Before we found Chateau de Bourneau, we had lunch with a family friend who owns a chateau in Burgundy. Over a crisp Chablis in the afternoon sunshine, he gave us some insightful pointers about the practicalities of running big estates, renovation and business. But there was one particular flippant remark he made that resonated with me.
“It’s not just buying a house, you know. A chateau often has more symbolic meaning to a community and it’s important that you understand that first.”
He was right. Very soon after we arrived at Chateau de Bourneau, we realised that there was a certain expectation that came with the territory. A pew was saved for us in the village church on the assumption that we would attend the first mass of the season. Various respectful visits of welcome from local dignitaries were paid at the chateau and I had even been introduced, quite inexplicably, as the ‘Dame de Bourneau’, like some kind of ribbon-cutting honorific title.
One of the most surprising moments was the local folk- dancing society arriving one morning to welcome us into the community with a special dance and bottles of the local homemade pinot. I was heading over to prepare our holiday cottages for guests, hauling towels and cleaning products down the marble staircase, only to discover a troop of dancers in 19th-century costumes, with a trumpet and accordion, dancing on the moat bridge.
Jean-Baptiste wasn’t there at the time so they were stuck with a bemused English woman instead, desperately searching in vain for French folk-dancing vocabulary! I may have initially had no idea what was going on but that didn’t detract from the joy of the occasion and it’s probably one of the most surreal and delightful moments of my life in France.
I was learning that these old chateaux came with a certain duty – it wasn’t just our home, it was a building set in the hearts of the community with shared stories and histories that deserved respect. For over a hundred years, Bourneau brides have had their wedding photographs taken in front of the chateau and it’s a tradition we love continuing. The chateau also used to host the annual village féte that was stopped over 20 years ago with a change of ownership but it is something we would love to
Many of our neighbours have a connection to the chateau and I am always excited when someone takes the time to send me an old photograph or carte postale of the chateau, or shares their stories with us that often speak of a whole village and its social history, not just our home.
We may own the walls for this generation but the memories, stories and history are owned by our community and it’s what makes these monuments really live. We feel very privileged to be a part of it and so warmly welcomed into their new chapter too.
Erin Choa’s column The Intrepid Chatelaine can be read in French Property News magazine
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