Updated: May 31, 2021
Bienvenue au Château de Planque! Welcome!
Come on in for a tour of the centuries-old château where we work and live.
We are situated at the end of the historic route de Lasalle, down which King Louis XIV's dragoons and Hitler's SS Nazis arrived and invaded the town. Surrounded by fields, terraced mountains, and the lovely Vidourle river, it's an idyllic spot. With access to water and agricultural lands plus the strategic location at one of the "doors" of the town, it's not hard to imagine why previous owners chose this location sometime in the 15th century.
We start our tour out front, where the château rises behind a lovely wrought iron fence. Over the years, slowly, we've brought changes and improvements. The once faded blue-gray shutters and door are now the color of burgundy wine and golden gravel covers previously weedy dirt. Adding plants and tending vines has also improved the first impression.
The tall double front door is something to be reckoned with; I have to use my whole weight to push it open. It definitely was built with fort-style protection in mind. Today, we use a simple code system for security.
Like the façade, our foyer was not beautiful when we moved in. After several coats of paint, thrift store furniture, and the generous efforts of our artist friend, it is now a lovely little room. The large paintings depict our community's values: Worship/Intercession, Revival, Community, Training/Sending, and a place of Refuge.
As in many older buildings around France, doors led to receiving rooms right off this entryway. We've blocked them off for warmth, security, and space.
Past the foyer, we see the grand staircase that takes us up to the original families' main living floor. But, first, there is more to see on the ground floor. On the left are the kitchen and dining area. Judging from the smoke-blackened stones in the vaulted cooking area, this was always the central kitchen. We've done quite a bit of remodeling to make it usable.
Leaving the kitchen, we arrive in the interior courtyard. Initially, there was a fountain in the middle–I would love to restore that someday, using circulating water. While not essential, it would be lovely to see and hear, so we've added it to the never-ending list of improvements, not to mention repairs, desired in this ancient building.
Standing in the courtyard, we are in front of the cave or cellar. As you'd expect, it's dark, damp, and has a dirt floor. We use it as a workshop and tool storage area, but I imagine it would've served as cold food storage back in the day.
Looking up, we see small windows. Some are to the wing that is my private residence, others to various apartments within the château.
Off the courtyard is a collection of rooms that serve as our office, a lounge, and a 24/7 prayer room. We are so grateful to have the space for all this!
On the other side of these rooms, we arrive at the exterior courtyard. As you can see, this is where we have a lot of fun! Campfires, ping pong, outdoor parties, and events…this is a happy gathering place.
The lower building that forms one side of this courtyard is our "Cottage." Come on into the ground floor: this is our "ministry room." Here we meet for worship, prayer, or Bible study every morning as well as Thursday evenings. Monday nights, we offer a class open to the public on various biblical topics.
This banner was gifted to us by a group of the Huguenots (French Protestants) descendants during a seminar here a few years ago. Colorful arrows depict the countries where the Huguenots fled during the persecution under King Louis XIV. Around the year 1685, over 200,000 left France and landed in America, South Africa, and other parts of Europe such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England. The majority were professionals and took their skills and competencies with them; for example, clock-making to Switzerland, banking to London, and wine-making to South Africa. Wherever these Huguenots went, they brought blessing and prosperity. All this was France's loss, and it is rightly called the "brain drain."
You may notice that there are arrows pointing back into France. In recent years, many descendants of the Huguenots have returned to visit and reconnect with the land of their ancestors.
Above the ministry room is a three-bedroom apartment where one of our staff families currently lives. Beyond this is what we call the "cottage garden," and it is yet another lovely spot for people to hang out on their own or together. This Saturday, we are hosting a wedding, and the "vin d'honneur" and the apéritif (toasting drinks and nibbles) will be happening here.
Up from here, we arrive at the first of three wide terraces that continues on up the whole mountain behind us. All over the Cévennes region, short rock walls support terraces of varying sizes. Most were built centuries ago, and mostly dry stacked. We marvel at the staggering amount of labor involved (poor peasants' backs!) and how well they hold up. Cement has been added in later years, and from time to time, a portion crumbles. My husband chose to make two such spots a staircase and a tiny amphitheater.
Off to the right, we have our meeting tent, a yellow greenhouse (!), and our bergerie (sheep pen), which we use for storage. As you can see, we have water catchment tanks that funnel rainwater into cisterns that we then release into our huge cistern lower down the hill. When it rains, it pours here, and later in the year, we have baking, scorching sun, so it's a huge blessing to catch and use this water.
Our resident staff gardener has all kinds of yummy things growing in the greenhouse. As this is our first year using this structure, we're learning a lot. So far, it's working well. Beyond that, she prepared another field where she's experimenting with multi-color corn. So fun!
From here, we go on up the mountain. First stop–our new "forest garden," recently built by energetic staff during our annual Creative Week. We've already used it for informal parties, a bridal shower, worship, hanging out and a quiet place for prayer and study (not all at the same time!) I love this new addition!
There is a trail that winds up from here, through the terraced hills and bushes. It ends at the back rock wall of the property (walls surround us!) In the upper left corner, there is a watchtower with magnificent views.
Back down the hill, past the previously mentioned terraces, we arrive at the two levels directly behind my home. My husband is just finishing up his gazebo project on the upper one… isn't it amazing?
We've also recently added raised beds for me to garden…my first attempt! Constructed from railroad ties and old telephone poles (!) found on the property, this is a dream come true for me. We use water caught from rainfall...all very satisfying!
And so far so good! This year will show us what works well in our soil and climate. For now, we have tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, radishes, zucchini, corn and will soon plant squash and pumpkins.
Below this terrace is our personal garden. A haven of beauty and peace, I thank God and my hard-working husband daily for this blessing.
Moving back down the hill, through the exterior and interior courtyards, we can now (finally!) ascend the grand staircase. On the first floor up (second floor to Americans!), we have two apartments. These made up the grand salon–living and dining areas for the original noble families. The tall windows of these apartments make up the façade of the château. Through these, the Nazis forced a family to watch the hanging of a young man below. Quel horreur.
The next floor up has two more apartments and a dorm. Since people live in them, I won't include photos–I'll let your imagination fill in the gaps. The top floor was most likely made to be servants' quarters but has been remodeled and restructured so many times over the years; it is hard to sort it all out.
Whew! We've finished…are you tired? Do you have questions? I would love to hear from you. There's so much more history here than I'll ever be able to discover, as I've said multiple times if only these walls could speak! In the meanwhile, I research and do my best to piece it together. Meanwhile, I invent the rest of the story as I've done in my book Beyond Belief. I'm currently working towards the publication of this first novel in a series called The Huguenot Resistance. Stay tuned!
I'm incredibly grateful to live here and wonder daily what life was like through the decades and centuries before me. What were the individual people like, and how did they live their lives? I feel connected to them as I have the privilege to be here for this season, for this chapter in the long history of the Château de Planque.
La vie est belle!