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                              People and Places  . . .  March / April 2004


Great expectations . . .

If you've never spent one night in a French château bed and breakfast, you are probably wondering exactly what to expect.  Will you receive a friendly welcome?  Will your room be private and comfortable?  Is the plumbing really up to your standards?  What about breakfast?  Should you make a reservation for dinner at the château?  Just who are the people who own the manor houses and châteaux on this web site?  What are the special attractions at or near the various properties that will be of interest to you?

We're going to answer those questions in this issue of au Château News and, hopefully, erase all your doubts.   You'll find that the most warm and welcoming greetings await you when you arrive at any of our member properties.    We'll reassure you that your bedrooms and bathrooms will be much more than you expected.  We'll tell you about those breakfasts and dinners au château that give you an opportunity to enjoy the company of other guests and discover regional French food.  We'll introduce you to some of the proprietors and tell you a little about them.  And, we'll give you some of the very special reasons to choose a particular property on our web site for your next visit to France.

We hope that this edition of au Château News convinces you that château stays really are more memorable and more rewarding than spending a few nights in an impersonal hotel.  But, if we haven't convinced you or if you have further questions, please contact us at any time at  -- we will respond immediately.

Accommodations . . . 

You are thousands of miles from home, anticipating an exciting château stay -- what can go wrong?  Accommodations that are not up to par probably come near the top of your list of fears.   No one wants to discover that the beds are near collapse and the bathrooms were last updated in the 1960s!   We can assure you that if you make a reservation at one of the properties on our web site, neither will be the case.

Perhaps the first thing you will notice is the size of a château or manoir bedroom.  They are, for the most part, enormous!  Even those listed as a room with a "double bed" will surprise you as they most likely have a sitting area, a table or a writing desk,  and a large armoire.  The next most noticeable features will be high ceilings and the long, large windows, elegantly draped and giving guests the opportunity to take in the marvelous views.  The furniture may be fine antiques that have been in the family for a very long time or may have been more recently chosen because it was suitable to the style and period of the home.  Your room may have a fireplace, too.   And, we have yet to stay in a château or manoir in France where we did not see portraits or fine paintings adorning the walls of the guest rooms and throughout the château.

Look for some unusual features in your room.  If a property had uneven walls or unsightly ceilings, during renovation they may have been covered over with fabric.   This virtually seamless material is most often professionally installed.  Called 'plafond tendu', or taut ceiling, and 'mur acoustique' when used on the walls, it is usually a lovely, soft fabric in both pale, solid colors for ceilings and solid or print designs for walls.  Clips or frames are installed onto which the fabric is stretched from wall to wall.  The walls and high ceilings of a château are perfect for this popular decorating technique.  Insulation is often placed between the surface and the fabric providing added warmth and soundproofing.  One French manufacturer says that plafond tendu has become quite popular in 30 other countries! Another claims 80!

King- and queen-sized  beds are becoming more common in guest rooms, but doubles are still the norm.  We have seen very few rooms that had twin beds of the single bed width -- in many cases two beds in a room will be two 'small' doubles.  As the rooms are usually quite large, you will find an armoire for hanging clothes, at least one other item of furniture with drawers, a writing desk and chair, and very often an upholstered chair and/or a sofa.  There are usually many books and other reading materials for guests -- if not in the guest rooms, in a library or salon -- but don't look for a television in your room.   You are not in a hotel, so a television may only be found in a common area where guests can gather to catch BBC News, CNN or French television stations. The same may be true of a telephone.  However,  many properties now provide Internet connections and computer hook ups in guest rooms.

But, what about the plumbing?  Are those horror stories about 'Turkish' toilets found in France really true?  Well, we are sure you can still find one somewhere whether you are looking for it or not.   However, château owners who accept guests (and even those who don't) have updated their homes to modern standards -- and it is at these properties where we have found undeniably the most luxurious and modern bathrooms!  Many are actually quite large.  Look for towel warmers, fluffy terry robes, fragrant soaps, and electric hair dryers at many of our members' properties.  If you are fond of showers, be sure to ask in advance if an overhead shower is available, because it seems that bath tubs still reign!  (Often a hand held shower is installed low near the bathtub spout and may not extend very far.)   Many properties have both, but a wall-mounted shower in every bathroom is still not standard.   We have found, however, that hot water at our member properties is definitely abundant, so you can count on that!

Most guest rooms in châteaux and manoirs have heat in the form of steam or electric radiators.  Each has its own control for the convenience of the occupant.  Air conditioning, however, is rare -- considering that many properties have very thick walls, the rooms are likely to remain cool and comfortable in hot weather.

Often there is no key to your room if you are staying at a small, family château -- whether guest rooms have locks is at the discretion of the proprietors.  But, have no fears about security.  Of all the places you could stay on a trip to France or elsewhere, you will feel very secure in a French château or manoir.  It is like being a house guest in a friend's home.  It is important, however, to let them know what time you will return if you go out for the evening.  Most owners do lock up at night, and you don't want to be locked out!  The larger properties, those with many guest rooms, usually do provide rooms with doors that lock, and you will have your own key. 

