What does living in a French château feel like? No, I don’t mean renting a room in a seigneurial residence that’s been converted to a hostellerie. Nor do I mean renting one for 50 friends to entertain in your wedding weekend. I mean really buying one and living in it.
Philip and Patricia Hawkes did just that over 30 years ago. They bought Château Missery just outside the Morvan national park in Burgundy and have been commuting between Paris and their château ever since.
I was lucky enough to stay with them for two days and experience their everyday living; although in the company of cookery author Laura Calder, actor-turned-journalist Paul Shearer (whom you must remember from the Fast Show) journalist Giovanna Dunmall and vigneron Bertrand Devillard – plus yours scruffy truly – it must have been one of their more entertaining ‘everydays’. But then the Hawkeses have entertained the Giscard d’Estaing family and take it all in their stride. Needless to say, I was overawed.
So the FAQ.
Yes, there are six dining rooms and yes, the Hawkeses do try to alternate eating among them. They do complain that there is no ballroom, but as Giovanna pointed out that they could hold a party in one of their first floor bathrooms. (And no, she didn’t mean that kind of party).
Yes, there are four towers, a moat, a grand alley of lime trees, cottages, goats, sheep and cows, a vegetable garden, a gardener and even a beehive above one of the bedrooms on the top floor.
Yes, the château gets very cold at night. Heaters, fireplaces and electric blankets were the order of the day – and night.
Yes, we did occasionally have to communicate with mobile phones to find each other and yes, there are some areas of the castle and the garden Philip and Patricia haven’t visited recently (they leave that to the gardener and the cleaner); finding the sockets in my room was not an easy task as no one remembered where they were.
Yes, there are pictures of medieval royalty on the walls, but no one knows who they are; they come with the château.
Yes, fitting in was not difficult; if you have ever visited a friend in the country and had to use their wellingtons to get around, you’ll immediately find yourself in a familiar environment. If you do live in the country, then the Hawkeses will seem just like normal landed gentry to you. Patricia is a proper Free(wo)man of London, and she was considering carrying sheep across London Bridge during the Olympics – coz she can.
Yes, like all country folk, Philip and Patricia are extremely hospitable and there were no house rules except to close doors behind us to keep the heat in.
No, there are no ghosts in the castle. It’s had a happy life.
No, we didn’t play croquet. But only because the weather was cold.
And on with the gossip. Shakespeare wrote that Misery acquaints a man with strange bed-fellows. So what about my Missery ones?
Yes, Laura Calder – a prettier version of Nigella if you must know – did cook for us and yes, she experimented with a recipe for a chocolate souffle-cum-mousse on us. It was delicious.
Yes, Paul Shearer did entertain us with funny voices.
And yes, Bertrand Devillard did offer us a tasting of excellent wines from his domain in the best terroirs of Mercurey including some premier and grand crus.
And here they all are.