Has the pandemic left you with a sense of wanderlust? Do you daydream about heading to a scenic lake? Perhaps even visiting a medieval castle? Or staying at a quaint chateau? With many travel limitations still in effect, the Schweitzer Basin in Idaho offers an interesting alternative to more far-flung travels.
About a five-hour drive from Yakima, above the Schweitzer Mountain Resort near Sandpoint, the road leads to a surprising site. Here, you’ll find a four-level, stone castle with a dragon’s head peering out above a turret, and the adjacent Chateau de Melusine, which is open for overnight accommodations. In spring, colorful wildflowers cover the hillsides and nearby Lake Pend Oreille awaits another season of boating and waterskiing.
The medieval-style Schweitzer Castle was built as a private residence in 2001 by an Idaho custom home-building firm called CastleMagic. The edifice, originally known as Kataryna Castle, was purchased in 2013 by a new owner, Norman Fargo, with the stipulation that a nearby storage facility be completely restyled to become the Chateau de Melusine. Now, the two structures are complete, both built of 22-inch-thick quarried stone from British Columbia.
The castle encompasses about 2,400 square feet and still is used as a private residence. It features a rear drawbridge, arched entries and windows (some with stained glass), and upper-level lookouts, including narrow openings called “arrow slits,” which medieval castle defenders would have used. One large turret and one smaller turret complete the architecture. The dragon’s head provides a bit of whimsy while serving as a cover for an exhaust pipe that vents through a turret, Fargo explained. With the push of a remote button, the dragon’s red eyes light up.
The castle interior has cedar ceilings, glass and metal chandeliers and two bed chambers. Many of the furnishings are 15th- and 16th-century antiques, including sculptures, cabinets and chests from Germany, Italy and England. Fargo said there’s even a collection of pre-Colombian art.
Meantime, eerie “corbel” embellishments (similar to gargoyles) from the Hearst Castle in California gaze down into the bedrooms.
For guests of the Chateau de Melusine who want to see the inside of the castle, “I offer a tour of what I call the dungeon,” said Fargo, who moved to the site from San Francisco where he and his wife owned a jewelry store. The “dungeon” actually includes an office, but also Fargo’s collection of 15th- to 17th-century armor and arms ranging from swords to a wheellock rifle and spears. He has collected the items over a period of about 60 years, from sources in California to New York to Europe.
So why did he choose to live in a castle?
“I’ve got furnishings that would fill out a castle properly and I saw the business opportunity of the chateau for vacation rental,” he said. “I’m not the kind of person who would dress up in armor and act …” However, he does appreciate the “history of earlier centuries.”
Modern visitors will appreciate that the castle also includes plenty of creature comforts, such as a state-of-the-art kitchen, hydronic heating system (radiant heating through the floors) and up-to-date plumbing.
The one-story Chateau de Melusine, about 75 feet from the castle, grew out of Fargo’s wish to offer accommodations that were “kind of fairy-tale-ish.” Indeed, the name “Melusine” comes from an old European fairy tale about a beautiful young woman who was discovered in a forest. Due to a misdeed, she was fated to transform into part serpent every Saturday and eventually became a winged dragon and flew off.
For between about “$288 in the summer low season and $866 during the high winter season and around holidays,” it’s possible to rent the entire chateau, with its 1,300 square feet of space, Fargo said. Arrangements are made through the Schweitzer Mountain Resort, which manages the facility for him. For the price (which was quoted a bit lower during a call to the resort), a group of up to nine guests can be accommodated in two bedrooms, a loft in the quaintly named Pomme de Terre (potato) turret with its twin beds and trundle bed, and an additional sleeper sofa in the “great room.”
In addition to the thick stone walls, vaulted ceilings, long dining table with high-back chairs and other medieval touches, the chateau’s modern features include an eight-person hot tub, flat-screen TVs, hydronic heat, a well-equipped kitchen and even an electric car charging station. In the great room, a 50-inch wood fireplace adds ambiance.
Seasonal activities in the area range from winter skiing and other snow sports to summer boating, waterskiing and fishing at Lake Pend Oreille (about 14 miles from the castle). Visitors can also wander through spring meadows of wildflowers of lupine, Indian paintbrush and other flora. Or they might prefer to visit Schweitzer Mountain Resort and the town of Sandpoint (also about 14 miles away) with its shops, restaurants, galleries and historical museum.
In an especially busy past year, guests at Chateau de Melusine have included everyone from newlyweds to a group dressed in period costume who held a “pig roast” on the premises. Others just stop by for photo shoots, but don’t stay overnight, Fargo said.
“I have a saying,” Fargo said: “Hotel rooms are soon forgotten. Memories last a lifetime. That’s what we try to create: a memorable experience.”
With a red-eyed dragon keeping watch from above and modern luxuries in a “medieval” setting, that seems pretty much guaranteed.
Up for a
Call Schweitzer Mountain Resort, (208) 263-9555, for information on Schweitzer Castle or to
make reservations at the Chateau de Melusine.
Bookings are also available online gotoschweitzer.com/
A two-night minimum
stay is required.