Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval a French castle made from pebbles

Written by on December 17, 2017 in Guest Blogs

Having visited many of the most loved and stunning French attractions over the years, my husband and I are always on the lookout for undiscovered, out of the way places, depending on our route.  By renting a car, navigating small roads and having a flexible itinerary, we allow for an easier access to unknown places.

Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval

With a sense of wonder, I approached Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval (The Ideal Palace of the Postman Cheval). I was enticed by a short article I had read in a magazine and had no idea of what to expect on arrival. It’s not your typical tourist Mecca but well worth the drive to search it out.

Located off Autoroute 7, southeast of Lyon in the Drome Department, in the sleepy village of Hauterives, it’s easy to miss. In fact, there were few posted signs, and we had to stop and ask several people before we found someone who knew where it was. We entered a nondescript building that included a ticket counter and a gift shop, having no idea what we would see after paying the entry fee and exiting the far door into the park-like setting. I was transfixed. There in front of me stood an immense, haunting and magical construction that I could never have imagined. This strange embellished palace, or temple, had grown almost organically over thirty-three years as Ferdinand Cheval slowly and painstakingly orchestrated his compelling dream.

History of Le Palais Ideal

In April 1879, while Cheval was making his daily rounds as the village postman, he stumbled upon a strange looking rock. He picked it up and took it home. This rock triggered an old dream of his to create a fantastical palace. And, at the age of forty-three, with this first rock, he was inspired to begin building. Each day he collected stones as he delivered the mail. As he began to collect more stones than his pockets could hold, he carried a basket, and finally, he pushed a wheel barrow.  These were sandstone rocks, hardened by the passage of time. He diligently continued his nightly construction until retirement at age sixty when he was finally able to devote all his time to his intricate habitat. When the village denied his request to be buried there, he deemed his palace complete at the age of seventy-six. He spent the last eight years of his life creating an equally unusual and ornate tomb to contain his remains in the local cemetery.

A dream castle come true

Cheval had a dream. He never gave up on it despite criticism. He had no formal training in engineering, masonry or art, but the structure has endured and remains in excellent condition, bound together with lime, mortar and cement. You can walk into it, climb the staircases, wander through the interior labyrinth and read philosophical quotations etched into the cement walls and door frames. There are sculpted turrets, whimsical animals, mythological figures, forms from nature, embedded shells, religious and historical references from Christianity to Hinduism, all incorporated into the richly textured decor. Each of the four Baroque like facades tells its own compelling story.

Was the man a genius or a lunatic? Art Brut and Outsider Art come to mind. He was certainly a man outside of his times. As Le Palais continues to inspire us today, it also influenced artists and innovators of the past such as Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and André Breton. With courage, focus and will, Cheval created a lasting monument for those of us fortunate enough to visit this remarkable site.  He had a long, focused and productive life from April 19, 1836 to August 19, 1924. Le Palais Idéal was classified as an Historical Monument in 1969.

Outside the grounds, the Galaure River flows by and creates a scenic park like area for picnicking or walking. The hike to the cemetery is rather long. I was told it was about a kilometer away, it felt much further. I walked for thirty minutes, but with the afternoon heat, I never found it and gave up. Maybe next time. Ferdinand Cheval has inspired me to hold on to my dreams and to believe in the impossible.

www.facteurcheval.com

Joanne Marquardt is a Francophile, artist and writer living in the US:  www.joannemarquardt.com

Related Articles

French Lessons | Mastering verbs

A French shop assistant in Antibes’ old town asked me for the translation of a French word the other afternoon. We’d become bosom buddies in her quiet swimsuit store, but I was glad for the conversational distraction.  I hated swimsuit shopping. It brought out all my insecurities. As my new friend rang up my purchase, she complimented […]

Continue Reading

The pros and cons of taking your dog to France from the US

The first time I took my long-haired mini-dachshund, Ellie, to France, we spent two months traveling from Paris to Brittany and Normandy. Our last stop was the seaside resort of Agon-Coutainville, on the Cotentin peninsula which juts into the English Channel. There Ellie feasted on raw milk Camembert and prė-salė lamb. When we returned to […]

Continue Reading

Going to the butcher’s shop in France

A French town without a baker – it’s unthinkable – everyone would move away! A butcher is almost as important to French village life as a baker. The butcher sells the usual roasts and chops and chickens, as well as a variety of prepared foods. My wife Val and I live part of the year […]

Continue Reading

Dealing with administrative offices in France

Life isn’t all sitting around eating cheese and quaffing wine for expats in France. There’s the tricky issue of everyday life and administration to deal with too! Never annoy a Fonctionaire… I read somewhere that 20% of the French population work for the government. If you buy a home in France, you will eventually come […]

Continue Reading

How a Francophile followed a dream to live in Provence

Wikipedia defines ‘Francophile’ “as a person who has a strong affinity towards the French language, French history, French culture or French people.” When I read that, I thought, “Wow, that is totally me.” I grew up in Southern California, just an hour from the Mexican border. The most logical language to learn was Spanish. But from the first moment I heard […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top