Having our own chateau rather spoiled us for anyone else’s. We rarely ventured from the ramshackle kitchen, the parlor fire, or the jigsaw table in the banqueting hall where one of a variety of stuffed stags and wild boar kept a puzzled eye on the proceedings.
The fire was an absolute necessity for, although it was late spring, the days were cold, wet and blowy. We were staying in part of the Loire Valley in France best known for its lakes. We had a lake or two of our own, and a swimming pool, all of which threatened to burst their banks. The Sologne was particularly sodden and water-logged during our stay.
As other tourists donned their pac-a-macs and ventured out to visit this chateau or that, we stayed in the considerable comfort of our own, the guests of Madame and Monsieur H. (pronounced Ash, in the French manner.) They had rented the mansion (maison just doesn’t do it) and invited all their friends for two weeks of fine French food and wine, plus plenty of gossipy catching up, game-playing and occasional forays for fishing, cycling, sight-seeing and shopping. It will hardly surprise you to know that I concentrating on the eating and drinking plus the chatting and Scrabble. I am badly out of practice at the latter. Scrabble Rosie swept the board.
Our chateau, in the middle of a big estate filled with pheasant, quail and larger wildlife, suited us perfectly. 14 bedrooms, featuring wall-papers festooned with ducks or flowerpots or explosions of antique roses. An equal number of bathrooms, and a startling supply of very hot water. An upstairs and a downstairs kitchen. A giant press filled with of once-valuable, now-chipped china; drawers and drawers of well-used cutlery; fridges big enough to stow the daily haul from the market or supermarche (19 people to feed each evening). A basement to keep the white wine chilled and a side table handy to the dining table to keep the red wine and the giant cheese board just how we like it. A tangle of textures and patterns and colors. Minimalist, it wasn’t.
Madame Ash is a fabulous cook and was ably assisted by chums who aren’t called Delia or Nigella, but should be. We ate pork cooked over fennel at dinner, boudin blanc at lunch, and Monsieur Ash made sure there was no shortage of bread or croissants at breakfast. We had pineapple, many jars of cherry jam, and a frightening amount of epoisse. Sausages were scarfed in multiples. Celeriac was served. Did I mention the crevettes grise? Last night, back home, I ate a bowl of thin soup with some dry bread. Time to cut back, knuckle down and draw in those horns. My coffee this morning is a drab impersonation of what I now know real coffee to be.
Our chateau was filled to bursting with objets ancien et moderne. The owner had animal lover’s kitsch and grandchildren’s photos displayed alongside the family silver, glass domes of butterflies in flight for all eternity, and Quimper bowls. Everything was set against a backdrop of old, tattered tapestries. Any scene would have made a good jigsaw picture. Unfortunately the 1500 piece supplied by Les Enfants Ash depicted Klimt’s Kiss. Many persevered for many days, but that black and gold border defeated us.
At night, with the windows open, we heard owls. In the daytime, cuckoos and at dusk, the nightingales.
The cleaning lady hit a pheasant on her way to the house one day and the dead bird was caught in her radiator grill when she rolled up at the massive wooden front door. She threw the bird in the boot. “I’ll pluck it and my husband will make it into pate” she told us, in French.