Another winter arrives without central heating at Château de Bourneau. I pay my respects to the remains of our 1980s boiler in our medieval cellars, which now serves as a crypt for various eras of central heating – gone but certainly not forgotten. Without another heating system on the horizon just yet, we settle in to the knowledge that it’s going to be cold. Plus, living on an island fully surrounded by a moat offers a level of never before experienced humidity too and mopping the walls of the marble staircase is now a seasonal tradition.
Fortunately, 12 years of living in Scotland has trained us for living in period homes with 4m-high ceilings in a much colder climate than our mild region of Vendée, and so we’re primed with thick jumpers, indoor coats and a ready supply of hot water bottles. This year, we also have a new friend to fight against the chill of castle-living: a log-burner that should make our enormous and drafty (can roast a full pig in it) reclaimed medieval fireplace less like a smoking wind tunnel and more like the hearth of the home, with the bonus that its efficient wattage means we can enjoy some heat from burning our own wood, without having to sit inside the chimney getting slowly smoked.
It’s our only working fireplace as various past structural changes resulted in blocked flues, but I’m glad this is the one that was preserved. After all, the kitchen is our most used room and huddling beside this grand fireplace, watching amber flames dancing, is such a cosy joy. It’s our one warm room of the 55-room château and sometimes I wonder if we can move our bed in here too.
Winter in a château may be chilly but there is also something wonderful about this season too. It’s the simple beauty of sparkling frost across the lawns, crunching underfoot as we set out on country walks, or mysterious mists that shroud the château in fairytale. We recharge and take stock, the perfect antidote to our busy wedding and holiday summer season. Winter’s charm is also found in the days drenched in crisp white sunshine, chopping our own wood and returning inside for hot cups of tea, rosy-cheeked and pink-nosed with the musk of firewood in the air.
And of course, there’s the exciting festive season with spices mulling beside the fire or foraging in our woods for holly to deck the château for Christmas and our annual festive floristry course (9-11 December). We raid our autumn chutney supplies and top toasted brioches with truffle-stuffed brie, indulging in our Anglo-Franco cook-offs and sharing our merged cultures with our family and friends. Oysters and smoked salmon, turkey and trimmings, Christmas pudding versus the rich chocolate of une bûche…
Both our cultures know how to winter: stock up the wood, open the wine, gather your friends and eat the naughtiest of rich gastronomy. Even if the château is a little chilly, it doesn’t take away from the joy of this season.
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London-born hospital doctor Erin Choa is the 6th châtelaine of Château de Bourneau, where she lives with her French fiancé Jean-Baptiste and bossy cat HRH Oscar. Read her regular column in French Property News magazine and follow her as she blogs about their château-life on Instagram @theintrepidchatelaine