ABOARD RENAISSANCE-Quiet and leisurely start to the morning; chef Luke’s breakfast special, pain perdu, French toast. We had to have it, right?
We cruise along normally until one door of the lock at Ouzier-Sur-Trezes refused to open enough to let us exit. The lockmaster, our captain and deckman try unsuccessfully to fix the problem. Three more men arrive – lock keepers no longer inhabit the houses alongside but drive to one lock after another within their district – and after about 20 minutes of work the door opens fully and we escape.
Luke showed us how to prepare Sticky Toffee Pudding and it was soon time for lunch – crawfish Caesar salad, cheese and a surprise. Susan and Max, our new best friends from Vancouver, B.C., truly were surprised as the crew brought out a chocolate torte Hannah had made, complete with pyrotechnics, for their 40th anniversary.
We tie up at Briare, a large boating center, and head out to Chateau de la Bussiere. Known as the castle of the fisherman, the 11th century castle was built to protect the border of Burgundy. It was inherited by the du Tillet family in 1518 and maintained for three centuries. The Marquis Jean Baptiste du Tillet was president of the French parliament under Henry XIV and commissioned Andre Le Notre of Versailles fame, to design the garden.
The Tillets were forced to sell and flee to Germany during the French Revolution and returned financially ruined. The Chateau as sold to the de Chasseval family who maintain it today.
As original furnishings were sparse, in 1961 Count Henri de Chasseval, an avid angler, put his collection, including a pre-historic coelacanth, on display. It has become the star for visitors and given the chateau its designation as the “castle of the fisherman.”
Also starring is Countess Chasseval’s current aromatic, medicinal, fruit, flower and vegetable garden. Her life’s work is to restore it to its 18th century grandeur, a process she began in1992.
Nothing countess-like about the reed-thin woman pulling out baby radishes for her daughter and grandchild. Patches of soil clung to her clothes and gloves, the result of much in the garden that day.
She interrupted that work to show us around, from the white asparagus almost ready to harvest to the rose bush developed in honor of the family’s chateau and the manual pump that before electricity was used to bring a steady stream of water from the well. So cold is that water it has to be stored and warmed in an adjacent barrel before using on plants.
We left feeling both garden and its gardener were the stars.
April 23, 2015 Judy Wells