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One Man's Home is Another Man's Castle: Joining Europe's Aristocracy
What child reading about fairytale castles in Europe doesn't dream of being a handsome prince or beautiful princess, living a life of romantic luxury, enjoying marvelous banquets and being waited on hand and foot as well. You're an adult now and though we can't help you with your looks, there's an outstanding Belgian hotel association that can take care of the rest and make you feel like royalty when you're next in Europe.
One of France's best kept secrets is the Valley of the Tarn, located some 620km south of Paris. Here the crystal-clear trout-laden Tarn River flows down a steep-sided valley where craggy cliffs alternate with lush green trees to give the impression of a smaller, verdant version of parts of America's Grand Canyon. The road that clings precariously to one side of the valley passes through some of the most dramatic scenery in France, and the river below is a favorite with French canoeists. As the road rounds a corner, a fairytale castle comes into view. It is one of my favorite "secret places" that I've stayed at in Europe and typical of the marvelous chateau, castle and manor house accommodations that are well worth looking for.
Richard Cabouret -- manager, coordinator and driving force behind Chateaux & Hotels de Charme, ILA Group -- had this to say about furnishings: "While the plumbing, facilities and amenities of this and the other Castle Hotels are modern, and everything is done to make our establishments comfortable, our members tend to leave room furnishings and decor as authentic as possible. Very often the antiques in our castle hotels are worth a small fortune. The families who own these establishments are really proud of them and frequently leave some of their finest antiques and heirlooms in their properties for the enjoyment of guests."
France and many other areas of Europe abound with gracious mansions that have often been handed down from generation to generation in the same family. But in the last 50 years or so, death duties have become progressively higher to the point where, in some countries, a financial crisis occurs when the head of the family who owns the castle dies, and the survivors have to find up to 40% of the property's value to pay out death duties. In many cases, such a situation so impoverishes the family members who inherit these properties that they cannot even afford enough money for basic maintenance. At this point, the only way to create an income from the property and, at the same time, make maintenance tax-deductible is to convert the castle into a hotel.
In order to facilitate bookings and cross-referrals, Cabouret set up the ILA Group. This covers elegant properties, private castles in various parts of Europe that take in a few selected visitors, elegant Chateaux in France, stately country homes and castles in Britain, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Spain, and Italy, and a most interesting mix of other similar but often modern, exclusive, and always interesting properties in such diverse areas as USA, Africa and the Caribbean.
Here we will concentrate on the more romantic, aristocratic and historic properties in this group, organized by country...
Chateau de la Caze
As one drives along the D907 "Gorges du Tarn" Road and arrives at a point some 5km northeast of La Malene, a modest roadsign announces the imminent presence of the Hotel Chateau de la Caze. And then, on turning a corner, La Caze comes into view. It is resplendent with towers befitting Rapunzel, and could be straight out of a fairytale. Built during the reign of Charles VIII and still with the original cobblestone upper floor, it is today converted into a hotel that, amazingly, fully maintains the ambiance of the 15th century.
The Valley of the Tarn is sure to captivate anyone who is at all interested in nature. One can hire canoes and gently paddle downstream, or rent a motorized boat complete with boatman who will "drive" you upstream. If you understand French the added bonus will be an interesting commentary about this valley which, to me is one of the prettiest in Europe. Often, as you look up, the road will seem to be clinging right on to the cliffside!
Explore some of the villages that are little changed since the 15th century, enjoy the splendid cuisine bourgeoisie served at the small roadside restaurants along the valley, and wash this down with wines that are very often produced in vineyards only a kilometer or two from where you are drinking them.
Chateau de la Commanderie
Close to the vineyards of Sancerre some 260km from Paris is a magnificent private chateau owned by the Count and Countess de Jouffroy-Gonsans. The historic castle has been in the hands of their family since 1630 and the "new" wing was added in the 1800s. Five rooms and two suites of this magnificent family home are available to selected visitors who are treated like family guests when they stay at this amazing property.
The Countess has personally chosen the fabrics and wallpapers of these guest rooms which also feature many family heirlooms and genuine antiques. The Count and Countess have proved to be gracious hosts and make their guests doubly welcome if guests are interested in horses, as the Count is an accomplished rider who delights in taking guests through the forest of his 300 acre property on horseback. Tennis players will also be pleased to know that there are tennis courts on the grounds of the Chateau.
Chateau de Vault-de-Lugny
230 kilometers from Paris and on the way to Beaune, the town that is the hub of Burgundy, is a valley along which the Cousin River, more akin to a large brook, runs past fields and forests. This is idyllic countryside and here, off a small country road, is the Chateau de Vault-de-Lugny, one of the loveliest "Stately Homes" imaginable.
