In this piece by Janet Hill, The Essential Edge looks at Burgundy.
CLUNY, France — I think I was one of those kids who always day-dreamed about living in a castle one day. You know the castle – each room smothered in fantastic patterns, beautiful floors and painted ceilings, and a moat to keep out the bad guys. I still don’t live in a castle, but did find one in Burgundy that fits the bill. Chateau Cormatin was built on the foundations of a 13th century fortress, but its history doesn’t really get interesting until the late 16th century, when the owner discovered – during the Wars of Religion – that pillage was the way to riches (okay, as the descendant of Huguenots, I’m a bit prejudiced). But the story gets more interesting…
…when he suddenly deserted the Catholic side to support Henri IV. This brought him even more reward, and he decided to put some of his gains into rebuilding his chateau in keeping with his new status. Later, under Louis XIV, another lord of the castle demolished the feudal fortifications as a political act – in effect, saying to the king that he accepted his authority and would not rebel. He tore down the walls, got rid of the drawbridge and filled in the moat.
Today, the moat has been re-excavated, the gardens restored, and the chateau has become a place for children to roam and put their imagination to work. The décor is amazing – rich reds and blues highlighted with gold, and murals depicting flowers, gods and goddesses, animals and just about every symbol known to the 17th century, when most of the work was done. It remains mostly in its original state, and makes you wonder what life would be like surrounded by such visual riches on a daily basis.
Outside, there are several styles of garden. The kitchen garden is filled with herbs and vegetables as well as flowers typical of the era. A more formal garden boasts a maze with an aviary and tower at its center. A more recent addition is the sculpture garden, where you can unwind after chasing the kids through the maze. Visit the Chateau in late spring when the flowers are at their best and the breeze blows gently across the canal and invites you to slow your pace a bit. From the end of March, it is open every day.
If you have small children, you may want to divide and conquer, as the guided tours of the chateau might be a bit much for kids under seven. However, if you have a dreamer or budding historian in the family, it is well worth the effort. My own son was amazed and intrigued by the cabinet of curiosities at the back of the chateau, and was only pulled away with difficulty.
The Chateau is just over two hours from Geneva, and can be done as a long day trip. Better yet, take the weekend and stay in nearby Cluny (which has several family friendly hotels ranging from chambres d’hôte upwards) and ride your bike along the Voie Verte, which will eventually be part of an 800-kilometre round Burgunday bikeroute, to the chateau. Pack a picnic lunch, hop on your bike, and start exploring.
Janet Hill is an American editor and writer based in Lake Geneva’s Pays de Gex, France.