Day 2 aboard the Caprice barge hotel brings us to a castle in the same family for 900 years
by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Our second day’s excursion through Burgundy, France, aboard the Caprice, a barge hotel, proves to be an extraordinary highlight.
We travel by bus to the Chateau Rully, dating back to the 12th century. Most incredibly, the chateau has remained in the same family for 900 years.
It is a most impressive structure, as we drive up through acres of vineyards to what looks more like a castle than a chateau. We will have a private tour by the current owner.
As we walk up the stone path, we are met by the youngest heir, Comte Raoul de Ternay (the third generation of the Ternays), his wife pushing a stroller, and their young son.
This is the home he grew up in, and which is still the home for their extended family, including his mother and aunt.
He explains that the family name has changed over the centuries, when ownership transferred through the female line. The main family names have been Rully, Saint-Léger (until end of 16th century), Montessus (into the 20th century) and nowadays Ternay. Most fascinating are the portraits of these ancestors that line the walls.
Ternay took over when his father passed away 16 years ago; the family must maintain the chateau without any state support, so 10 years ago, he opened it up to visitors.
This is so much different than seeing a castle, but having some sense of the people who lived in it. But there is no denying, the structure is formidable.
This medieval fortress was built around a 12th century square keep (Donjon), the oldest part of the chateau that remains. It reveals some interesting features of medieval military architecture with its parapet walk, battlements, machicoulis and loopholes.
During the 14th century, the defense system was improved a path round, the battlements, with crenellations for firing weapons, merlons for protection, and loopholes for archers. A dry ditch (moat) was built around the château to reinforce the defense – the only way in was a drawbridge.
As we walk in, Ternay explains that the dry moat was removed by his great grandfather at the end of the 19th century, after he fell in.
We walk past a statue of Saint Mary. He tells us that the chateau was occupied by Germans during World War II for only about two months before D-Day, but for most of war, his great grandfather managed to keep them out, insisting that the historic building would be bombed if they occupied it. His grandmother installed the statue of Saint Mary, for having survived World War II.
It makes you think about how this building managed to survive through all the tumult over the centuries.
The main building dates back to the Renaissance.
The current appearance of the chateau was designed in the 15th century with the addition of a small courtyard and North and East wings, turning the fortress into a manor house. Outbuildings, and the great and lower courtyards were added in the 18th century. An 18th century building boasts Burgundy’s largest stone roof.
The Chateau is by no means a museum and very much a private home, he tells us, so we will see a television among other modern accoutrements, and family photos – which to me, makes it all the more interesting.
We enter the home, where he tells us the main staircase dates from the 17th century – the weight is concentrated on the walls, making for an open entry space.
“The staircase doesn’t creak,” he says, joking that he could sneak into house when he was younger.
We are ushered into a beautiful salon, which he says is used very few times a year because of the fragile furniture. There are two mirrors, made in two different eras: a 17th century mirror made in six parts because that is what the technology allowed (the Chateau de Versailles has same kind of mirror); the second was made in the 18th century, in two parts, because of the technological improvements.
Most fascinating to me are the portraits we see of his ancestors – the great grandfather who protected the castle in World War II.
But most interesting of all is the portrait of Marie Ferdinande Agathonge de Vaudrey. Born in 1740, she was 16 when married and had 15 children by the time she was widowed at 32. She was imprisoned as an aristocrat during the French Revolution, but the local people protested and demanded her liberation, and finally, the authorities said, “Take her and get out.”
She spent much of the Revolution in the castle, protected the castle, and was largely responsible for keeping it in the family, he says.
Asked how long was she in prison, he says that family tradition said just three or four days but he found documents that showed she was in prison for 8-9 months.
Still, he distinguishes how “there were two revolutions, the one in the cities, and the one in the towns. The Revolution in the countryside wasn’t so ‘dramatic,’ the count says.
He points to a stunning wood cabinet that was made in 1899 by his great-great-grandfather, a master wood maker and artist, made of mahogany from Cuba.
We are brought into the kitchen – an amazingly massive room with vaulted ceilings built in the original keep, and a massive 1771 fireplace. It was “modernized” in the 19th century with a stove and the fireplace was no longer necessary. The stove itself, is fascinating to behold.
Here Ternay hosts a wine tasting made from grapes from the Chateau Ruilly vineyards.
Everywhere you look in this great room, there is some fascinating artifact, including a 14th century old mug from one of his ancestors, which he says he still uses.
(Chateau de Rully 71150, 33 (0) – 385872089, chateauderully.com)
Cruising on the Canal
We return to the Caprice for lunch: salads of carrots and coriander, lentils cooked in orange juice, a wonderful Quiche Lorraine, chocolate mousse for dessert; and enjoy Pinot Noir – Bourgogne 2009 and Pinot Gris Van D’Alonso 2009.
