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Destination: France : Spend the Night at My Chateau : Getting the Aristocratic Treatment at Country Homes Where the China Is Fine and So Is the Food

August 07, 1994|PATRICIA WOEBER | Woeber is a free-lance writer based in Tiberon

TOURS, France — Lightly dusted with fertilizer, Prince Louis Albert de Broglie stood in the garden, hurriedly wiping his hand on his trousers before shaking my hand in welcome. He apologized for his appearance--he'd been moving sacks of fertilizer for use in the potager, the walled kitchen garden. I'd just arrived to stay in his home--the elegant Chateau de la Bourdaisiere in the Loire Valley--as a paying guest.

After he'd washed up and changed, we met for drinks in the salon: a sumptuous living room with deep red walls and 8th-Century furniture. Even Versailles builder Louis XIV, lover of luxury, would have been at home. The prince fixed Kir royales--Champagne tinted with creme de cassis --while he chatted about the history of the chateau, which was built in three phases during the 14th, 16th and 19th Centuries.

He also told intriguing tales of his family. Among them, stories about three women ancestors, true femmes fatales, who owned Bourdaisiere during the 16th Century.

"Marie Gaudin was mistress of Francois I, who rebuilt and expanded the chateau for her in 1520," de Broglie said in excellent English. "She was also the mistress of Pope Clement VII and Charles V. Her daughter, Jeanne, was the favorite of Henry II. And Marie's granddaughter, Gabrielle d'Estrees, was the mistress of Henry III and Henry IV (both of France)."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 14, 1994 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 4 Column 6 Travel Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Spelling error--Due to an editing error, the town of Tiburon, Calif., was misspelled in the Aug. 7 Travel section story "Spend the Night at My Chateau."

For Americans, one of the appeals of staying in a real French chateau is that they are steeped in aristocratic history; the current chateau owners are often descendants of the the rich, the famous, the powerful. I have found this to be true in many of the three dozen or so chateaux I have stayed in over the past eight years, both for pleasure and in order to research a book I hope to someday write on the subject. In addition to being lovely experiences, my stays have taught me much about French history and culture; while offering ample opportunity for relaxation and fun, they have also provided a personal view of France through the eyes of the people who live here.

De Broglie and his older brother, Philippe Maurice, bachelors in their early 30s, say they are committed to preserving their home, which has been named to France's Monuments Historiques, a government classification for buildings deemed important to France's national heritage.

"We want to keep what we've been given and preserve it for the next generation," Louis Albert said. That's why a few years ago they began opening their home to overnight guests. Visitors provide the income to maintain (about $14,000 a year for electricity alone, the owners say) and to improve the 600-year-old chateau. This includes renovations of bedrooms and bathrooms (the chateau has 12 bedrooms set aside for guests).

The room I stayed in was decorated with antiques and had a large and recently remodeled bathroom. Green flowery fabric covered the walls, the windows and the decorative canopy over the bed. Like many other chateaux, Bourdaisiere also has a swimming pool, tennis courts and horseback riding. Only breakfast is served here, however, so visitors need to drive to the nearby town of Tours for meals. In and of itself, this is a pleasure, since Tours is rich in history and fine restaurants.

Since the chateau requires constant attention, the brothers, once professionals working in Paris, (Louis Albert a banker and Philippe Maurice a stockbroker, they told me) resigned their positions to take on the chateau's well being. They are, consequently, a little broke.

That's where the guests come in, paying about $150 a night for two to stay in their home.

Just before dusk, Philippe Maurice invited me to look around the property. A stone gate led to a road that ran deep into a peaceful forest. The only sounds were squirrels scurrying among the leaves, and cuckoos calling. It felt as if we were worlds away from modern life, yet we were only about eight miles east of Tours.

While this was not the first chateau I had visited, it was like most of the others in its casual, country-home ambience. If it is warm during the day, guests wear shorts or jeans; for dinner women wear dresses or slacks; men, jackets.

The downside is that some chateaux don't have telephones in the guest rooms, and room service is not available. Guests can come and go as they please, but perhaps it is only natural that chateau owners seem interested in who is staying in their homes.

Most of my stays I have booked through La Vie de Chateau, an association of private chateaux that are open to the public (they also list properties in England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Greece). In France, the association represents more than 60 chateaux, of which Bourdaisiere is one. The booking service costs about $40 per room when reservations are made from the United States via an 800 number.

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