The Chateau, which dates back to the 13th century, is set on 40-acre grounds and is surrounded by lawns and moat. It is not only an excellent base from which to explore Burgundy and visit the medieval village of Vezelay, but is also a fabulous place to stay. Twelve lovely suites and bedrooms feature antique furniture, four-poster beds and every imaginable comfort. Trout fisherman will relish the idea of the trout stream that flows directly past the door. Silver-service candlelight dinners are also a special feature. A castle of this standard would be inconceivable without gourmet cuisine, and this one certainly has it.
Not far from Cholet, Angers and Saumur in France's chateaux country, 360 km from Paris, the Chateau Colbert has a fascinating history. In 1012 A.D. the land was purchased by the Count of Anjou and in 1668 it changed hands when Edouard-Francois Colbert, who was a popular visitor to the court of Louis XIV, purchased the property. It has only changed hands a few times since then. Each of its owners was an important name in French history, and each added his own touch to this magnificent chateau, which was meticulously rebuilt to its current form in the 1800s.
The glamorous, modern bathrooms and facilities are the only capitulation to the 20th century -- everything else, from marble floors to exquisite antiques and decor, is of the period when France's aristocracy was the most stylish in Europe. Staying here is truly like being part of the French aristocracy, and guests will also love the carefully tended grounds that feature the largest Oriental garden in Europe.
Chateau de Chailly
During the reign of Charles the Bold, the Chateau de Chailly-sur-Armancon was a medieval fortress. Located 270km from Paris and 300km from Basle, this patrician Chateau, located in the heart of Burgundy, is quite traditional in layout. But -- unusual for France -- it also features an 18-hole par-72 golf course.
Thirty-five comfortable bedrooms and ten superb suites, as well as a gourmet restaurant, ensure that the discerning guest is treated royally. To maintain the mood of the ancient building, century-old construction beams have been left bare to accentuate the feeling of tradition and antiquity which makes this ancient castle-chateau so authentic as to be classed as a French national monument. The upper-tower suite bedrooms with their four-poster beds, attractive colorings and interesting tower roof-lining are particularly popular with honeymooners and discerning international visitors.
Whether you are a keen golfer or have come here to appreciate the magnificent wines of Burgundy, Chailly will be just the place to cater to your every whim and to ensure a perfect holiday.
Built over the 500 years between the 13th and 18th centuries, the Chateau Lalande has mellowed with time but lost none of its great style. Located 620km from Paris, 150km from Bordeaux and 140km from Toulouse, the chateau is a memorable stopover on the way to Spain or to Southwest France. Its 22 chambers and suites are exquisitely furnished in perfect taste. And its restaurant is considered one of the finest opportunities to experience the delights of French gastronomy.
The sheltered outdoor pool, encircled by the wings of the property and therefore extremely private, is large and user-friendly. The Chateau has excellent facilities for small corporate meetings and think tanks with the largest of the three conference rooms being situated in a vault dating back to the 13th century. Relaxation is also not forgotten, and the hotel services include a beauty salon, gym, Jacuzzi, ultraviolet tanning, and massages. An 18-hole golf course is nearby and the Chateau can also arrange horse-riding, archery, canoeing, water skiing and paragliding.
Should you be in Eastern France, you might like to follow our footsteps to Chambery le Vieux, not far from the Swiss border, in the picturesque area once ruled by the House of Savoy. Here we discovered the Chateau de Candie, a lovely property that had originally been a 14th Century fortress and has now been internally remodeled into an hotel that is an absolute delight.
Within easy reach of Alsace and Switzerland, the location of this hotel makes it an obvious choice for those wanting to explore the Savoy region and the ancient villages on both sides of the Swiss border.
When you see the incredibly attractive dining room and experience the special ambiance of this chateau-hotel, you will understand why so many locals insist on having their wedding reception at Chateau de Candie. For us, our visit seemed like a second honeymoon.
Chateau des Vigiers
Those who like castles but also enjoy golf may well head for the Chateau des Vigiers, 600km from Paris and 80km from Bordeaux and first constructed in 1597 by Jean Vigiers, a royal judge from Ste-Foy-La-Grande. This former private home was converted into a stunning hotel and country club in 1993 and has, since then, been a magnet for the world's discerning "Movers and Shakers." Here you are likely to find regular clients like opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
Vigiers offers one of France's most stylish castle and golf combinations. This beautiful Chateau has been exquisitely restored, and its 47 rooms and suites are decorated in traditional chateau decor. The suites consist of master bedrooms, marble bathrooms, and living rooms that feature old, exposed beams, and the original stonework. Suites face out onto large sunny terraces -- it is no coincidence that locals call it "Little Versailles."