Decorating is probably the most interesting aspect of French château accommodations.  Each guest room has its own color scheme and unique décor.  There is no reluctance to use lavish fabrics, swags, canopies, Oriental or Aubusson carpets and gold leaf when decorating a guest room -- or a salon!  France through the centuries was defined by particular styles of dress and furniture, so, if you are up on your 'Louis' and other periods of French design, you may be able to ascertain whether the chair in your room is Louis XIII, Louis Quatorze, Régence, Directoire, Empire or Louis Philippe! 

With all this to think about, it certainly makes a stay in a French manoir or château a lot more interesting than a few nights in a local hotel, doesn't it?

 Châteaux & Their Special Offerings  . . .

The châteaux and manoirs on our web site are not just places to spend a night or two, but can also be the 'classrooms' where you can study French, learn to cook or spend a week painting the local scenery or a piece of furniture!

For example, you can learn to cook at Château les Hauts which will customize classes for small groups -- perhaps you can gather some friends together for a cooking adventure there within view of Le Mont St-MichelChâteau Les Hauts

Or, maybe you are looking for French immersion -- to brush up on your French or to begin again.  In that case, you might find Château de La Barre is just for you!    Make a reservation for a week and speak French at the dinner table, on outings to see the magnificent Sarthe and for a few hours each day in structured French sessions.  You'll come away confident in your French language skills!

If you have artistic leanings, nearly every one of our member properties provides outstanding vistas and views for the plein air painter, or you can take decorative painting courses.  Create your own trompe l'oeil (fool the eye) or faux finishes back home after a week of classes with a  professional instructor.  Maybe you would like to learn about the workshops offered at Château de La MotteChâteau de la Motte in stone carving, framing, and medieval calligraphy. A stay at this château is an exceptional experience!

Perhaps you are interested in more physical pursuits.  Bicycles are loaned at many of our properties to allow exploration of the countryside while providing you with a little exercise to work off those wonderful French meals -- and Raymond Delisle, of Château de la Roque,  was a professional (champion!) cyclist and will be happy to give guests the inside scoop on cycling in his part of Normandy.

Are you looking for a large venue to hold a family celebration -- a birthday or anniversary, for example? Or, even something more elaborate:   you may be looking for the perfect place to have a wedding!  Several of our members offer just such facilities:  from Château de Garrevaques in the Tarn,  Château de Canisy in Normandy and Château Rhodes in the Ariège to Château des Monthairons in Lorraine, Château de Rouffillac in the Dordogne, and Château du Fraisse in the Limousin, as well as others.

A wedding in the chapel at Château Rhodes

And, there are many other activities to occupy guests of the properties on our web site -- consider hot air balloon rides (a French invention, you know).  If available, ballooning will be mentioned on a château's first page on au Château.  There may also be French billiard tables in the game room or pétanque set up on the grounds for those so inclined.  Tennis courts and swimming pools (in season) are available at many of our properties.

So, whether you want to stay at a château with their own vineyards such as Château de Chorey, and Château Talaud -- or take up the offer of your hosts at Le Prieuré au Château de Biron for wine country tours in the Dordogne -- or cycle through the countryside, cook, paint or learn French, these are but a few of the activities available to guests at au Château member properties. 

We have only briefly touched on some of the possibilities, but please take time to visit our web site pages and our Special Offers page to see what interesting activities members can provide for you to enjoy during your stay with them.

[Photos:  Cold Spring Press copyright  2003]

French Quiz 35

Scotland's Mary Stuart (at the age of 6! ) became the wife of what French King?

Louis XV
Louis XIV
Henri IV
François I
François II
Louis XIII


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

Dining au château . . .

Breakfast in France varies little from a nice hotel to a château -- unless, of course, your hostess provides her own home-made preserves and baked goods.  Then, you are in for an exceptional treat!  We have found that we are served yogurt more in the north than in the south at breakfast -- especially in Normandy and Brittany.  No matter where we are, however, the croissants, French breads and coffee are consistently superb! 

Dinner is another matter as there are several options.  There are those properties whose owners truly love to spend time with their guests over a family-style meal.  Everyone receives the same selection, which can be customized to a guest's dietary restrictions by advance request.   Dining en famille is an opportunity that you, as a guest, should take without hesitation.  These gatherings are probably the most memorable dinner meals you will have in France...nothing fancy, but delicious, authentic and lovingly prepared.  Conversation with the family members and, perhaps, other guests at the table will enrich your visit beyond your wildest imaginings.  Some hosts and hostesses do not share a meal with you, but will prepare dinner for you to take privately in their dining room -- although they may precede the meal by joining you in an apéritif and conversation.  In either case, guests are made to feel very much at home and part of the family.

There are several properties on our web site that have restaurants or a large enough dining room to serve several couples or small groups simultaneously.  These offer various menu choices (there is a professional chef in the kitchen) and may include people outside the family who are hired to serve the meals.  We have found dinners prepared in this manner quite extraordinary with many courses and a wide selection of wines from which to choose.  If you are staying more than one night, you will find that you are led to the same table each day for both breakfast and dinner.  It becomes 'your' table for the duration of your visit.

