This weekend, as any fule kno (thank you, Nigel Molesworth. That’s quite enough from you) are the European Heritage Days, when hosts of historic buildings not normally much open to the public, throw open their doors to curious locals.
So when Léonce proposed going to Château de Fiches, we were keen. If you come home the back way from Pamiers, past villages with evocative names such as Seigneurix (Surely Asterix and Obelix can’t be far away?) and Parent, you’ll pass its fairly undistinguished drive-way: we’ve passed it dozens of times before, and it’s always been shut.
Not today. This weekend, the team were keen to show the place off. If you want a château complete with crenellated façade and turrets, you’ve come to the wrong place. This 16th century building is strictly domestic, more farmhouse than stately home. It was built originally for a Toulousain Parliamentarian, and later passed into the hands of a lawyer from Pamiers, Joseph Fauré, whose family own it still. It has unexpected treasures, most of which I wasn’t allowed to photograph.
Back in the 19th century, someone in the family went plant collecting, some 1600 specimens. Nobody knows whether it was the plants themselves that were collected whilst travelling, or simply the seeds which were then raised back here in France. Dried, mounted, thrust in dense piles deep into a cabinet, they’re only recently being catalogued by an English couple, Mavis and John Midgley, excited to use their expertise in this way.
I can show you photos of the kitchen. Enjoy the mechanical mayonnaise maker, the coffee grinder, the charming and enormous hearth.
I can share pictures of the library.
What you can’t see is the bestiary. This is such a shame. Painted in the 16th century, a series of charming and vibrantly coloured animals enliven the beams of a ceiling on the upper floor. The artist is unknown to us, just as elephants, camels, monkeys, satyrs and so on were unknown to him. He got his information third, fourth or fifth hand, and made an efficient if imaginative job of visually describing the 40 or so beasts he illustrates. On safer ground with rabbits and peacocks, he painted every single beast, known and unknown, with vitality and verve. Another equally interesting ceiling is currently being revealed. Part of this are painted more in the manner of blue and white Delft ware. If you’re round this way, they’re worth a look.
It’s only a shame that all the various treasures of the Heritage Weekend are usually available For One Weekend Only. So much to see, so little time.