Thursday, 2 June 2016

Belcastel: Tenting By Gubernatorial Decree

Belcastel, France (Belcastel, France)
October 2015
Cooking pasta on a portable gas stove at a windy roadside rest stop wasn't our smartest idea that day. But we had ingredients that needed to be used up and powered through it by making a wind shield for the flame with the stove's plastic briefcase.

The autumn colours were on point all across the gently rolling hills of the French countryside, and were even nicely offset by a zippy red car speeding along.

Arriving in Belcastel, we were almost immediately blown away. It was a super place. Parking was €2 and although it was an overcast day, a walk by the river put us in good spirits. 

Walking across the narrow 15th-century bridge in the centre of town, we had a wander around the little church and the lush riverbank. We noted with disappointment that the campground here was shut for the colder months and we determined to return another time, as it looked like a super spot to camp.

Knowing we'd have to leave that evening in an attempt to find a campsite further on, we walked up to the castle up on the hill that dominated the village and got our sightseer hats on. I did worry somewhat about later descending the hill in my Boots of Chicness (-5 to agility, +7 to charisma) but figured we had plenty of time and I could apply the take 20 rule. Many paths in Belcastel were cobblestoned and frightfully picturesque.

One of the first things we noticed from the chateau was that the village looked very small from such a vantage point! The medieval church of Sainte Marie-Madeleine was no exception (and interestingly it's not every day you find a house of worship dedicated to the much-maligned Mary Magdalene).
There were also several 'galleries' inside the castle which had strange pieces of modern art. We bypassed those.

The castle was positively brimming with red ivy, which added to the stunning beauty of the village.

At times it felt as though we had wandered into a fairy tale and any number of magical creatures could be frolicking beyond the walls in the lands beyond.
The story goes that the castle had fallen into ruin and a lady bought it just so that people could pay her for the stones it was built from. They carted them off all over the place until 1974 when the architect Fernand Pouillon purchased it to transform it into his fancy home (rumor from the townfolk dictates that he made the purchase entirely with gold bars). He fixed everything up and got it in tip top condition again. He even found an original archway from the castle that had been used in the construction of a church in a nearby village and instructed his stonemason to make a copy so the doorway could be a part of the castle once more...sort of.

Having finished our circuit of the chateau and taking a suitable number of photos, we returned the English guide booklet to the ticket desk and struck up a conversation with the ladies behind the counter. When they learned that we were searching for a campground in which to pitch our tent, she asked incredulously if we were Canadian. We think she may have been a bit bored, and took it upon herself to help us out. She called some Norwegians down the road to ask if their camping was open (no) and called a brasserie to see if they were open for dinner (also no). Turning to a man who had also been chatting to the ladies, she asked if the camping by the river was shut. The answer, as we already knew, was yes. However, he rang up the mayor and asked if we would be able to camp for the night. Scribbling his contact details on the back of a business card, he instructed us to call if we had any trouble, and to tell anyone who questioned us that we had express permission from the mayor (he was his assistant). Wahoo! They were so nice, and gave us suggestions for stops on our way to Toulouse and warned us not to camp in the wilderness as it was the start of boar hunting season and hunters may mistake us for their prey.

After fond farewells and a careful descent down the hill, we pitched our tent right next to the River Aveyron and drank cider gazing up at the belle castel. 

Darkness fell and the village lit up. Unfortunately the bathrooms were locked except for a urinal, so we had to make do with a grassy toilet. The view from our tent more than made up for it. 

Yannick heard "scratchings" on our tent during the night and we suspected that there may be moles burrowing in the earth near our tent. The curious mounds of earth that we saw the day before now made sense! Unwashed, yet cheerful for our good fortune at being able to stay at such a great campsite, we carried on westward.

Today's post was almost called: Best Pals With Monsieur le Maire