Have you ever dreamed of living in a castle? I have! In fact, I must confess, I’m just a little bit obsessed with castles. I have visited loads of them in Germany and Switzerland and France. I think it is the coolest thing ever to walk through a castle, whether restored or in ruins, and to learn about the history. I love imagining the people who lived there and what their lives might have been like. If I could, I would visit every castle in the world. (I can just see G’s eyes rolling back in his head now.)
Over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to stay overnight in a few castles. I’ve stayed at the Château d’Ouchy near Lausanne, in Switzerland. It is a castle that has been turned into a beautiful luxury hotel that looks out over Lake Geneva. I’ve also stayed at Burg Schwartzenstein near Frankfurt, Germany. It is a gorgeous place, perched amid Mediterranean gardens overlooking the vineyards of the Rhine Valley.
Last year, I spent one night in the Château des Reynats, near Perigord, France. Somehow, when I booked it, I didn’t read the fine print… I should know better after all my bad hotel experiences! We arrived to find that our room wasn’t actually in the castle but in the “Orangerie,” a nondescript building squatting in the shadow of the castle. I was very upset, but G saved the day by getting us into the only room left in the castle proper, The Honeymoon Suite. It was located in the tower, and it was fabulous, with its antique furniture and murals on the wall.
Well, after staying in a few castles, naturally I began to daydream about actually living in one. So I started surfing the net. You would be amazed at how many castles there are for sale in France! There are boatloads, and they are all over the spectrum – from “intimate” 4-7 bedroom places to huge behemoths with dozens of rooms. Some have been restored, some haven’t. My theory is that most of them were bought up by the English when the pound was so strong against the euro – which resulted in lots of Brits moving to France. And for whatever reason, many of them are now wanting to sell. G and I both would love to live in France one day, but realistically, I don’t know if we need to live in a castle. A villa on the Côte d’Azur would do just fine.
But, I did get to experience living in a castle this past summer.
G turned 50 in July, and I took it upon myself to plan the party. I know, poor me. He actually wanted to have it on the beach somewhere, preferably in the south of France. Or in a villa in Tuscany. I looked and looked, but renting a place that will host 15-20 people in the middle of high season in Europe is outrageously expensive. Add in our pretty high standards and it becomes astronomical. So it occurred to me to host his party in a castle. I knew there were lots of places we could rent out, so I began to make inquiries. And after several telephone conversations with the proprietor of Château de la Beuvrière, we booked the place for two weeks.
Château de la Beuvrière is located in the beautiful Loire Valley of France, about 25 minutes drive from the quaint little town of Angers. It is well hidden. In fact, few people in the area even know of its existence. The original structure dates back to 1372, and it was rebuilt in the early 1800’s. The current owners (yes, she is British, he is American) purchased the property 12 years ago, and they have modernized it and furnished it with beautiful antiques and items collected specifically for the castle.
There is a chapel on the second floor with a history all its own: during the last World War, Canadians disguised as monks utilized the castle as headquarters for the French Resistance. They would put a light in the window of the chapel to warn their neighbors of enemy troops in the area.
Perhaps the best part of the castle is the name – “beuvrière” means “drinking hole.” It was so named because of the large lake on its grounds, from which the castle derived much of its revenue generation. Most of the surrounding farms originally belonged to the royals in residence, and they were eventually leased out. The farmers would bring their animals to drink from the lake and they were charged accordingly. Knowing that our group would be drinking quite a bit themselves, I thought the name was very apropos!
The four floors of the castle are comprised of twelve en-suite bedrooms, an elevator, two dumb waiters, an exquisite ballroom, a beautiful salon, and a cozy kitchen with commercial-grade appliances. (There are lots of other rooms, but we didn’t use them.) The grounds are stunning, with a heated pool and pool house and a 22-acre lake which you can stroll around.
It is nothing if not authentic. While we were there, a bat appeared in the kitchen one night, as we were sitting around the table drinking wine. G and I slept in the tower, and we were awakened several nights by screeching noises at the windows. Apparently, before the place was renovated, the tower was frequented by bats, and it seemed they were just trying to find their way back in!
For two lovely weeks, we got to call the castle “home.” Our friends and family joined us, and we made the place our own. We prepared our meals together in the kitchen (although there is a chef in residence who is happy to cater for guests). We had cocktails by the lake in the evenings, and sometimes sat by the fire in the gorgeous salon until bedtime. The proprietor stayed discreetly out of sight unless we needed something. And although the castle was beautifully and ornately decorated, it was very comfortable and easy to live in.
If you have ever entertained the idea of staying in a castle, I highly recommend it! And if you have already done so, I’d love to hear about your experience.