The Good Life France Magazine

The Good Life France Magazine brings you the best of France - inspirational and exclusive features, fabulous photos, mouth-watering recipes, tips, guides, ideas and much more...

Published by the award winning team at The Good Life France

8 months ago


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Brimming with fabulous features combined with stunning photographs – inspiring, entertaining and informative destination features - Provence, Loire Valley, Normandy, Lyon, Brittany, Alsace and more. Delicious recipes, culture and history, what's new, the best tours and much, much more...

ecame an obsession. He

ecame an obsession. He took to wheeling a wooden barrow on his rounds so that he could collect larger stones and more of them. At the age of 43, he started his project. A palace, built by hand from pebbles collected by a postman as he performed his delivery rounds. A man with a mission Ferdinand Cheval was a man with a mission though it didn’t come to him until quite late in life. Born in 1836 in Drôme, unlike many of his contemporaries in this poor area of France, he went to school and learned to read and write. In 1830 the postal collection and delivery system began in France and Cheval became a postman. He had a long round which he covered on foot – between 32-40km each day (20-25 miles). As he walked, he daydreamed. He had never travelled the world, but he “saw” it through illustrated magazines that were popular in those days. In the early 1870s postcards became popular and Cheval would deliver them, looking at the extraordinary views from around the world – the pyramids of Egypt, the Swiss Alps, Mosques and temples – images of far-flung lands he could never hope to see for himself, and they simply fuelled his dream even more. One day in 1879, Cheval tripped on a stone while walking on his rounds. He popped it in his pocket and took it home. He later said that the thought occurred to him then “if nature is the sculptor, I will be the architect.” The pebble kickstarted a dream – he decided to build his own palace, a fairy tale palace. Soon he began filling his pockets with pebbles as he walked his long rounds delivering post. It Cheval's woodenbarrow in which he collected stones He had no building experience. He had never studied architecture. But for the next 33 years he toiled and learned as he went. Mixing limestone to bind the stones, sometimes using pieces of iron to give strength to the structure. His nephew who lived in Marseille sent seashells that he collected – great bags of shells posted to the postman. Cheval worked them into his designs. He made many drawings and though most have been lost, some do remain and are shown in the museum next to the palace. He worked at night by candlelight after he’d finished a day’s work. And he built a palace. 33 years, 10,000 days, 93,000 hours – one man. “I wanted to prove what the will can do” he later said. A palace like no other It is an astounding example of naïve art architecture. It features giants and animals, fountains and strange figures, some parts look almost Gothic cathedral, some parts resemble Aztec temples. It is a mishmash of styles but wholly unique. I climbed the different levels, followed dark passages inside where every inch is covered with sculptures, art and messages. I walked around it several times, each time noticing something I hadn’t seen before. The local people thought him crazy, but nothing deterred him. News of the postman’s palace of pebbles spread and in 1905 he opened it to the public. A few newspapers wrote about him and his “ideale palais”. By 1907 visitors from the USA were making the journey to Hauterives to see for their own eyes what one man could achieve with his bare hands and several tons of pebbles. I wondered how a man with such an obsession fared in his personal life. “He married twice” said our guide, “widowed in 1873, his © L Pascale, La Drome Tourisme 50 | The Good Life France The Good Life France | 51