were let but she was going away - her husband was in hospital having had a stroke. She was taking him to a rehabilitation hospital in Nantes and she would have it no other way but that we stayed in her house for as long as we liked to finish our holiday. All we had to do was feed the dogs (Vodka and Nectar - remember them?) and let her secretary know when we were leaving. She rang us from Nantes to see that all was OK, insisted again that we were to stay as long as it suited us and then left us to it. We stayed four days and we have never forgotten her kindness.
We returned the following year. Michel, her husband, had died and she was only there for a day or two.
We returned to Australia in 1989 but came back to Europe in 1990 for a holiday that included a week at St Pierre du Val. We stayed in the chaumiere as the bakehouse was being used by one of the family. Madame was in residence in the chateau for the summer but spending more time in Paris and her son, an artist who lived in the farmhouse by the main entrance, was going to move in to the main house at the end of the season.
We stayed in Honfleur in 2004 and drove out to the gite but it's a private residence now. The chaumiere probably is too. Madame would be an old, old lady now - wherever she is, I'm sure she's still the same, kind-hearted, generous and very much loved.
Reading Ranger's tales of the gite, I realize not only had we stayed at the same place, we had been in the same year, 1986. The coincidence doesn't end there - she tells a story of Madame's kindness following a problem with a car, the same year as our accident. And just to add a final frisson - they were returning from Etretat when trouble struck .... and so were we!
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