When researching some places to visit off the beaten track on our European Roadrip I stumbled upon the Le Palais Idéal on Atlas Obscura and it was instantly added to the must see list of weird and wonderful places.
Upon leaving Lyon to head for Marseillan we took a minor detour to the village of Hauterives to find this magnificent marvel, where 139 years ago a French Postman started on his lifes mission to create the place of his dreams. What Ferdinand Cheval created was a temple to imagination, nature and the wonders of the world. It stands today as an incredible testament to the hard work and determination of one man over the course of 33 years.
The Palais is truly a wonder to behold. It rises from the ground like some eruption of organic mass. Like the ultimate life size sandcastle this mammoth monument is a feast for the eyes. Everywhere can be see plants, coral, animals, people all merging, growing and flowing. The Palais is not the typical structure you would expect to find in the middle of a rural French village. It has clear exotic influences from a variety of different cultures. And this was no accident. On his postal rounds Cheval saw the wonders of the world outside his home through publications magazines and postcards he was delivering. All of these elements fed into the aesthetics and final design of of the Le Palais Idéal.
As utterly awe inspiring and breath taking as the structure is, equally moving was the story of Ferdinand Cheval himself. A modest, hard working man who one day was inspired in the most unlikely of ways; by a stone. He looked at this strange stone shaped by nature and felt compelled to build. He collected stones to build with on his postal rounds, initially in his pockets, then a basket and finally his famous wheelbarrow, which gives an idea of the growth of his ideas and the development of the scale of the project. Chevals building took on a life of its own as he poured dreams, inspiration and determination into its building. He faced great ridicule and was mocked for his venture, yet he persevered and completed the incredible monument we see today. I felt incredibly moved by the idea that if you work long and hard enough your dreams can come true. It was a very sobering, moving experience.
Nothing can quite prepare you for the experience of seeing this incredible sculptured structure. If you are ever in the region I urge you to visit this incredible testament to one mans vision. For more information please visit: http://www.facteurcheval.com/en/index.html