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It’s like being invited to spend the week with good friends. From the moment I was picked up at the train station, I felt more as though I was on my way to spend a few days at a friend’s château rather than a hotel or B & B (that is, of course, if I had friends with châteaux). In a nutshell, the story of the Vie de Château is that this lovely domicile was built in the late 1700’s and has been in the de Genevraye family since. The Count (Patrick) and the Countess (Gianne), an American artist, have spent the past 10 years restoring the château to its original glory. The Count and the Countess, people who love to be surrounded by friends and family, have decided to open their château to a wider audience then their current pool of friends and now the doors are open to you as well. The only requirement: “No dull people,” Patrick says as we enjoy our dinner in front of the fireplace in the salon. “My only fear is dull people.” They look at their guests more as friends and just as we look to our friends to be lovers of life, laughter, and the bonheur, they look to their guests to be the same.
Don’t expect a typical B & B type of experience at the château—more a sophisticated version of summer camp for grown-ups. They host seven to nine paying guests for a week, always with a theme(s). The May program (May 7-14) focuses on fine arts, the July program (July 30 – August 6) focuses on music and wine, and the Thanksgiving program (November 19–26) is a very special opportunity to participate in the traditional autumn hunt (Chasse à Courre). Their website (www.the-vie-de-chateau.com) provides complete details on all of the programs offered. Each week also provides plenty of opportunity to explore the region, play a game of golf, and enjoy the park surrounding the château. Bikes rides, walks in the woods, and horseback riding are all at your fingertips. Each week a local oenologist comes to the château to offer a private wine-tasting of regional wines. This very personal tasting gives you an opportunity to learn about the wines, traditions, vineyards, and wine-makers of the Loire Valley. Outside of the organized activities, there is plenty of time to relax or explore on your own.
The interior of the château is an eclectic blend of châteaux styles during the late 1700’s, the traditions of the regions, and the tastes of the de Genevraye lineage. The Countess has given painstaking attention to restoring the interior of the château to its original décor, from the tapestries to the clock on the fireplace to the linens. She spent a good six months on each room, first to see the room in all of its light and moods, and then to determine how it was meant to look. The attention shows. You do not feel as though you are in a renovated room but rather that the room has always been this way. OK, that can be good and bad. Some of the original beds were made for little Napoléons and, being a tall woman, I find myself lying a bit diagonally in order to stretch out, but the down pillows and the wool-filled mattress makes you forget all about short little Napoléons.
My corner of the château was the Chambre de Dame and I absolutely loved it. It’s a huge room on the corner of the château with one set of French-door windows facing the meadow and brook and the other set facing the forest. The room is very bright and has a double bed, small sofa, desk, and a working fireplace. The bathroom is large as well, with two sinks, a bathtub, and a bidet. If you prefer a more modern bathing experience (i.e. shower), then I recommend the room directly above the Chambre de Dame, which is called Chambre de Caroline. It’s also big, has the same views, has a queen-size bed, but also has a shower. Since this room is in the corner of the top floor of the château, it’s very quiet and very private. For the single traveller, I recommend the Chambre de Mireille with its river view, fireplace, and large canopied single bed that is a bit like a cocoon. You are assured to have very restful nights in this room. The Chambre de Mireille also has a shower, and it is it is close to the toilettes. A word on that: all of the rooms have access to bathrooms, but in the traditional French style, the toilettes are in a separate room, in this case located on each of the three floors of the château. Don’t let this discourage you; just bring a robe and tally it up as part of the true château experience. Remember that you are among friends when you stay at the château. The website gives you full details and photographs on each of the rooms available to paying guests.
In addition to the bedrooms, you are welcome to relax in one of the salons or the more casual Scottish Bar, which has a small bar, comfy sofa, satellite television, and movies. The salons are formal and decorated with antiques – not the type of room you will want to put your feet up and relax in, but the Scottish Bar is just that. Each room of the château has its own character and its own little treasures. Taking an informal tour of the château with Gianne is an interesting journey in understanding the origins of the château and its contents, as well as the efforts put forth for the renovations.
Meals are traditional French cuisine, accompanied by wine from the Count’s cave. It’s wonderful to be among the aristocracy: fresh game caught on the property, fresh fish from the market, fruits and vegetables grown in the bountiful Loire Valley, and cheeses made in the local tradition. Note that they will accommodate some minor dietary requirements, but if you are a macrobiotic vegetarian, well, you’ll be eating a lot of bread and vegetables. Lunch and dinner are eaten together, just as you would with friends and family. Dinner is usually a semi-formal event, which only seems fitting since you are dining in a château. Breakfast is self-serve in the spacious kitchen, another gem of a room in the château. I was reluctant about breakfast the first morning. I am not much of a morning person and I really just wanted to have my coffee and bread in peace, and that I did. The kitchen is bright, with double doors opening to the fresh morning. The breads, croissants, pain brioché, jams, butter, coffee, tea, warmed milk, and sugar were all out on the counter, and Gianne and one of the other guests were taking their breakfast at the table. You are free to take your breakfast to your room, but, even being the non-morning person that I am, I enjoyed having my breakfast in the kitchen with the others, followed of course by one last cup of coffee in my room, reading and enjoying the quiet morning.
This château is surrounded by 450 acres of the family’s land. There are a few houses and stables that can be discovered if you walk through the grounds, which you certainly should. They are beautiful, serene, and filled with a sense of history. Be sure to take the opportunity to go for a walk with Gianne or Patrick. The stories of the buildings, the people who have lived within them, the river, the mill, the WWI American pilot who crashed his bi-plane in the meadow only to find his wife-to-be within the château, are fascinating and add much to your appreciation of the chance to spend time at this château. The land, really a park, surrounding the château is a beautiful and unspoiled Loire Valley landscape. We saw stags grazing in the meadow and chevreuils (roe deer) running through the forest. At night the only sound you hear is the babbling brook. In the morning, the birds chime in. It sounds like a fairytale, n’est-çe pas?
If you want to explore France in a more personal, in-depth way, then the Vie de Château is for you. It’s a unique, once-in-a-lifetime chance to live in an eighteenth-century château while enjoying the history, tradition, and pleasures of the region, all guided by your interesting and personable host and hostess. As Gianne and I walked back from our promenade through the woods at dusk, we crossed the field in front of the château. The dogs chose to swim across the brook rather than take the little old, wooden footbridge. As she told me the story of how a branch of the river was redirected many, many years ago to come closer to the château, we caught sight of a fire flickering in the fireplace in the salon and we knew that a lovely apéritif would be waiting for us inside. Ah, the château life!
The Vie de Château located in the Loire Valley near the town of Saumur
Phone/Fax : (33) 1 46 37 48 18
Email : [email protected]
Prices range from $4,000.00 to $4,500.00 per person for 7 days. All meals, wine, and organized activities are included.
Train station: Saumur Gare or Angers (1 ½ hours by train from Paris)
To purchase train tickets online, go to www.voyages-sncf.com