France: Château de la Barre
The Loire region of France is world famous for its castles. Château de la Barre has that something extra: from the minute you turn into the park and its curving road, past the gate-keeper’s lodge, past the sheep grazing under the centuries-old cedar of Lebanon, the imposing plane and walnut trees, and arriving at the white gravel courtyard of Château de la Barre with its warm-white sandstone architecture, you enter into a different time-space. The mere fact that this property has been owned by just one family since 1404 – that’s 606 years – makes a stay here more than special. But that is not the main reason: it is the warm welcome of Guy and Marnie, the owners Count and Countess de Vanssay, that really make you feel like you are old friends dropping in for rest and relaxation from reality.
Every one of the five bedrooms has its own style, from the truly grand Marin de Vanssay room in blues and golds, with its marble fireplace and baldachined double bed, to the cheerful Chambre Jaune, all are generous in space and feature hand-ironed monogrammed linen bedding, French antiques collected by various family members over the centuries and fresh flowers from the garden. The modern bathrooms all feature selected amenities and fluffy bathrobes. There are no television sets in the rooms (only downstairs in the Fireplace room), thus adding to the away from the world experience. Having stayed in several of the rooms, I cannot claim a favorite - every one has its charm!
Truly a place where one can enjoy the quiet of the countryside. Well, quiet is a relative word: birds singing and sheep bleating are sounds you will have to get used to here. And you’ll get to know the sounds Kakou the parrot makes when he wants attention...
Full English breakfasts are served in the morning room decorated in sunny yellows. Dinners can be a formal affair in the grand “Salle à Manger”, with its 18 ft. high ceilings, long table, Herend fine china and crystal, family silverware. Don’t be put off by the word formal: You will automatically want to sit up straighter in this gorgeous room but at the same time enjoy the delicious meal made with fresh regional ingredients. Guy de Vanssay prides himself in knowing all the wines and cheeses of the region and many beyond, so you are in for a treat.
Take your coffee and brandy either in the very cosy “Salon Rose”, with its comfortable leather sofas surrounded by family portraits or in the “Grand Salon”, with its made to measure set of furniture dating back to 1778 (it was a wedding gift for the Marquis and his bride at that time and has survived intact since then). It may sound like living in a museum, but believe me, it is very much a home, both to the guests, the hosts and the two dogs, Pumm and Diva. The patina of the centuries sits well in this place and even if a Persian rug may be a little worn or an ancient oak door squeaks, it is just that which makes it all the more lovable.
Be sure to let Guy regale you with stories of the family and the chateau. This is a history lesson you will not forget because you have lived in it! Marnie, the American-born Countess, can offer suggestions for lots of things to do and see in the Loire area – after all, this is the premiere French Château and Gardens, Wine and Cheese country. Or why not take one of the dogs for a wander in the park and forget about the world beyond its borders?
P. S.: The Times Online has rated Château de la Barre as among the best 100 hotels in Europe in its May 23, 2010 article.
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