Featured writer: Evelyne Holingue
In the same way New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas symbolize the United States for most Americans, Paris, Provence, Versailles, and the Loire Châteaux represent France to most Americans.
Nobody is to blamed : These are great French destinations. Now that I have left my native France for the U.S., I also became a tourist in my homeland.
Last summer, however, I stayed in Paris for only a week, I avoided the crowded Côte d’Azur and the renowned châteaux, preferring a quieter area of France, off the beaten path, but definitely worth of the detour. Ready?
Angers is located on the Maine River in the western part of France. For most French residents, Angers opens the road to the South and to the sought-after summer destinations. Until recently, Angers was known as the shy sibling of Tours, better known because of the famed Loire Châteaux. But Angers, packed with smaller châteaux less prestigious than Chambord and Chenonceaux and more personable, is now one of the most attractive French cities. Over the recent years Angers has smartly created an identity that blends tradition and modernity.
Since it was the first time my husband and I were vacationing in France without our children, we wanted to celebrate in a special way. My geek of a husband spends lots of time browsing the Internet for anything French. He must have spent quite some time during the winter since the reservation he made for two nights at the Château de Noirieux was one of the best ideas he ever had, and the best of the summer.
The Château, located fifteen kilometers (9 miles) from Angers, is a Relais Château and offers the outstanding comfort you expect. Yet there is a perfect old-fashioned touch and true hospitality that sometimes lacks with other Relais Châteaux to make it charming and not intimidating.
It is pricier than some hotels, but since hospitality business is expensive in France, sometimes it is better to put a few more Euros to get something out of the ordinary. So if you are seeking unforgettable memories, Château de Noirieux is a place for you.
It will also offer a glimpse of this very French trait: the search for the perfect balance between extraordinary and good taste.
Service at Château de Noirieux is perfect from breakfast to dinner.
Breakfast is served either in a conservatory filled with natural light or, weather permeating, on a lovely terrace overlooking the Loir River. The weather was cool when we stayed, so we never ate outside, although we took longs walks through the gardens. A nice path below the property takes you along the river and you can borrow bikes from the château if you wish.
As a typical French-born woman, I’m not a big breakfast person. But who can resist a basket filled with croissants, pains au chocolat, pains aux raisins, and different kinds of bread? There were also finely sliced meats and cheeses, eggs and plain homemade yogurts. And I absolutely adored the locally made honey. It was the best honey I had in ages. One apiculturist from a neighboring village makes it, and the chateau buys his entire production for its consumption.
We didn’t stay for lunch, preferring to explore our surroundings. But dinner is a must if you want to eat exceptionally well and being treated as royalty. You are in a château after all.
Chef Gérard Come and his tireless team cook from only fresh and local products. Each dish is a feast for all senses. Honestly, chefs are artists when they create such dazzling plates.
From the tiny bouchées, offered before the appetizer, to the sweet treats that accompany the after dinner coffee, which can be served at your table, in the nearby sitting room or even on the terrace, the attention to detail is perfect.
The sommelier will introduce you to an awesome wine list, which ranks from the most expensive to more reasonably priced bottles. You can taste, you can order only a glass or go for a pairing. Basically, you are here to enjoy yourself and everything will be done for your pleasure.
Lunch starts at 58 Euros and dinner at 80 Euros.
The degustation menu is priced at 130 Euros, but is worth every Euro.
The hotel is as unique as the restaurant. Our room was in the Manor section and not in the Château. It is a stone away from the dining area, but I would recommend it if you seek absolute quietness and solitude. Each room is differently furnished. Ours came with large windows that I loved to push wide open on the gardens. I missed French windows when I moved to the U.S.! Each room comes with the must-have modern commodities, including Internet access – very convenient for bloggers!
The rates vary upon the room you book and start at 175 Euros a night. Year round, all kind of special events are offered as well as special offers from late November to late February. So it is a great idea to check the website to track the offers.
It is tempting to stay at the Château de Noirieux, either in your inviting room, or around the pool or in the gardens, but the city of Angers has enough cafés, restaurants, boutiques and… more castles to keep anyone busy for an extra day. Besides the sublime castle located in the heart of Angers – beautifully restored – there is a multitude of smaller manors and properties that pop up at the top of luscious hills.
The Château de Montriou, for example, is absolutely charming. The owner, warm and friendly, gives each visitor a map to visit the gardens, which surround her property. My kids crowned me “queen of potted geraniums.” Honestly? I didn’t brag about the title when I spotted the plants exploding with color on the steps of the castle.
Several gardens wrap around the little château, which has been in the family for more than three hundred years. The short, well-trimmed bushes and the alleys made of luscious grass exemplify French gardening at its best. The vegetable garden is exceptional, and despite a rainy spring and hot summer, gorgeous roses and colorful dhalias kept company to salads, carotts, green beans, zucchini, and cherry and apricot trees.
“Actually,” the owner said when I told her that I lived in California. “A man from California stayed with us last year.” She smiled. “He was very nice. But the only question he kept asking was about the property taxes. He seemed very worried about that.” She slightly frowned. “Finally, when I told him how much I paid, he stopped asking.”
As a true guarded French native, she didn’t disclose the amount of her property taxes. I’m sure it was hard for her to keep up with the necessary maintenance work considering the French high property tax rate. As for the Californian, I’m sure he stopped dreaming of making an offer to the owner. Whoever owns a château, even small and in need of restoration, must be ready to pay royal taxes.
But, if you are only visiting, it won’t cost you anything, only a rental car to drive through this peaceful France, where time trickles in a slower pace and where history and gastronomy gently elbow each other.
P.S. Definitely to consider for the France slash quiet slash exceptional section of your bucket list.