Oddly this struck a cord with me as I don’t care about having the newest phone. Or maybe it was to better help me justify spending habits on cheese or castles, dunno.
I could sleep in a tent on a month long trip and be just as satisfied as sleeping at a hotel room if it meant I could spend what was saved on something fun! Actually sleeping in a tent in Africa did make for some interesting morning conversation. Ever had warthogs poke at your feet through out the night or wake up to lions roaring in the distance? You’d likely remember.
Anywhoo I’m happy to spend “extravagantly” on experiences I think I’ll never forget opposed to mundane daily activities like super 8 hotel room for $200 a night or pub lunch at the ski hill. I’d rather ride all day and eat granola bars. Thou I have spent $70 a drink at the worlds only seven star hotel. They also sell drinks for thousands of dollars at that same hotel, my little splurge was a half a thousand.
When it came to unique xmas ideas this year I was on the hunt for a “Royal Weekend”. I figured since we would be in France the probability of finding a castle to spend the weekend at would be quite high.
To my frustration, this isn’t exactly the case in the month of January.
To find what I thought to be a suitable castle for a fun weekend in the South Of France, that was within reasonable travel distance to accommodate the patience of the Prince and Princess we’d be traveling with was now starting to look like a tall order.
What I thought would be an evening project ended up taking me about six weeks of spare time searching on castle web based search platforms, Air BnB, trip advisor, general research, emails I had to translate before sending and then after receiving and so on.
This was actually starting to look like a pain in the ass and not a lot of adventure as xmas slowly got closer and closer.
In the end I tracked down two castles within a reasonable distance to us and from each other. The first was to be Cite de Carcassonne a magnificent UNESCO medieval castle rescued and restored to inspiring condition. I’d never even heard of it before and it’s actually Frances second most tourist place after the Eiffel tower, receiving some three million visitors each year, wow!
The second being a privately owned sixteenth century castle that sits tucked away in the countryside surrounded by vineyards of grape vines and a couple of other swanky looking castles.
My plan was to give this idea of fun as the xmas gift and visit them both about three weeks after xmas once we were in France.
Well if you’ve ever seen the excitement on a child’s face when they open up a gift that includes a kings crown and princess tiara along side several pieces of paper with photos of castles on xmas morning, after they have been impaled with toys and games all day. It looks a tad underwhelmed and a bit confused. An expression that I would also leave on the faces of many French people in the coming days.
Ohh boy I had some quick explaining to do.
Some three weeks later on the other side of the pond, in what I thought would be Frances mild winter weather, we drive a couple hours to Carcassonne where I had rented the only available hotel with a “hot tub”. It was also noted to me in English that the first two weeks we had been in Montpellier were some of the coldest anyone could remember & this was holding true to Carcassonne where it was drizzling and about plus 3oC.
Like all good Canadians we stripped down to our swimming trunks in the hotel room, ran across the gardens outside and through the lobby to the hot tub waiting upstairs. It was perfect, I managed to turn right instead of left through the first doors (still working on my French here) and walked the four of us half naked right into a private business meeting. A quick smile and a casual “Bonjour” and we exited door number one to the other door across the hall.
We were all so excited to hop in the hot tub to thaw our bones from the winter chill. The meeting across the hall likely heard me shrill like a school girl as the hot tub turned out to be the same temperature as glacial water.
Like all urgencies in France my complaint at the front desk was met with “zee hot tub should be working fine, we will have someone look at it on Monday.” Keli and I sat in the ice bath for forty-five minutes with two small children who had no sense of feeling while they splashed ice water around.
At night time the Cite De Carcassonne castle is lit up and looks magically enchanting, a sort of dark magic. So I had this great idea to hike up through the old pathways from our hotel into the heart of the village inside the castles interior walls for dinner at one of the restaurants renowned for is Cassoulet, a meaty stew like dish made famous in these parts.
Checking the internet the restaurant opened at 7pm, like most in the area. This also being bedtime when your 5 and 8. Perhaps not the most ideal time.
Well if you’ve ever hiked through pitch black back alley trails in the drizzling cold around the base of a medieval castle with two kids who haven’t eatin, should be in bed and are scared to death of this medieval castle then I’m sure you can see where this great plan of mine is headed.
With two cell phone flashlights, a lot of coxing, distraction chit chat, a couple of wrong turns and about twenty minutes later we arrived at the most famous CLOSED FOR THE SEASON cassoulet restaurant in Carcassonne. This along with pretty much everything else was closed for the season.
Plan B anyone?
After a quick stop by the town water well, where Keli explains to the fiver year old that the well is where they used to throw people who broke the law. This then made for a lot of concerned questions on the dank walk back. We then landed at a well decorated, over priced restaurant where I think kids were tolerated and not necessarily welcome. Here I thought pizza might ease the starvation pain.
Hahaha, nope, not when they burn one and the other looks nothing like the North American Pizza your used to.
So far Royal Weekend isn’t getting royal reviews!
Luckily in the daylight the castle looked a bit more inviting through the eyes of a child. Thou it was one of the coldest days I’ve been part of outside of Canada we did mange to brush up on our French history and spend the day exploring the resurrection made possible by French architect Eugene Viollet-le Duc.
Day two led us to Chateau Hermitage de Combas. A magnificence castle in the countryside. We pulled in looking like a car full of tourists who’d managed to get lost in the parking lot and were eventually greeted by the owner who kindly invited us in, where he had actually upgraded our room to a slightly better room in one of the towers and gave us a personal tour of the property. He went through section by section of the property explaining it’s history and various renovations over the years.
This is certainly a perk to off season travel, as it sounded like the grounds we’re typically booked out all summer at a higher rate and he’d likely have been to busy for the personal tour.
It was just as one would expect a castle that has been in the works for over four hundred years to look. Each room was decorated differently with antiques from the region. With a massive stone staircase that was sitting at about a four inch drop to the one side that had been slowly sinking over the years that led up to the room.
The room had a period decorated living room, with the kids room having drapes around the bed like any royal kid would have. A beautiful terrace where we could eat and drink wine while the sun set over the vineyard just beyond the fish ponds. The room was so varied and laid out that it wasn’t until the next day we discovered a seconded bathroom in the suite.
In the morning we had a sack of fresh baked baguettes and croissants that had been tied to the door as a surprise and spent the morning exploring the pool, games area, trampoline, restaurant gym and so on that were spread amongst the grounds.
After the xmas explanation and freezing cold fortress the day before, I think the crowd was won over with an evening of Royalty. Thou it was hard to explain we wouldn’t be moving into the castle on a permanent basis quite yet.
If ever your going to slash on one and save on another. I’d highly recommended eating baguettes for a month so you can spend the rest on a couple of castles.
*The title was actually inspired from a photo of the five year old sitting naked in a chair with nothing on aside from a huge grin and a gold crown. I’ll need to wait till he’s 18 to get his approval to use it in this story.