After a pleasant day in Pérouges the day before, I headed out to the palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval the following morning while in Lyon during my October holidays. Considering that I had a mix-up with waking up the morning before (long-story short, I’d made the mistake of setting my alarm for the day after I’d planned to visit the palace, so I’d missed my train to head over– I chose to do Pérouges that day instead), I made sure to set my alarm for the correct day in order not to miss the opportunity see this incredible palace.
Prior to visiting, I’d never heard about le palais Idéal– it’s truly an off-the-beaten-path site for tourists, and only locals know about it. That said, it wasn’t until I read Rosie’s post about it, as well as saw the photos she took of the amazing architecture, that I knew that I had to go see it in-person when I had the chance– living in the Lyon region this year gave me all the more reason to check it out!
Built over a span of thirty-three years, le palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval was created by a postman in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Ferdinand Cheval was a man of humble origins, having grown up poor and had only formal schooling until the age of thirteen. He also had absolutely no experience with building construction, but all the same dedicated a huge chunk of his life to constructing this palace that he’d been inspired by from a dream he had. What’s even more incredible was that he used only rudimentary techniques (think bare hands and wheelbarrows) to build it, and he completed it in 1912. Aside from being such an impressive piece of art, the story behind it is just as impressive, as I found it extremely endearing that Cheval, an otherwise homely man, made such a masterpiece in the middle of nowhere.
Getting to the palace was rather tricky, but not impossible: considering that I had no car, it was necessary to take public transport over. The palace is located in a very-remote village (Hauterives) about an hour away from Lyon, and transport over is quite limited, particularly with the bus. It would require me to wake up and leave by 6:00 to head over to gare Part-Dieu (from where my Couchsurfing host lived), then catch the 6:20 train to Saint-Vallier-sur Rhône before taking the line 3 bus at 7:45 to Hauterives (seriously, the bus ran only three times a day, so if you miss them, you’re screwed). That said, I made sure to wake up extra-early (I’m talking 5:00-early) to prepare myself for the day…and not to miss the train this time!
The sun hadn’t even risen when I took the train over to Saint-Vallier-sur-Rhône; it started getting lighter once I arrived. I puttered around the small town while waiting for the bus to arrive (and to warm up from the early-morning chill), and then I caught the bus 35 minutes later– funny enough, I was the only person on the bus for the entire ride, which made for a peaceful journey along the way.
I arrived in Hauterives at 8:30. The palace wouldn’t be opened until 9:30, so I first made my way to the tomb of Ferdinand Cheval across town– after completing the palais Idéal, Cheval spent the next eight years creating his own tomb to bury himself in once he died. Taking the scenic route through the golden countryside, I made it to the cemetery where the tomb was situated. Immediately, I was blown away by the sheer detail of it, as the rising sun cast lovely shadows over its golden exterior. The tomb offered a taste of what I was to expect with the actual palace itself, soon to come.
While continuing to wait for the palais Idéal to open, I wandered the village where there happened to be an open market that day– after checking that out, I waited in front of the palace entrance where I purchased my ticket once it opened (5,50€ at discount price). From there, I spent the next one-and-a-half hours exploring and admiring the postman’s palace.
Starting with the east facade, it was absolutely filled with sculpted animals (goats, horses, birds…), along with pillars so textured that they reminded me of the temples in Southeast Asia (never been, but I’ve seen photos of them). I made a round or two around the palace to take it in as a whole before really taking the time to go into depth with the architectural details– while the palace itself isn’t the size of Versailles, it certainly has hundreds of details that are sure to keep you busy for a while!
What’s even more amazing is that you can actually climb onto the palace itself– take the winding stairs to the landing deck to see more of the details up-close. I was elated at being able to literally be in (on?) the palace, even touch the works made by the hands of Cheval himself– the place has certainly been well-preserved since the early 20th century, especially if you allow visitors to be on it! Almost like a playground from history, as people– adults and children alike– were climbing all over it. You can bet that I was absolutely giddy, even going into the nooks and crannies of the empty spaces to discover more details: animals, mythical creatures, religious allusions, etc.
I must’ve taken at least one hundred photos of the palais Idéal, just because every inch of it was gorgeous. There was also a small exhibition in an adjacent building where I got to learn more about Cheval’s life and the stones he used to make his creation, which was helpful in understanding the story behind the palace. Around 11:00, I left the palace to return to the village center, grabbing a formule déjeuner at a boulangerie before catching the noon bus back to Saint-Vallier (again, I was the only person on the bus for the entire time) and then the train to Lyon. I arrived back around 13:30, and from there returned to my Couchsurfing host’s home where I packed up my stuff, thanked and said goodbye to my host, and took the train home, effectively ending my October vacation then.
Le palais Idéal is 1000 percent worth the visit, should you be in or near Lyon. Certainly a hidden gem of the region, and I’m glad to have heard about it to visit it. My October holidays were short, but well-spent: it had the right balance between busy and leisure, as I got to explore more of the Lyon region that’s to be my home for the rest of the year.
I’ll be sure to keep you updated with more of my travels to come soon– I already have a ton of destinations lined up over this next month, so I’ll definitely be sharing them with you. Until then!