Château stays can be very rewarding and interesting “adventures” — out of the ordinary and not something you are able to do in most countries of the world — but easily done in France. France boasts thousands of beautiful châteaux, serving as well-loved homes and updated with modern comforts. Hundreds of these offer guest rooms, and perhaps dinner with the hosts, in elegant and historic buildings across the land.
If you’ve never spent time in a château or manor house bed and breakfast, but think you might on your next visit to France, you will undoubtedly be pleasantly surprised with that first experience. Well over two decades ago, we drove up the gravel driveway of a country manoir in Normandy, awestruck by the gray stone edifice standing before us. Our arrival was at dusk (we were behind schedule!) and warm lights glowed from the downstairs windows. The front door was slightly ajar, our hosts anticipating our arrival. We were very cordially welcomed and guided up to our chambre.
Climbing a winding stone staircase for the first time (trying to manage two over packed suitcases) gave us our first sense of the age of this building — the center of each step was deeply worn away from thousands of footsteps over hundreds of years. The climb also quickly convinced us to pack lighter on future visits to France!
Our room was large with a sleigh bed, beamed ceiling and antique furniture. A bookcase held many volumes in both English and French, if we had the desire to read, but we didn’t. The room was too fascinating and the view from our window too wonderful, even in the near darkness, that we just wanted to absorb it all. We were actually going to sleep in a French ‘château’ for the first time in our lives and found that notion almost unbelievable!
Now, many years and many dozens of château stays later, we are quite at ease knocking on a great door to be greeted by our sophisticated hosts. Yet, despite the fact that staying in château bed and breakfasts is no longer a new experience for us, it has neither lost its intrigue nor its uniqueness. Each property is vastly different from the last; each location presents its own landscape and regional attractions; and each owner offers a unique perspective and, most often, a fascinating history lesson.
We hope you take advantage of the enjoyment, comfort, elegance and delights awaiting you at a Renaissance château, country manor, restored ancient mill, medieval castle or other historic property in France. Once you get used to doing so, you will find it a very hard habit to break!
Accommodations . . .
You are many hundreds or 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 may still be 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, most properties now provide Internet connections and computer hook ups in guest rooms, and many also have WiFi in the château.
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 or a shower cabine 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 most 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?
For additional photos, history, amenities, classes offered and location
please visit http://www.au-chateau.com where you will find lovely
châteaux and manor houses among the nearly 80 members
located throughout the French countryside.