The châteaux of the Loire Valley are perennially popular with tourists the world over. One of the absolute gems is Cheverny. Built in the 17th century as a grand hunting lodge, it inspired Hergé, author of “Tintin,” when he created the château de Moulinsart.
Nested in the heart of a 250 acre forest, 350,000 visitors a year visit the four hundred-year old château. The tourists are free to wander through the fifty-three public rooms. Each one has treasures collected by the generations of owners. At the end of a hallway in the right-hand wing is a rather insignificant door. What lies behind it is off-limits to the public – the private quarters of the owners.
The marquis de Vibraye is the present owner. He lives in the château with his wife and three children. He is a descendant of a branch of the family who has lived there throughout its history. But as wonderful as it seems, life in a château doesn’t just have advantages. The marquis says that living right next to the public spaces makes the family feel as though they are always in a state of occupation. To get a bit of distance from all of the visitors, he likes to take to the cupola on top of the house. The 360 degree view is worth the effort of the strenuous climb.
In order for the family to be able to live here, the château has to pay its own way. The marquis, like any small business owner, changes hats several times a day. Human resources, acquisition of antiques, you name it. A recent purchase was a harp, as music was an important part of the life of the château.
In France, it is rare for châteaux that are open to the public to be inhabited. The marquis and his family share this privilege with about 100 other residents – a pack of hunting hounds (I wrote about them here). While we had the opportunity to witness the spectacle of the feeding of the hounds, we didn’t get to see the puppies. They live apart from the rest of the pack for about eighteen months. This protects them from germs that visitors could bring with them as their constitutions are apparently quite delicate. That’s hard to imagine when you see what slavering beasts the fully grown hounds become at 5 pm!
As I mentioned, Tintin also lives at Cheverny. An exhibit has been dedicated to the famous reporter for the past ten years, during which almost one million visitors have enjoyed key scenes and memorabilia from the classic comic book series. It’s yet another reason to visit one of the most beautiful châteaux in the Loire.
Today’s phrase, défense d’entrer (dayfehns dontray) means “no entry.” This is what you might see on the door at the end of the hall that separates the public and private faces of Cheverny. Still, the public spaces give you a great idea of what life could be like if one lived in a château. I think I could get used to it!