Today, I thought I would tell you a little about an episode in my life when I worked as au pair in the picturesque country of Switzerland - the land of Toberlone, Heidi, Alps etc:)
A year or so after leaving school my parents arranged for me to go to Switzerland to work as an au pair in a Chateau. I flew into Geneva from where I was to take a train to Lausanne where I was to nightstop and meet the lady called Madamemoiselle Chatelanat (Housekeeper) who would accompany me to Sierre, a small town in the Canton of Valais.
She was a small woman who always dressed smartly in a navy serge suit with a high collared lacey blouse which was simply decorated with a small cameo brooch. She spoke many languages including, French, Italian, German and English. However, since I was there to learn French, that is what was spoken! Travelling together on the train was pleasant enough as she tried to interest me in various landmarks and sites on the way. I was so nervous and desperately trying to understand from my school French what she was saying to me that I did not really take in very much.
On arrival at Sierre railway station, we were met by the Head Gardener in the Chateau car to take us and our lugguage to the Chateau. As we turned around the final curve in the steep narrow road there was a vision I shall never forget..... Le Chateau!
It looked austere but very grand and this was to be 'home' for the next 6 months.
Chateau Pradec was owned by the Mercier family who were based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Jean Jacques and Marie Mercier (well into their 80s)visited the Chateau every year between April and October and during this time the Chateau was available to the rest of the family who came from Italy, France and Switzerland to vacation for as long as they wished. They simply paid a nominal fee and had the run of the Chateau, gardens, tennis courts, swimming pool etc. How the other half live:)
I was now a member of the staff which was led by Carmen Chatelanat, Madame Maria the Italian cook, me, an Italian lady who did not live in, and old Italian lady who came every year with Madame Maria from Italy to help and advise. In the garden was a Swiss German lady gardener who had a Dutch girl to help and another girl from the Swiss German side of the country. Together we ran the Chateau and gardens. I did the cleaning, helping with serving meals in the grand dining room where the Dutch girl, Fokkelien, and Daisy, the other young gardeners took our meals alongside the other members of the family. We would ensure all were served and the meal ran smoothly under the watchful eye of Madamemoiselle Chatelanat!
Here is a picture showing the back of the Chateau. If you look at the top dorma style windows, my bedroom was on the extreme left....
I learnt a lot about people, history, Switzerland and some French!!!! This really was like living in a byegone age, with the family silver being regularly cleaned, crystal glassware being carefully handwashed. The cook perserving fruit and vegetables from the gardens and a host of other things that are just not done these days.
Now, the Chateau is a conference centre with 25 ensuite rooms. Many of the public rooms have been renovated but left in the original style so it is really strange for me to look at the pictures to remember times when I lived and worked there.
Today, this is what it looks like...
The side at night floodlit.
The grand reception hall...
The main dining room, not really changed at all!
6 months ago