April12 005

Palais Ideale du Facteur Cheval

In the heart of the French countryside, in the Rhone-Alpes region, in the small rural town of Hauterives, is the Palais ideale du Facteur Cheval. I had never heard of the place. When my guide, the savvy Sylvie, tried to explain what we were off to see I didn’t quite understand.
“It’s a palace”.
“So we’re going to a chateau?”
“No, no, ( or non, non, as they say in that part of the world) there are all different types of sculpture and architecture in it”.
“So it’s a museum?”
“Non, non. This one lone man built it from rocks he collected using his own hands and a wheelbarrow”.
“It’s a sculpture then?”
“Non, non.”
The story is that at the beginning of the last century there was this guy, Mr Cheval, the local postman who dreamed of a palace and who decided to make his dream come true by building the palace with his own hands in his backyard. He dedicated all of his spare time to it. And that in itself is amazing, that he actually did this on the side. That he continued to walk 25 kilometres a day doing his postman’s rounds as well as building his palace.
The Palais does not fit into any specific category, and that alone makes it worth a visit. It is kitsch, beautiful, surprising, deceptive, ridiculous and touching all at the same time. An impressive piece of work so human it is almost embarrassing and well worth a visit.