There is an 18-hole par-72 golf course designed by Donald Steel and constructed by Brian Pearson, both of whom have done work at the prestigious St. Andrews and Chantilly. The course is integrated into the Chateau's plum orchards, vineyards and oak woods.
Vigiers gourmet restaurant is popular with in-house guests and Chateau owners from the surrounding countryside, and snacks and light meals are also served in the Clubhouse. There is no chance of running out of wine, as the Chateau's vineyard produces some 150,000 bottles each year. Excursions to nearby wineries can be arranged, as can horse-riding, mountain-bike riding, tennis and fly fishing for Black Bass in the Chateau's three-hectare lake. Some of the most famous Bordeaux vineyards are within an easy day trip from here.
Le Moulin de Connelles
While not a castle in the true sense, this beautifully restored mill in Normandy, France, converted into a delightful hotel and restaurant some 115 km from Paris and 40 from Rouen, is picture-postcard pretty. The mill stream flows right under the building. Colorful gardens surround the property. It would be hard to find a prettier or more imaginative place to spend a few days, and the surrounding countryside has the bonus of being filled with attractions ideal for daytrip destinations.
Normandy is a fabulous area of France which, so far, seems only to have been discovered by the English and the Germans, with the addition of the families of the Americans who fought on the landing beaches of Normandy in WWII. From Le Moulin de Connelles one can explore the landing beaches, go to Bayeux to see the famous tapestries that depict the battle and victory that resulted when William the Conqueror invaded Britain, and even visit places like St. Michel and the Chateaux of the Loire. Or one can relax and take it easy, perhaps fishing in the branch of the Seine that this picture-book mill straddles. Whatever your choice, it is likely to be an enjoyable one.
Thirty-seven kilometers southeast of the car-ferry destination of Calais is the Chateau Tilques, a beautiful manor-style hotel set in five hectares of park-like grounds. The building was constructed as a private mansion in l891 and is another example of the interesting properties the ILA group has to offer. It makes a perfect stopover for those planning a leisurely drive from London to Paris and is equally popular with those who just want to experience the delights of the coastal area of Normandy and nearby Belgium.
Assolas Country House
The countryside of the Republic of Ireland is becoming more and more popular as news of its scenic beauty and friendly people spreads. In Kanturk, County Cork, an alluring small hotel-restaurant will make you feel that you're a member of the family.
Indeed, the Bourke family who own this charming 17th century country house will help you to make arrangements for salmon fishing, trout fishing or just touring the region. The nine guestrooms of the house are all beautifully furnished in traditional Irish country-style, and the front garden of the property abuts the local river.
If you have rented a car the whole of Ireland is within reach. And what a lovely, verdant island this is. Every village seems to be steeped in history, and if you call in to a pub for a pint of Guiness and start talking to the locals, you will soon realize why Ireland is known as the country of poets and storytellers.
Once you get out of London the green fields and hedgerows of England will captivate you. This is a gentle landscape that is arguably farmed more efficiently than most in Europe.
Across the country there are manor houses like Lewtrenchard Manor in Devon built in the time of Henry II. This establishment of seven rooms and one suite is well-known in the area for its gourmet cuisine and makes an ideal base from which to explore Devon.
From here, Plymouth, Exeter and the peninsula that comes down to the most southern tip of Britain is within easy reach. Many say that this is the prettiest and most picturesque part of England and if you stay at this property, and ask the Manager to assist you with your sightseeing program, the chances are that you, too, will agree.
Scotland is an ideal holiday destination for those visiting Britain, especially in summer. Forty-pound salmon are still being caught in this part of the world where locals seem to live for their two favorite participator sports: fishing and golf! And if you are heading for Scotland, Tulchan Lodge will not disappoint you.
Here amid fields of heather, forests of pine and open moors is a baronial castle-style property within easy reach of Balmoral Castle, Loch Ness and Cawdor Castle (immortalized in Shakespeare's MacBeth).
It would be hard to find a more suitable place from which to fish for salmon on the River Spey or to go out shooting and stalking. Roaring fires, public rooms with paneled walls and a construction of traditional Scottish stone give this stately home, built in l906 a great deal of character.