We float down the canal as we dine. You chat amiably, savor the flavors, and see the scenery flow by in slow motion.
I am relishing the benefits of a cruise style of trip: you have all the relaxation and comforts of a resort-style vacation, with all the interest and variety of a sightseeing-style trip, and without the packing. We are, after all, immersed in a foreign country with a storied history. But the character and size of this barge makes it all the more special, and river cruises are particularly special because of the pace of the journey, and the fact you are always seeing interesting landscapes on both sides.
You notice everything: now we are going through the lock and going down. Lock 28 has the date in stone: 1862.
I am enjoying lunch so much, I lose track and realize I have just five minutes to prepare to get off at lock 28.
Tina tells us we have to get back on by Lock 34 or else the towpath turns away from where the Caprice will go on to enter the River Saône.
The route here is gorgeous pastoral scenery of farms and fields.
We bike up to lock 34, have more time, so go back to 33, then walk back to 34.
It’s Lock 35 that has the severe drop, 55 feet, which brings us level to the river.
We float into Ville Chalon sur Saône: you really appreciate arriving in the city by water: the view is stunning, dramatic, with the ancient city on both sides of the water, spanned by an elegant bridge.
Chalon was built alongside the Saône about 3000 years ago. It was a naval base even during Antiquity, hosted large fairs during the Middle Ages, and was a trading center into modern times. It has a magnificent old town, which is so revealing for the way the street names, etched in stone, have been replaced.
We tie up right at the city’s stone steps that lead from the water.
We arrive mid afternoon. Guy leads us on a walking tour of the old town just after we arrive.
Chalon was important during Roman conquest of Gaul – Julius Caesar, 52 BC. This was last navigable port from Mediterranean. Roman ships carried wine northbound; that’s when the vineyards were started.
Chalon was part of Burgundy, which in the 12 C was an independent realm governed by a Duke (Dijon was the capital). Burgundy allied with England in the Hundred Years War. this brings up the story of Joan of Arc: in 1429, Joan of Arc began her quest to unite the French behind the future Charles VII and drive the English out of France. Joan was captured by Burgundian troops and handed over to the English, who burnt her as a witch (for wearing men’s clothes), at English-held Rouen in 1431. English Henry VI was crowned king of France in Paris.) We see what remains of a fortress.
During WWII when Germans invaded France, and the Demarcation line was drawn between Fermany and Vichy, it went through Chalon. Jewish resistance fighters went through (to get to Switzerland).
Just up from the stone steps where we tie up the barge, we come up into the square, where we see a statue to Nicephore Niepce who invented photography in 1765 (he was a colleague of Daguerre’s).
Guy guides us through the town for the first hour – his commentary is absolutely fascinating and the town has wonderful architecture. Soon we are in front of Niepce’s house, where he lived in 1765, looking probably much the same as when he left it, on a picturesque narrow street he would have loved to photograph.
We see how street names have changed with political tides – there is Rue Voltaire, named during the Restoration, in the 1820s.
We come upon the St Vincent Square, unchanged in centuries. The centerpiece is an 11th century cathedral – the façade has been replaced after it was destroyed, but even then, the “new” facade dates from 1780. The base of the tower dates to the 12th century; the base of the Church is Romanesque; the gallery is Gothic; the organ is Baroque. There are some magnificent examples of centuries-old tapestries.
After our walking tour, we still have an hour more to explore on our own before returning to the Caprice for dinner.
This isn’t just an old city, it is a bustling town of 80,000 with a vibrant shopping street, and if you cross the bridge, you get to a modern residential area.
The dinner, Monday, is another extraordinary event: escargots a la crème d’ail (snails in garlic sauce); breast of guinea fowl served with a honey and saffron sauce, baby vegetables.
The cheeses tonight are Brillat-Savarin, developed in the 1930s in the north of France and named after a renowned 18th century food writer Brillat Savarin.
Also Epoisses, a local Burgundy unpasteurized cheese from the village of Epoisses in the Cote d’Or, halfway between Dijon and Auxerre; the rind is washed with Marc de Bourgogne, a local pomance brandy.
The wines are a Petit Chablis and the red is a Moulin a Vent, a Beaujolais made from the Gamay grape which, we learn, has a thin skin and is low in tannins.
The desserts are an assortment of traditional Burgundy sweets.
Chalon is such a beautiful city, after dinner, we walk down the gangplank, up the Medieval stone steps back into the town to walk about the old city. Yellow lights hit the stone of the buildings, making the most stunning shadows, shapes and textures. (We need to return by 11 pm, because they take up the gangplank.)
The Caprice is owned by Barging Through France, and represented by France Cruises, Inc, San Antonio, Texas, 866-498-3920,www.francecruises.com, www.FranceCountryTours.com.
(Originally published 2011)
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