The Chateau de Gudanes
‘I need a chateau as a home for my hero,’ I emailed my French friend. ‘Can you help me? It must be in a fairly remote location, but very grand, fit for a Turkish princess and her aristocratic French husband.’
After frowning over a map of south west France in vain, Hélène called the Tourist Office in Foix, Ariège. A cheerful sounding girl picked up the phone.
‘Er…I need a chateau, what can you suggest?’
‘But…there’s a medieval castle here in town,’ was the reply.
‘No, it has to be in a remote area.’
‘Oh… well then, what about all those Cathar castles?’
‘No, no, they’re ruins. It has to be a grand chateau, where an aristocratic family would live in the 18th century.’
Long pause…’Could I ask what you want it for?’ The tone was getting impatient now.
‘It’s for my friend, who’s writing a novel set in 1811. She wants to situate the family in a splendid chateau but not near a town.’
Another pause. ‘All I can think of is a tumbledown chateau in a small village near Ax-les-Thermes in the Pyrenees. It’s in a shocking state but it was once a magnificent place. ‘
‘Mademoiselle, I just know you’ve found the very thing. A thousand thanks.’
‘Yes, but you can’t visit. It’s unsafe. It’s called Gudanes, by the way.’
Soon afterwards, Hélène and I made a trip to Ax-les-Thermes and drove out to take a look at the Chateau de Gudanes. It was absolutely right as a setting for my fictional family. A medieval fortress, much enlarged and updated in the charming style of the eighteenth century, it was indeed splendid. Even with its empty windows, patches of crumbling stonework and shutters hanging loose, an overgrown avenue and a sad air of neglect, it was perfect. And a personal thrill was that Voltaire stayed there, [he’s my literary hero].
It was two years before we made a second trip into the Pyrenees and stopped to look at the Chateau de Gudanes again. By this time, there was good news in the nearby village. An Australian family had bought the chateau and repairs and renovation had already started. It would take much determination and effort to repair the long years of neglect, especially the water damage from holes in the roof, but our spirits lifted at the idea of this glorious place being lived in and loved once more. [And it had already given me lots of inspiration for my story; so much in fact that I was writing a second tale set in that region.]
And recently we made a third visit, when by good luck and good timing, we were actually able to go through the open gates, along that driveway and up the stairs leading to the wide terrace to the open front door. Now the chateau has all its windows fixed, the shutters have been repaired and the roof is sound. No wonder it looks brighter and seems to be beaming a welcome.
Karina Waters, the owner and prime mover in the massive programme of works at the chateau, has recently written and published this book recording the story so far.
For more details and photos of the progress of restoring the chateau, see this website