The Murrayshall Hotel & Golf
This is a traditional Scottish manor overlooking the undulating golf course and across to the Grampian Mountains. The Manor House offers the same sort of gracious accommodation as the other establishments described here. But there is one huge bonus if you happen to be a golfer. The 18-hole course with its par-73 tree-lined fairway will make you feel that you are in heaven. It's no coincidence that Murrayshall is a magnet for keen golfers from all over Britain and the Continent. Most say that if they had commissioned a place to be specially designed for their utmost relaxation and perfect golfing, Murrayshall would be it.
Hotel De Orangerie
In the Middle Ages the town of Bruges, in what is now Belgium, was one of Europe's major trading ports and featured canals similar to those of Amsterdam. These enabled cargoes to be taken straight from the sailing ships to the warehouses that were integral parts of the opulent homes of the town's wealthy merchants. Any home facing directly onto a Bruges canal was a status symbol indeed.
One of these most attractive 16th century waterfront homes has now been converted into a hotel of great ambiance. Rooms are comfortable and furnished in traditional Belgian style. They offer accommodation that is more like that in a fine Belgian home than in a hotel.
Sight-seeing boats can be boarded directly from the hotel's open-air dining terrace. A real bonus is that guests have access to carparking as well as an indoor swimming pool at this establishment's sister hotel, the Hotel De Tuilerieen, just five minutes away.
Bruges is one of Belgium's most popular tourist attractions and there would not be a better place from which to explore this marvelous medieval town than this hotel.
Villa Del Sogno
In the center of northern Italy, between Milan and Venice is the Lake of Garda. Overlooking this is the stylish Villa Del Sogno, a classical 4-story villa in a hibiscus-filled private park. This is the place to come if you wish to stay at a place that makes you feel like a house-guest of the Italian aristocracy.
The position of this hotel is perfect for those who want to use it as a base to explore Northern Italy. Milan, Venice, Portofino, and the Italian Lakes that, like Lake Como, can be found on the way to Switzerland, are all within easy reach of this attractive, aristocratic and very traditional establishment.
Eight kilometers from Florence, Villa Villoresi is a hard act to follow. A 12th century Patrician villa, it has amazing murals, high painted ceilings and some rooms with frescoes that make you feel as if you are sleeping on an open-air balcony overlooking formal Italian gardens. This hotel makes a fabulous base for exploring the art treasures of Florence, but if you speak to someone who has been there, they will tell you that this hotel is an art treasure in its own right.
The position is as brilliant as this beautiful hotel. Not only are you within a stone's throw of Florence, but wine-lovers will delight in visiting the Chianti road and some of the excellent wineries represented there. Siena is only 83 km away and Bologna an hour's drive also. And then there are some of those timeless medieval villages like San Gimignano. If Tuscany with its art, wine and history turns you on, so will this lovely Villa Villoresi.
Grande Albergo Excelsior Vittoria
I remember my first visit to Sorrento, when we arrived by cruise ship and looked up the cliff to the stately hotels that overlook the Mediterranean. I immediately selected one place as my conception of the ultimate opulence and style. I later found this to be the Grande Albergo Excelsior Vittoria. If you really want to make a dream come true, book one of the two luxurious "Caruso" suites (No. 445 or 448).
Here you will find wonderful ceiling-murals and be able to play the Grand piano that was used to accompany this most famous opera singer when he stayed at this attractive hotel with its vistas right across to distant Naples. Sorrento is one of the jewels in Italy's crown, and Pompeii, the ancient Roman resort that was preserved under a layer of volcanic ash when Vesuvius blew its top 2,000 years ago, is within an easy afternoon's drive. Don't miss it.
Hotel Santa Caterina
What visitor to Italy does not dream of visiting Amalfi on Italy's West Coast, some 62km south of Naples and only 34km south of Sorrento. And this hotel is one of the area's loveliest hideaways. Perched at the top of a sheer drop down to the sparkling blue ocean below, the hotel's large terraces will give you views of the Amalfi coast and the sea.
Whitewashed arched ceilings, terrazzo tiles, and stunning views are the hallmarks of the Hotel Santa Caterina. It's the sort of place that dreams are made of and is romance personified. The hotel also has a very pleasant restaurant. What more could one want for a first (or second) honeymoon?
Castle Hotel Schoenburg
Germany, too, is well represented in the ILA membership. There are ski resorts and German manor houses, but perhaps the most dramatic hotel in the ILA's Chateaux & Hotels de Charme German membership is the Castle Hotel Schoenburg that has, as the original castle, overlooked the Rhine for one thousand years. Only 80kms from Frankfurt or only an hour's drive from Cologne, this is a venue which will be a highlight on any trip to Europe.
