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                  A great time to be in France . . .     September / October 2001


 Visit the Grand Châteaux of the Loire

The historic and royal châteaux of the Loire Valley:   travelers around the world know something about them and, when in that part of France, they try to visit at least one or two.   Each château is different from the others, some rugged and medieval and some quite delicate and beautiful to behold.  What if forty-one châteaux could be seen (at least from the outside) in a few hours?  Would you be interested?

In 1999, we had the pleasure of doing just that when a dear French friend escorted us to Le Parc Mini-Châteaux near Amboise.  We had never  heard of this place before, and we were amazed by what we found.  The Parc was about three years old at that time, with construction having begun on September 9, 1995, near Amboise,  the undisputed "capital" of the Valley of the Kings.  Owned and operated by Groupe Durand-Allizé, the parc has welcomed well over a half million visitors -- a boon to the little city of Amboise as well.

What  will you discover at the Parc?  You will find pleasant winding walkways, fountains, windmills, trains moving along tracks, a children's play area, a comfortable self-service restaurant, and most of all,  delightful precise replicas of 41 Loire Valley châteaux, all done to scale in exquisite detail.  They are even accurately located on their "map" of green lawns along miniature rivers --  the Loire, Cher, Vienne and Indre.  Making each "visit" to a mini-château all the more meaningful is the fact that each property is marked with two plaques  -- one in French and one in English -- telling the history of the château.

If you have visited even a few of the real châteaux, you will instantly recognize them at the Parc.   Don't mistake this for an attraction just for children, although they will thoroughly enjoy it.   During our visit, most guests were adults, appreciating the enthusiasm and skill that went into the creation of each building.    Every last detail of each château is replicated to reflect its period in history -- you will see people milling around courtyards, animals in the stables, water-filled moats and natural landscaping.  High tech was not ignored -- at night the châteaux have an inner glow while the exteriors are bathed in light thanks to fiber optics and 30 kilometers of underground electrical cabling.  The Parc sits on two hectares of land and if you complete the entire walk, you will have covered more than one and a half kilometers or about 9/10 of a mile. 

The château at AmboiseBlois Château

The château in the left photo is Amboise, and the one in the right photo is Blois.
The above photos illustrate the care and precision with which the buildings were miniaturized. 
The reception building above right is actual size, putting the whole site into perspective.

Some of the real châteaux represented are open to the public and are not occupied, while others are still in the hands of the families who live in them and may be operating them today as chambres d'hôtes.  What qualifies them to be at Le Parc Mini-Châteaux is their historical significance and architectural appeal.  If you would like more detailed information, visit this French language web site which also shows the two adjoining parks (an aquarium and donkey park definitely directed toward children) or email for reservations.  Although this parc is not meant to replace visits to the actual châteaux, it may help you to decide which ones you wish to add to your itinerary while providing an overview and a generous helping of history of the famous châteaux of the Loire.

Château de Boucéel

Often a château property offers more photo opportunities than one can imagine.  Beautiful rooms filled with antiques and decorated in the French style, gardens blooming with flowers, the architecture of the building itself, and the occasional moat, keep and dependancies  -- all make the experience of staying in a château a photographer's dream. 

One such unique property is Château de Boucéel in Normandy.  Limited by space on our web site, we can never include all the marvelous views of a château that we would like.  Therefore, we want to offer you another glimpse of what you will discover if you decide to stay at this 18th century château in the département of the Manche.

Medieval ChapelThe parc, pond and bridgeChambre Oncle François

The grounds of Boucéel are meant for strolling.  Enjoy wandering through the lovely English-style gardens or perhaps cross the bridge onto the island in the pond for a view back to the château.  The chapel pictured above was constructed between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, set amid the woods and meadows of the estate.    The parc is filled with bucolic locales such as those in the center photo  -- waiting for visitors to take a seat on the stone bench for a few moments' relaxation.  The tastefully decorated and inviting chambre named "Oncle François" welcomes guests with a canopied queen-sized bed and an en suite bath with shower.  Guest rooms are non-smoking.

Please visit our web site to learn so much more about this delightful Normandy château.

French Quiz 5

What was the pseudonym used by the writer François Marie Arouet?

George Sand

You will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.

City View:  Bourges

Subscribers to the print newsletter, FRANCE On Your Own,
will  be reading about the fascinating  city of Bourges in the Winter issue.
Readers  will once again have the pleasure of an insightful tour 
with Arthur Gillette -- seeing the wonders of France from his unique perspective.

