5 min read, france, travel diaries

From fairytale castles to Bonaparte parlours; Carolyn Boyd’s historic adventures in France

28th May 2015
It is wonderful to spend one’s holidays visiting charming villages, spectacular châteaux and awe-inspiring monuments, but to wake up in one… well now you’re really talking. 

When it comes to France, history needn’t stop at the hotel doorstep, you can be surrounded by it at all times. Whether you check into a converted monastery, a château hotel or an ancient farmhouse, there’s so much to choose from to make your trip that little bit different.
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One of our most memorable trips was to the Loire Valley; we were destined to gallivant around France’s fairytale castles, so my husband and two small children, along with my mum and dad (to make sure it was truly a multigenerational trip) checked into Sawday’s self-catering Château de Breuil. Set close to the pretty village of Chedigny, famous for its 800 rose bushes, the white turreted château was once the seat of the local seigneur, but for that week in May, this castle was our home.

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While Château de Breuil made the perfect base for a daytime dash to the Donjon at Loches, an amble in Amboise and a toddler chase around Chenonceau, we were surrounded by history even as we slept. Our host was Roxanna, an architect who had restored the château from a crumbling heap, and she showed us all its wonderful features; from its amazing stone staircase – with a carved wooden balustrade that reached from the ground floor to the second floor – to the framed receipt of a bath bought in 1891. We stayed in the Napoleon room, where Roxanna had displayed her wonderful collection of Bonapartesque memorabilia. No museum could have offered such authentic collection of these personally gathered artefacts.

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Over the eight years I’ve edited FRANCE magazine, I’ve been lucky enough to stay in some wonderfully historic hotels and holiday homes, both before the kids came along and since. Somewhere that offers grown-up luxury even with the offspring in tow is the heavenly Château de Saint Paterne.

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As well as being perfectly located for a stay en route to or from Caen ferry port, the 11-room Château de Saint Paterne offers true fairytale romance. Owners Charles-Henry and Segolene de Valbray have spent more than two decades renovating it, the results are simply divine.

What I love about it is that it just oozes historical character without being precious – from the elegant salon stuffed with objets d’arts where they serve pre-dinner bubbly, to the individually styled rooms.

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Last time we stayed it was in the Chambre de la Roseraie, which had been newly decorated in a stunning blend of gold, cream and beige. With a smaller room on the side for our two children, they quickly fell asleep after an afternoon running around the spectacular garden (trampoline, swings and a climbing-frame-cum-slide on offer) and their own tasty dinner at 6pm. Once their lights were out, my husband and I – armed with baby monitor, so they were always in earshot – sauntered along for one of Charles-Henry’s wonderful dinners in the candlelit dining room. Romantic, beautiful and so, so homely, the château captures my heart every time.

Carolyn Boyd is the editor of FRANCE magazine, the one-stop shop for French travel, lifestyle, gastronomy, people, history and culture.

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