-- Chateaux & Hotels de Charme
In case you think that the ILA -- Chateaux & Hotels de Charme properties are all just castles, rest assured that there is much more. For example, there are some excellent modern Paris hotels in this group as well as many first-class restaurants.
ILA has other interesting members such as Rovos Rail, the most luxurious private train in Africa, game parks like Sabi Sabi, the famous Royal Scotsman touring train, stylish hotel barges in France, England, Scotland and Ireland and even a number of gourmet restaurants. In Canada and the United States ILA has linked up with "Special Places of North America," a group with the same high standards and objectives as ILA aspires to elsewhere.
For those who, like myself, are always looking for something different and better, sending for an ILA -- Chateaux & Hotels de Charme catalogue may be just the thing to enter a whole new world of reliable, interesting and often fascinating places to stay at on one's travels. And if you've ever wondered how Europe's aristocracy really lived, staying at one or more of these castle hotels will transport you right into that lifestyle with a minimum of fuss. Bon Voyage!
Hotel Chateau de la Caze
La Malene, 48210. Sainte-Enimie, France
TEL: (33) 66.48.51.01 FAX: (33) 188.8.131.52
Chateau de la Commanderie
Farges-Allichamps, 18200 St. Amand-Montrond, France
TEL: (33) 48.61.04.19 FAX: (33) 48.61.01.84
Chateau de Vault-de-Lugny
89200, Avallon, France
TEL: (33) 86.34.07.86 FAX: (33) 184.108.40.206
49360, Maulevrier (near Cholet), France
TEL: (33) 220.127.116.11 FAX: (33) 41.55.09.02
a` Chailly-sur-Armancon, 21320, Pouilly-en-Auxois, France
TEL: (33) 18.104.22.168 FAX: (33) 80.90.30.00
47140 Saint-Sylvestre-s/-LOT, France
TEL: (33) 22.214.171.124 FAX: (33) 126.96.36.199
Chateau de Candie
Rue du Bois de Candie, 73000, Chamberey-le-Vieux, France
TEL: (33) 79.96.63.00 FAX: (33) 188.8.131.52
Chateau de Vigiers
Vigier (near Razac/Saussignac) 24240, Monestier, France
TEL: (33) 53.61.50.00 FAX: (33) 184.108.40.206
Moulin de Connelles
40, Route d'Amfreville-sous-Les-Monts (D 19) 27430, Connelles, France
TEL: (33) 220.127.116.11 FAX: (33) 18.104.22.168
62500, Tilques (Saint-Omer), France
TEL: (33) 22.214.171.124 FAX: (33) 126.96.36.199
Assolas Country House
Kanturk, Co.Cork (Ireland)
TEL: (353) 29.50015 FAX: (353) 29.50795
Lewdon (near Okehampton), EX20 4PN Devon, England
TEL: (44) 1566.783.256 FAX: (44) 1566.783.332
Advie, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire, PH 26 3 PW, Scotland
TEL: (44) 1807.510.200 FAX: (44) 1807.510.234
The Murrayshall & Golf Course
Scone, Near Perth PH2 7PH Perthshire, Scotland
TEL: (44) 1738.551.171 FAX: (44) 1738.552.595
Hotel de Orangerie
Kartuizerinnenstraat, 8000, Brugge, Belgium
TEL: (32) 188.8.131.52 FAX: (32) 184.108.40.206
Villa Del Sogno
Fasano del Garda, 25083, Gardone Riviera (Lago di Garda), Italy
TEL: (39) 365.29.01.81 FAX: (39) 365.29.02.30
Colonnata (Firenze), 50019 Sesto Fiorentino, Italy
TEL: (39) 55.448.9032 FAX: (39) 55.442.063 443.692
Piazza Tasso, 34, 80067, Sorrento, Italy
TEL: 39.81.807.1044 FAX: (39) 81.877.1206
Hotel Santa Caterina
Via Nazionale, 9, 84011, Amalfi, Italy
TEL: (39) 89.871.012 FAX: (39) 89.871.351
Burghotel auf Chonburg
55430 Oberwesel/Rhein, Germany
TEL: (49) 6744.7027 FAX: (49) 6744.1613
To obtain a brochure or make a booking for any of the above, contact:
Chateaux & Hotels de Charme, ILA Hotel Group
Chaussee de Boondael, 6 - 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
TEL: (32) 2.647.2923 FAX: (32) 2.647.4251
and in North America...
P.O. Box 378, Issaquah, WA 98027. U.S.A.
TEL: 206.392.0451 FAX: 206.392.7597
Walter & Cherie Glaser are an international travel-writing team based down under in Melbourne, Australia.