The story of Ferdinand Cheval and his “Postman’s Palace” is one that few people outside France recognize. Yet, the monument he built to honor his love for his daughter draws an average of 300,000 visitors yearly. They come to the small town of Hauterives, southeast of Lyon, in the Drôme Department, to marvel at the workmanship and vision that went into the Palais Idéal.
When invited to visit the Palais Idéal with friends, I was anxious to see a part of France new to me. But most of all, I was curious about the place that was the subject of the French movie L’incroyable Histoire du Facteur Cheval, or (English) Ideal Palace.
What I knew about the story of Ferdinand Cheval was that he was a postman in the late 1800′ who built a masterpiece of naive art to honor his daughter in the middle of nowhere. From stones, fossils, and other bric-a-brac he gathered along his 30-mile postal route, Cheval’s created a monument that, some say, resembles the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona — neither of which he had ever seen.
The location of the tourist attraction outside Hauterives is not well marked, so you have to walk around the small town to ask for directions.
Once at the historic spot, you reach the actual grounds of the palace through a gift shop and ticket office. The first sight of the palace you see is simply amazing. The southern facade is approximately 85 feet (26 meters) and 33 feet (10 meters) high.
The north side leads into the palace’s interior, where decorations resemble chandeliers and carvings of wild animals and birds.
Cheval’s home is on the site, and a museum provides a historical account of the postman and his remarkable feat.
Cheval labored on his palace of stones and natural artifacts found along his postal route for over thirty years. Some say he was inspired by his love for his ill daughter, who passed away soon after he began the project. Others say he was simply fulfilling a vision that possessed him after he stumbled upon the first of the unusual stones he picked up along his postal route. There are writings and quotes inscribed in stone and attributed to Cheval.
“Out of a dream I have brought forth the Queen of the World”, “This is of art, and of energy”, “The ecstasy of a beautiful dream and the prize of effort”, “Dream of a peasant”, “Temple of Life”, and “Palace of the Imagination”. Perhaps the most iconic phrase he inscribed on the wall reads “1879-1912 . 10,000 days, 93,000 hours, 33 years of struggle. Let those who think they can do better try.”Ferdinand Cheval (Wikipedia)
Neither an artist nor an architect, it is said Cheval promised to himself, “Nature is willing to do the sculpture; I will do the masonry and the architecture.”
Postman’s Palace and Mausoleum
If you have the time, drive into the countryside to visit the gravesite and mausoleum Cheval designed and built for himself. Originally, he wanted to be buried at the Palais Idéal. It was not allowed by the government. He died at 76, one year after he completed his burial place.
Hotel Chartron. A treasure along the way.
When you visit the Postman’s Palace, plan an overnight at the Hotel Chartron. with a wine-paired dinner. The hotel and restaurant, featuring wine-pairing, were highlights of the trip. Here’s just a sample.
For more ideas for road trips near Uzés, read here…