Château de Gudanes is an 18th-century neoclassical Château built on the ruins of a medieval castle nestled amongst the pyrenees in the Southwest of France and currently under restoration by the Waters family. Each summer they open the Château doors to a series of workshops from cooking in the cuisine, to floral design, restoration, and the art of the brocante (French antiquing). For two years now I have spent a a week each summer at the cooking workshops, first run by Julie Marr and most recently by Craig Likefelt where I learned my now go-to salad dressing, a very fruity take on gazpacho, and a seriously mind-blowing good omelette among so much more.
Karina Waters, the visionary behind saving this abandoned chateau is the Alice in Wonderland guide to your stay and one of the most fascinating women to talk to. You can imagine, she being Australian and not completely fluent in French, how many endless stories she has facing the French bureaucracy, learning the rules of restoration on an historic chateau, the time the chateau caught on fire, surviving winter alone without modern heating, when she set off fireworks for Bastille Day and the police showed up, and on and on… and then in the most effortless mad hatter whim she puts together these magical dinner parties with over flowing champagne coups, classical music echoing throughout the chateau walls, the glow from the candles illuminating out of the open french windows into the night sky to the distant sound of laughter and cheers.
I’ll never forget seeing her drag a dead plum tree through the chateau into the music room to prop up on a table as a “tree of gratitude” where each dinner guest wrote what they were thankful for from the experience at the chateau and hung it on the beautifully bare branches for each of us to read. Or the time we had dinner in what once was the library and she pointed out that the mounted goat head set as decor on the banquet was the actual goat we were eating for dinner, killed and prepared by the local French women from the village below who beamed with pride from sharing their regional mountain traditional food.
Though France offers many exquisite Château experiences, this one is quite different. It’s raw.
I like to describe it as the outside is in and the inside is out. The chateau breathes with the mountains it is surrounded by, the cats and dog come and go as they please, as do the vines, and the wind and the rain, and the guests who are lucky enough to stay here for a brief untouchable moment in time. But what makes this place truly unique is that ninety percent of the chateau is without electricity. This means candle-lit dinners, candle-lit walks to your bedroom at night, falling asleep to the sounds of the old chateau shutters and trout steam below. It was in the purest sense of the word, magical. How does that work practically? The main chateau kitchen and its two adjoining rooms have both electricity set up with charging stations and wifi and a fourth room across the hall with electricity is a communal bathroom with 5 toilet rooms and three showrooms, not unlike an adult summer camp. The rest of the chateau is unwired. The rest of the chateau is candle lit romance.
What I love about this place is the layers of history caked on top of each other. Built on the ruins of a castle from the middle ages you can still run your hands over the natural stone from the earth they carved the original foundation from. No room in the castle is off limits giving you free range to explore and let your imagination ponder different ways of life throughout time. The center of the chateau is home to a petite chapel with a vaulted ceiling decorated by hand-painted gold stars shining on a midnight blue sky. Below the main floor is the medieval kitchen, torture chamber, jail, and slaughter rooms for the animals among other things. I even found a once functioning darkroom for photography. There was a library room, a music room for ballroom dancing, a champagne room they used to bring ice down from the mountain to put in the marble bowl for parties, and endless bedrooms, sitting rooms, terraces, and more. The attic is home to the bats which in my first year there liked to pay me nightly visits through my open bedroom window (I like to let in the cool, fresh mountain air) and circle around my room for a few minutes while I stayed motionless in bed with the antique monogrammed French linen sheets pulled up to my nose watching before swooping back out into the night sky. I LOVED it….
It was, and remains in my memories, a true fairytale.
Chateau wardrobe include designs by Brock Collection, Kalita Official, Needle and Thread London, Three Graces London, Luxe Provence, Thierry Colson, Samuel Snider, Behida Dolic, Jacquemus, Rawson, Molly Goddard and Zimmerman with these French beauty products all carried to the Chateau in the Sweetheart collection by Steamline Luggage.