St-Etienne is the widest Gothic cathedral in France and most like Notre Dame de Paris. 
The city itself has a wonderful medieval quarter, the beautiful Jardin des Prés Fichaux on 
the banks of the Yèvre River, and the Marais de Bourges to enjoy in a flat-bottomed boat.

[The above photo of Cathédrale Saint-Etienne de Bourges is credited to Zoom Studio.
Email Arthur Gillette at] 

Hot Off the Press:  Two Unique Guide Books

Art   lovers crowding the Louvre and Musée d'Orsay this summer may not realize that often in less than an hour they can be standing in the very studios which many of the masterpieces were created more than a century ago.

With Ellen William's  new guidebook, Artists in Residence, travelers can venture beyond museum walls and into more intimate settings -- the homes and studios of celebrated artists Claude Monet, Charles-François Daubigny, Vincent Van Gogh, Jean-François Millet, Rosa Bonheur, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Delacroix and Gustave Moreau -- all open to the public and either in or near Paris.

The  unusual packaging of the book -- an easily-transportable paperback in an attractive slipcase -- will appeal to travelers and armchair travelers alike.  Each profile is accompanied by sumptuous color photos of the house and studios.  The writer and photographer, both of whose work appears frequently in Architectural Digest, vividly portray the powerful connections between the artists and places that inspired them.  Dana Micucci is a New York-based journalist specializing in the arts.  Marina Faust, the photographer, is based in Paris.

The Historic Restaurants of Paris by Ellen Williams, is a guidebook describing nearly one hundred select restaurants and gourmet shops.  It reveals the otherwise vanished city where 19th century Paris -- with all its romance, history, and beauty -- still exists.  Crossing the thresholds of these century-old establishments, diners and shoppers can step into a gilded Belle Epoque restaurant favored by Degas (Ledoyen, page 143), a vintage confectioner that supplied bonbons to Monet (Fouquet, page 165) and a shaded café terrace frequented by Zola (Café de la Paix, page 159). 

From tiny patisseries, cozy bistros, and rustic wine bars barely known outside the quarter to bustling brasseries, elegant tea salons, and world famous cafés, The Historic Restaurants of Paris is an indispensible guide to classic cuisine served in settings of startling beauty.  The text includes charming anecdotes relating to each shop and restaurant's history and celebrated former patrons.  Ellen Williams, the author of the award-winning The Impressionists' Paris and  Picasso's Paris, is the former art editor of Vogue and executive editor of The Journal of Art.

[Both books are available at bookstores everywhere or directly from The Little Bookroom, 5 St Luke's Place, New York, NY 10014. 
Email them at  The  price of Artists in Residence is $19.95 and TheHistoric Restaurants of Paris is $14.95}

French Quiz 6

Where are you if you see these names on signs?

St Denis-Basilique
Château de Vincennes
Pont de Neuilly

You will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.

Dessert  Recipe: Quick Clafouti

Our  personal favorite French dessert using fruit is clafouti.  There are numerous recipes out there, all taking a different approach to creating this delightful concoction.  However, we have found a recipe that anyone with a blender can whip up in a few minutes.  And, we believe, the results are as good as the more complicated recipes.

You will need a generously greased glass pie plate, one half cup of heavy cream, one cup of milk, 2/3 cup of flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, two eggs, one egg yolk and whatever fruit you select for the base.  Our  favorites are apricot or plum, but cherries, apples and various berries work equally as well.  (Be sure all fruit is pitted.  Canned fruit is acceptable, but may contain pits that must be removed before using.)  The first thing to do is pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line the greased pie plate with fruit.  In a blender combine all ingredients until well blended.  Pour the liquid mixture over the fruit, and place the pie plate on the middle oven rack.  Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and puffy. 

Note: We believe this dessert is best served a few minutes out of the oven when it is still high and very warm (although not hot enough to burn one's tongue!)   So we suggest you time the baking to coincide with the time you would like to serve dessert.   Present your guests their individual slices with powdered sugar on top or a dollop of freshly whipped cream for those clafoutis made with berries.   Bon appétit!

We hope you have enjoyed au Château News.  If you have,  please forward it to friends and encourage them to subscribe.  It's FREE!

(The answer to Quiz 5 is Voltaire and to Quiz 6 is the Paris Métro.)

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