Special Edition June 2004
In this issue:
A Week at Château de la Barre
An Incredible Week at Château de la Barre
by Elizabeth Colleran
Elizabeth Colleran visited our web site in search of a place
so glad that I had decided to let Count Guy de Vanssay pick me up in Normandy.
It was a wonderful trip down to La Barre. He took me by way of La
Count, I think, knows every single château in the area, along with
its history, and he has an incredible eye for detail. Time and again,
he pointed out fascinating architectural details of châteaux, churches
and buildings -- details I would have missed completely. What bonne
chance to see that lovely area with such an expert guide! He
even introduced me to the very impressive Percheron horses of the area,
large, sturdily built animals that are respected throughout the world.
I loved seeing them.
The Countess de Vanssay came out at once and gave me such a warm and gracious welcome that I was at home at La Barre from the start -- not to mention the gentle and affectionate greeting I received from two of the most civilized dogs I have ever met.
They have carefully restored the château to its proper historical grace and beauty, and imagine my delight in seeing it all -- the lovely antiques, the tastefully chosen décor, the authentic historical details. You could sense that it had all been done by this couple with an affectionate pride in the château's long history and with a true pleasure in sharing it with others.
My room, with its blue pastoral wall-paper and real fireplace, was delightful (and the shower works extremely well!). Imagine getting up in the morning, throwing open the French windows and looking out at a pasture filled with mother sheep and their lambs, running freely to and fro, searching for their mothers, finding them, and then running off again. I stood there for ages, with a smile on my face, absorbing the tranquil vista of French countryside.
Dinners in the handsome dining room, again with that aura of tradition all around us, were such fun. The conversation was a glorious mish-mash of French and English, whichever seemed easiest at the moment to the speaker. But, whatever the language, the talk was filled with humor and interesting ideas.
Of course, when the Count was around, laughter was never too far away, but we were also able to comfortably speak seriously and share ideas on the world today and our values and philosophies of living. That kind of conversation is rare anywhere, and to find it in a château in France was just icing on the cake! Added to that was the Count's expertise in wine. Since my husband and I had spent some time studying wines, it was a real treat to be able to hear his information on the wines he was serving and again to be able to play around with analyzing the tastes. He, of course, was far more knowledgeable than I, but that only made it better.
Every meal was delicious. The Countess has a great sense of knowing just how adventurous one might be, and she kindly avoided the more exotic French delicacies -- like raw things and the innards of animals! We had wonderful delights like paté, smoked salmon, chicken with lemon, steak, delicate salads, French cheeses (with interesting information about them), and those fabulous desserts including a chocolate soufflé that one can only find in France. The de Vanssays are a perfect couple to have a château like La Barre because they so easily interact with their guests, carrying on interesting conversations, and giving a sense of relaxed well being.
In the mornings, I had French study with the Countess, whom by now I was calling by her first name, Marnie. She is an excellent teacher, patient and clear, and she really did an incredible job of advancing my knowledge in that terror of all students, the subjunctive! At any time of the day, she was ready to help me with my speaking and clarify my questions. It was so nice, too, that during our conversations in the classes I was able to come to know her better. She is a multi-faceted, multi-talented person!
One afternoon, the Count (whom I was now addressing as Guy) took me off into the highways and the byways to see the great châteaux of the Loire. Again, it was a rare opportunity to see them through the eyes of someone who knows and loves their history the way that he does. I don't think it would be possible to have a better view of that beautiful area than I was given. We saw not only Chambord, Chenonceau, and other great chateaux, but also so many interesting churches, cathedrals, troglodytes, and ancient villages.
know what was one of my favorite days? It was a day when I was tired
and decided to spend most of the day just at the château. I
wandered around the beautiful grounds, taking pictures and just absorbing
the incredible calm of the scene, watching the lambs, seeing the early
daffodils and hyacinths, noting the first feathering of the spring leaves
on the trees as the they framed the château, imagining the historical
events surrounding the remains of ancient stone walls, now covered with
moss and grass. Then I went into the Rose Salon and curled up on
the big red leather sofa to read, calmly watched over by the portraits
of the previous inhabitants of La Barre. Before I knew it, it was
time for white wine before the fireplace and another candle-lit dinner.
so much a part of that château that I could be happily there, not
as some alien visitor, but as if, in some small way, it was my château
as well! In all my readings of the history of France and of
its châteaux, I had never thought I could feel a part of one.
Yet, that is the ambiance that the Count and Countess de Vanssay created.
Colleran lived in France in years past and in recent times traveled there
often with her late husband.
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