I have recently discovered a deep love for the ocean. Its wild, untamed, sweetness is something that I find highly attractive. The ocean is like a campfire in its mesmerizing abilities. I can sit and stare at the ocean for hours, wiggling my toes in the soft sand or skipping the stones on the surface of the water. I love how the light sparkles on the surface of the waves and how warm the big smooth rocks on the shore become in the sunshine.

I went to the sea a few days ago to visit my dear friends Petra and Nordahl. They live in a city named Cherbourg, an ancient city founded as a port by Viking raiders in the medieval era. It is a city full of history, some of it tragic, some victorious. The metropolitan area of Cherbourg is bigger than Caen, but the feel of this town is much smaller, more welcoming and moves at a slower, sweeter pace. The city is full of beautifully-kept parks with flowering trees and big exotic, tropical plants and flowers. Although it can (and sometimes does!) snow, it’s never bitterly cold and the wind rolls off the sea, salty, clean and chilly. The big ships roll past the Cherbourg port and their horns echo across the bay.

Cherbourg Harbour by night. I wish I could lay claim to this picture, but I cannot.

Petra, Nordahl and I went to a beautiful castle called Château des Ravalet (in the nearby town of Tourlaville) whose gardens are so splendidly kept that I felt that I would turn a corner and come across a gardener cutting the grass with an embroidery scissor. The Château des Ravalet was built between 1562 and 1575 by Jean II de Ravalet, Lord of Tourlaville. It was given to his nephew, Jean III as a wedding gift. Jean III had two children, Julien and Marguerite, and it is between these two children that the tragedy of the Château begins. Marguerite, at the age of 14, was married to Jean Le Febvre, a man we can only assume was decades her senior. The marriage was not a happy one, and Marguerite left her husband’s home with her brother Julien. The brother and sister fell in love with one another and Marguerite became pregnant. Out of fright, she fled to relations in a nearby city. On September 8th, 1603, Julien and Marguerite were imprisoned at Margurite’s husband’s request and on December 2nd, 1603, were executed on charges of adultery and incest. She was 17 and he was 21.

Beautiful wild forest right next to the Château des Ravalet

Medieval foundations near the château

The Château des Ravalet remains, now restored and gloriously beautiful from the outside but inside is a treasure trove waiting to be restored. Restoration of such an ancient building is very costly and such funds are not to be come across easily. After all, France is fairly tripping over itself with history and there are many restoration projects being conducted at any time! I had an exclusive tour guide, and Nordahl acquired the key to the château from his father who works at the beautiful establishment. The château is largely forbidden to the public because its structural integrity is nothing one would want every tourist exploring. Floors and stairs are not necessarily secure and birds, rats and bats have left droppings everywhere in the upper floors of the château. However, when you look past the decay, there are incredible relics from a forgotten era. Priceless oil paintings cover every surface of doors, shutters, wainscoting and panels on the walls, unprotected from light, heat and cold damage, not to mention any animals who enter the walls of the château. The wallpaper, probably dating from the early 1700s if not before, peels from the walls in a spooky way and the floorboards creak. It is the perfect haunted house!

Front of the Château from the gardens

One more angle from the gardens

The most famous room in the château is probably Marguerite’s blue bedroom. Because blue is the most permanent pigment, it has stayed largely undamaged by sunlight or the elements. Although it desperately needs to be cleaned, studied and restored, when you (thanks to your exclusive tour guide!) walk into the room forbidden to the public, it almost feels like you’re intruding in someone’s very personal space.

Marguerite's Blue Room in the Château des Ravalet

We left the gardens as the sun was beginning its decent and wandered to an art exhibition where we met up with Dominique, who, along with Nordahl and Petra, is a very talented artist. Cherbourg seems to be teeming with talented, undiscovered artists whose work is so original and fantastic that it makes me wonder why artists flock to Paris instead of this beautiful city instead.

My wonderful host and hostess! Thank you!

For the rest of the evening, the four of us chatted about art, culture, music, and stacks of funny things while we enjoyed fantastic and authentic Czech cuisine thanks to Petra. The little fête was almost dream-like. French and English floated about, mixing up with each other, words in either language being substituted for the other, and the relaxation of the evening seemed to hang in the air deliciously. When I peeked out my window that night to bid Cherbourg a “tres bonne nuit” (very good night), this is what I saw. I must emphasize that this picture is not mine. It is the fantastic photography of my dear friend Petra.

In the next post, I will be talking about what we did in Cherbourg the following day. The city is too beautiful to glaze over the details, so they will be saved for another time. Stay tuned!

(Picture having technical difficulties. Be back shortly!)

To learn further about the Château des Ravalet, and see the stunning gardens, click here.

To learn a little bit about Cherbourg before the entry to follow this one, click here.