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Peek into a Living Museum at the Chateau du Lude Sarthe

chateau-du-lude

There are thousands of chateaux in France, some of them we all know of, like Versailles, others are far less well known. The Chateau de Lude located on the banks of the river Loir, Sarthe, is not as famous as some but it is a quite extraordinary castle.

When I stumbled upon it in a little road in the pretty, tranquil and old town of Le Lude, not far from La Fleche, I was totally unprepared for the quite incredible sight that greeted me when I entered the castle grounds through a gate in a wall. There is absolutely no indication from the outside that what you will find inside those walls is an immense private palace that is a real living museum.  Passing through the  ticket office you’re quite like to encounter a big black Labrador lying on his back wanting a tummy rub, he’s the owner’s dog and yes – they still live here.

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Inside the Chateau du Lude Sarthe

Visitors aren’t allowed to take photos of everything inside for privacy and security reasons but let me tell you it is a very strange thing to see a TV next to a signed photo of the late Queen Mum who stayed here in 1984 and a radio by a cabinet containing a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair and that of her children. This is the sort of thing you dream about, living in a castle with historic reminders of the past but with your feet firmly planted in the present. Only the downstairs of the chateau is open to the public, Count Louis Jean de Nicolay and his wife, Countess Barbara and her family are esconsed upstairs, perhaps watching us all mooch about on CCTV looking at their things, the ancient suits of armour, incredible ornaments, musical instruments, mementoes of their family, cherished for centuries.

There has been a castle here since the 10th Century. The chateau we see today has parts that date back to the 13th Century and it has been embellished over the years, bits added on, bits knocked off. It is fairy-tale looking but packs a punch. Turrets and towers but formidably huge. Renaissance and medieval good looks sit comfortably side by side with Gothic garnishes.

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The ancient library with a vaulted ceiling is filled with books including an enormous ancient book of the lands of Le Lude which is almost as big as a fridge! 16th Century paintings and 18th century costumes lean against the paraphernalia of everyday life in this huge chateau.

The gardens have been beautifully restored under the care of the Countess, and the ancient stables are like a step back in time, full of old carriages and even a sedan chair.

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Outdoor spiral stairs in a tower lead to a lower part of the old chateau and into the 15th Century working kitchens where on some visitor days the countess’ chef teaches volunteers to make soup using produce from the chateau potager which the countess, a keen botanist,  is restoring to  19th century style with heirloom vegetables. If you are lucky enough to be there on one of those days, the soup is shared freely with visitors. There are 12 ovens from the 19th century which transfer heat via a Roman style heating system to the chateau above.

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Gleaming copper pots line the wall, ancient kitchenalia and beautiful bowls look at home on shelves and a huge preparation table. A guide tells me that in its hey day, there would have been 15 people cooking for about 50 residents. Children would do the fetching and carrying. This room dates back to at least the 14th century and was probably a chapel but it was renovated in the 15th century and turned into a kitchen.

It is quite stunning, unique and astonishing – a glimpse at how the other half live that you’ll rarely encounter.

www.lelude.com
www.vallee-du-loir.com

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