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  • Writer's pictureTony Herbert

QUEILLE - 2023

June 2023

This was my fourth and Mary’s third visit to the wonderful music-fest at Queille, the ancient chateau south of Carcassonne, not far from the Pyrenees which are just visible in the distance, run by its owner Rachel Lethbridge.

Getting there

But first a brief note about the way there, driving down (having managed to negotiate our way round the massive disruption caused by the cycle race then happening throughout central London), and spending a few days with friends in Beaumes de Venise. Beaumes and probably most of Provence was beset by heavy rainstorms. Every day, lovely sunshine in the mornings, followed by torrential rain in the evenings.


There was an interesting byproduct of the rain. One morning there were eight, or maybe ten, dead toads in the bottom of the swimming pool. We fished them out, but that evening curiosity took us up there in the dusk. Tragically, there were about half a dozen more of them swimming around and trying unsuccessfully to clamber out. In the morning they were at the bottom, we of course feeling guilty at not having gone to the rescue, and presumably staying there all night to rescue their friends jumping to their death. I regret to say that we went to bed instead. I’m assuming that this was caused by the incessant rainstorms, simply because we’ve never seen it before. Maybe I’m wrong.


Moving on to Queille, we felt beleaguered by weather. During our last visit four years ago, we had continual rain - not uncommon perhaps in the foothills of the Pyrennees. This time the forecasts looked pretty dire. But happily they were wrong. Sunshine and warmth throughout. Just the odd sound of distant thunder.


We need to distinguish between the chateaux involved. We stay in the Abbey-Chateau of

Camon (see below), towering over the tiny village of Camon. The music-fest is at the Chateau of Queille, a few miles away (see the photo at the top of this journal).

L’Abbaye-Chateau de Camon

We stay at the first of the two chateaux. Easy to exhaust the superlatives. It is ancient, parts going back to the 9th century, but most of it has been sensitively restored to its 18th century heyday. Run by its owners Peter and Katie Lawton, who provide a 5-star service to the guests.

The only disadvantage is the lack of a lift, an item that had sadly not been invented in the 18th century. Instead, you go up on a wide circular staircase, designed on such a scale as to allow one’s donkey to help with the luggage. Our room was on the top floor! Peter explained that the room, with its painted ceiling, was the one used by the Prior himself, enabling him to enjoy the view of the distant Pyrenees as he overlooked the countryside and ruled over his monks - only 12 of them apparently.

This is not a travel brochure and I wouldn’t be very good at writing one, but the decor of the sitting rooms and library does need a mention. In the sitting room each wall has coverings, like murals, painted on canvas, depicting the four seasons very elegantly, with assorted cherubs doing whatever one does in the season concerned.

Breakfast, weather permitting, is on the terrace and is excellent: fresh fruit, granola, good local bread and (amazingly for France) marmalade. Dinner of a high standard is in what were the cloisters of the old monastery - it couldn’t be nicer.


On to the next chateau, Queille itself, probably equally ancient but definitely not so lavishly

restored. The concerts take place in a small chapel just by the chateau, holding about 100 people (a guess), thus imposing a limit on the numbers that can come to the event. We were introduced to it, now eight years ago, by our friends Bruce and Sara Mauleverer, who themselves are friends and indeed neighbours of Rachel who runs it all.

Music and musicians

The music is largely chamber music, as is appropriate for the venue. The quality is superb. There is always a resident quartet, on this occasion for the first time the Adelphi Quartet. They are very international. Their website is in German, they all studied in Salzburg and the four members are Belgian, Spanish, German and British, respectively.

The stars were Tom Poster (right) and Lucy Crowe, both with international reputations. Tom has been coming at least since we have. He is a fabulous pianist and a lovely man, now married to the violinist Elena Urioste. Comparing her name with my daughter-in-law Edurne’s family name Iriarte, which I have understood to be Basque, I asked Tom about it, braving the political sensitivity of these questions! She is American, as I knew. He said, yes, Basque via New Mexico and now England! It is great that musicians of their world renown come to Queille - Tom said it was one of their favourite festivals.

Lucy Crowe (left), who has sung in opera houses around the world, specialises in the baroque, but for us sang Handel (of course) but also Schubert, Richard Strauss, some English folk songs, and even, with great enthusiasm, Cole Porter (Ooh-la-la-la, c’est magnifique!). During the latter, I was sitting at the back. As she left, she seemed to gesture to or at my neighbour. I asked him if he knew her. Yes, he said, she’s my wife! They were there with their two children.

The programme, spread over three days, included Haydn, Mozart, a session devoted to the Schumanns, Robert and Clara, Strauss’s Four Last Songs, three Schubert lieder, and one of Beethoven’s late quartets (Opus 132, since you ask), the one with the long emotional slow movement - Heiliger Dankgesang - thanking God for his recovery from illness.


The event ends on Sunday evening with a dinner held in a vast tent set up in a field. This year the theme was “metamorphosis”. The Mauleverers are always keen participants, he threatening to go as a chrysalis, which mercifully he did not! Any, or indeed no, disguises are of course acceptable. I had sort of planned to go in my almost unused white jeans, with a red scarf around my middle, as a Pamplona bull-runner - relics of son Dan’s wedding in Pamplona. But I have to confess that Mary and I chickened out completely, thinking that our absence might even pass unnoticed. We were tempted by a quiet dinner in the Chateau de Camon with our old friends Bob and Elisabeth Boas, they being conscientious objectors to fancy dress, even I suspect when worn by others. Bruce and Sara reported on the fun next morning, having got back well after midnight, making us suspect that we’d made the right decision.


Driving back home, we took the opportunity of crossing the amazing Millau Viaduct. As we were warned, you see it best coming the other way, ie from north to south. Still, I managed to see its full splendour in my rear view mirror. Driving over it is also impressive.. At some 2.5 km, it is by no means the longest bridge in the universe, but it is, I understand, the tallest and certainly among the most sensational to look at. Definitely worth a detour, as they say in the guide books.

We stayed the night in a small hotel, Le Rivage in Olivet, where we last stayed about 30 years ago. Not a 5-star establishment, but located in one of the loveliest of locations. We originally went there on the recommendation of the long-lamented Good Hotel Guide. It is on the Loiret river, just south of Orleans. The rooms are miniscule and a little basic, but the setting of the restaurant looking out on the calm river is unmatched. Splendid houses on the other side, with their old-style boathouses, and the occasional swan gliding majestically past.

Tony Herbert

8 June 2023

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