A gourmet feast at Château des MonthaironsElegant Cuisine at La Tour du Roy
Elegant offerings in the northeast at Château de Monthairons and La Tour du Roy

Do try to take advantage of an evening meal at the château when it is available -- no two dinner experiences will be the same!   Some of our members do not offer dinner, but are happy to suggest local restaurants to their guests.  Let your host or hostess make reservations at a nearby restaurant that he or she likes and will surely be pleased!  (Our recent Brittany visit led us to Restaurant Ty Pin in Pluguffan, a marvelous rustic restaurant recommended by our host at Château du Guilguiffin.  Our meal was perfect as we dined among people who lived in the area...a good test of a restaurant's quality and appeal.)

A Sponsor of Our Newsletter . . .

FRANCE On Your Own

Please take a moment to click on the above photo to find out about a FREE newsletter for independent travelers to France -- and how you can subscribe.  FRANCE On Your Own has recently become an on line publication,  and the first issue will be sent to you as soon as you send in your email address.  Visit their web site with just a click of your mouse!

[For information about sponsoring a future newsletter, contact us at]

Car Rentals . . .

A new feature of our web site is the addition of a link to France Car, a car rental agency with locations throughout France.  The link can be found just above the Michelin Map link on each property's first page under the Directions section.  It appears that they offer a service comparable to other car rental companies -- and they say they are more economical.   Their convenient locations and excellent, easy to use web site (choosing and reserving a rental car can be done on line) convinced us that they would be able to offer a wide choice of rental cars to travelers arriving by train or air to stay at au Château members' lodgings. 

Village View:  Argentat


Situated on both banks of the River Dordogne in the Corrèze,
connected to itself by an ancient stone bridge, 
the sleepy village of Argentat looks down at its reflection in the water.
The D129 follows the Dordogne Gorge south to Argentat, 
whose picturesque charm makes it an undeniably pleasant place
to stop and pull out the camera.  It has distinctive
 houses with stone-tiled (lauze) roofs and balconies that
overhang the water.  It is not a famous village, nor
are tourists flocking there.  Perhaps that's why Argentat
 has retained its uniqueness and very special appeal.
Only a little farther south along the river you will
find Château de Chauvac near Beaulieu s/Dordogne.

[Photo:  Cold Spring Press copyright 2002-2004]

French Quiz 36

    Which of these statements is True?

                          The Catacombs:

(a) are in Paris
(b) were tunnels dug to hide Royalists during the French Revolution.
(c) have held skeletons since the 17th century
(d) were originally quarries
(e) served as the Resistance HQ during World War II
(f) are no longer open to the public


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

Meet  of your hosts at Château de la Barre. . .

Comtesse et Comte de Vanssay
You will find Count and Countess de Vanssay of Château de La Barre absolutely charming.  With both native English and native French spoken, this is the ideal getaway for not only a luxurious stay but for taking those French classes you have been planning for ages!  And, there couldn't be a more tranquil and pleasant place to do it than the Sarthe region west of Paris.

We hope you've enjoyed our putting some faces to the names of a member of au Château.  We hope that soon you will want to meet them and the others in person!!

[Photos:  Courtesy of the château owners]

In future issues . . .

Special Editions are being prepared to introduce you to some new members 
of our web site.  Look for the upcoming issue (very soon).

Following that, there will be a Special Edition about the exceptional 
Château de Saint-Michel-de-Lanès -- coming soon to our web site  --
a southern France getaway that is sure to capture your imagination!

And, among other interesting topics, the May / June issue 
of au Château News will highlight some of the more luxurious
accommodations offered at properties found on our web site. 

 Easy Spring Recipe:   Pipérade (Spanish Omelet)

We are always looking for recipes that are healthy, quick and easy without sacrificing taste.  Here is one that we think fits that criteria perfectly.

Pipérade is easy to prepare.  You will need 1 garlic clove (peeled and minced), a small onion (peeled and chopped), 3 tablespoons of French olive oil, 2 seeded and chopped tomatoes, a green bell pepper that has been cored, seeded and diced, 2 slices of Canadian bacon or lean ham, julienned, and five whole eggs.

In a large skillet sauté the garlic and onion in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until the onion is translucent.  Add the tomatoes and green pepper and stir over a medium heat until the mixture thickens and the onion is cooked. 

Pour mixture into a bowl and set aside.  In the same skillet, quickly fry the bacon or ham.  Add it to the mixture that has been set aside.

Whisk the five eggs lightly in a small bowl.  Heat the last tablespoon of the olive oil in the skillet and add the beaten eggs.  Over a medium heat, let only the bottom of the omelet set.  Pour the vegetable mixture on top and combine very gently with the top layer of the eggs.

Cover the skillet and cook the omelet until the eggs are nearly firm.  Slide the omelet out of the pan onto a platter, or serve it directly from the pan.  Serves 2 - 4.     Bon appétit!

[Recipe courtesy 'The Mediterranean Diet - Wine, Pasta, Olive Oil and a Long Healthy Life'  copyright by 
Carol & Malcolm McConnell Published in 1987 by W. W. Norton & co., NY, NY ISBN 0-393-02438-5]

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 35 is François II and to Quiz 36 is a, d, e]

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