Sunday, 24 July 2016

house-arrest ou le château d’oléron

The settlement that has grown over the centuries around Le Château d’Oléron is arguably most famous as the place where Henry II held his troublesome but otherwise irreproachable wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine captive for sixteen years for conniving to replace him as sovereign of England and outremar with their eldest son.  

Surely not the worst of places to wile away one’s sentence, but it turned out to be all the more endearing to us with the hindsight of nine hundred years that we’d visited this place (at least the Vauban fortifications and harbour) a mere five years hence and had forgotten about it—like the Wizard Gandalf said, “I have no memory of this place,” but being as function follows form for citadels, certain patterns start to emerge that tend to blur together.
Happily we had not remembered as we got to discover more, including the rows of former oyster-mongers bright water-colour shacks that had been conserved and converted to boutiques and studios—which reminded me of the laboratories and dwellings of the court alchemists of Prague whose workshops around the castle were resigned to a similar fate but didn't cost an extra entry fee to see—strongholds of Protestantism where the Huguenots had refuge given the island’s remote location, the Jesuit abbey converted into the Mairie, the city hall and chamber of commerce, and the historic square with a fountain that marked in neo-Renaissance style the inclusion of Île d’Orélon on the circuit of the Tour de France, acknowledged some ninety years after a jibe with competing publishers of a bicycle and a car magazines decided to put rubber to the road.  
Our bike trekking here, though no where near epic, took us through some really amazing landscapes of the island.