The Château de Roussan is just a few kilometres out of Saint Rémy. I rejoiced when I saw the avenue of plane trees. They formed a stately guard of honour to the gold glowing façade of the main building. The sun was its personal spotlight. I was instantly in love with this place. Already I didn’t want to leave its cradling arms and I was not yet out of the bus.
It felt oddly unceremonious, but the main entrance is at the back, protected from the gaze of passing motorists on their way to the nearby village of Tarascon. Behind the apricot gravel covered area reserved for guests’ cars was a series of smaller buildings – the home of Catherine, who ran the hotel. She was English and spoke impeccable French. She had the matching French temperament and I couldn’t help but admire her. She was always there, always working, early morning, late night. I thought I wanted her life just for a while, but my French would need to shape up pretty sharpish.
Stately summer roses and tall pink hollyhocks dominated stone urns around the terrace. Water trickled through the small fountain exactly as it did before I was born, before even Napoleon was born. Two large, heavy wooden doors lead to the main foyer. A wide stone staircase edged by a black iron railing welcomed all guests, leading them carefully to the first, second and third floors. The hundreds of thousands of feet that had been up and down, had worn down the centre of each step, the dip now covered with a narrow carpet that lapped over one then reached up to the next. Each layer of the house was slowly revealed as I made my way to the top storey.
My room was called Jaune, French for yellow – the sunshine of summer. Small bathrooms had been added to the rooms, carefully tucked into the solid framework of the building. My room had two beds, un grand lit and a generous single. I threw myself onto the mattress of the big bed and felt the gentle caress of softness and safety.
A large, round wooden table presenting a welcome mat in the form of a bottle of red wine, sat under the glass paneled windows. I could see over the field of green to the road at the end of the avenue of plane trees. I was able to survey my entire kingdom from the comfort of my private chambre. I loved my nest high up in the tree.
There was an open fireplace and I almost wished it were winter so I could sit quietly and be soothed by the flames. I would uncork the welcome bottle and settle into the upholstered arm chair to read for a few hours. At night when I snuggled into my bed under a cloud of duvet, I would feel the gentle warmth of the fading coals caressing my face.
Château de Roussan was built on the land once owned by Captain Bertran de Nostradame, brother to Nostradamus of Saint Rémy fame. In 1558 he had a mas on this land, a sturdy farmhouse. A century or so later in 1701 Jacques Servan, a merchant from nearby Tarascon, bought the 52 acre property and built a home. In 1712 it was called Château du Sieur Roussan and the property stayed in this family until the end of the 19th century. Château de Roussan has been a hotel since 1951. The château has a lush coating of the past. It has held onto a little piece of the hundreds of people who had been there, slept there, walked there, even cried there.
The day’s plan was to spend a leisurely morning at the château to enjoy the enormous grounds. I felt at peace, surrounded by so much green. The statues and detailed carving of the ancient stone pool framed photos of the tranquility. Like a postcard from home I found an Australian parrot in the aviary – an Eastern Rosella. The giant, ancient oaks were breathing their oxygen straight into my lungs. Three hundred year old trees were giving me CPR. They spread shade over the lawns like a huge checked picnic cloth, inviting and familiar. The sense of their endurance was thick.
A small flock of ducks led by a virginal white swan patrolled the canal under the row of oaks. The water comes from the Roman aqueduct that carried water from Eygalières to Arles. It could have been the very same water molecules that fell as rain when the Romans were here in France. That’s how water works. It moves through a cycle, century after century. Water is never destroyed, never created, it just changes state. I wrote in my journal and got lost in the words and the idea that this scene could easily be an Impressionist painting.
I was a time traveller, dropped down into the grounds of this place of peace, to shake off the detritus of life in the twenty-first century, to let go of my conditioning and find the template of me without the influences of the city life I had fallen into.
I could have stayed in the garden of Château de Roussan forever. In this sanctuary I could always be the person who lives inside my skin, not the person who lives inside my house and inhabits my job. Maybe this was the essence of my search. That evening, Robbi and I exchanged snippets of our home lives as we ate a warm and hearty bowl of pistou on the terrace. When I returned to jaune and climbed into the big, saggy soft bed, I spiralled my body like a snail shell to feel my own warmth and protection. The window was open and the sounds of the night crept into my chambre like the opening notes of a concerto. There was no traffic, not a human created noise to be heard, just the croaking from a battalion of frogs. Les grenouilles. Their voices had a constant rhythm and a recurring melody that required a range of only two notes. This unexpected and welcome lullaby doused my thoughts for a peaceful and solid sleep.
I am sitting in history, in the sun-flecked shade of enormous trees that could have been planted when Mozart was learning to play piano or when Marie Antoinette was attempting to figure out her bewildering husband and King of France, Louis XVI. Remember this moment. Je suis très contente.
avec mon amour
About the book, POSTCARDS from FRANCE: Indulgence, identity & forgiveness from Paris to Provence:
Postcards from France is a story of how the sensual powers of this essentially feminine country, healed a profound loss of love, identity and place. Seeking peace and joy after the death of the two most significant people in her life, the author returns to France – a place where she feels an inexplicable sense of belonging.
Stories of French experiences move through the ages taking you from the sublime to the repugnant, the humorous to the poignant. You will travel to some of the most enthralling villages in Provence, the best of Normandy, Brittany, the regal Loire Valley and the incomparable Paris, as the author digs into the history of new and familiar parts of France for colour, context and meaning, then sends it home on postcards to herself.