For a weekend escape not too far from Paris but far enough to offer a total change of scenery, it would be hard to find better value for money than the Château des Ormeaux, a small, hillside castle overlooking the Loire River whose pointy towers and wooded setting make it look like an illustration for a fairytale.
After standing empty for 30 years, the château, which was built in 1830, was purchased by a group of friends and renovated in 1998. After a complete overhaul, it is now a luxurious bed and breakfast with six guestrooms in the château and two in a manor house a minute’s walk away, all of them decorated differently and plushly furnished with antiques. The enormous bathrooms are equipped with all the niceties, including tea- and coffee-making facilities and a boom box so you can play your own CDs or listen to the radio.
The corner rooms in the château have terribly romantic little hexagonal tower rooms furnished with a small antique desk, perfect for writing letters on a rainy afternoon or staring dreamily out the window at the Loire.
And, of course, the proximity of the Loire means that the great royal châteaux are nearby. Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life (his house, the Clos Lucé, is worth visiting) is the closest, but Blois, Chaumont, Chambord, Cheverny and Chenonceau are just a short drive away, with a number of others not far beyond, making this a great base for château cruising.
Other points of interest at the château include the “troglodyte” houses built into the rock of the hillside near the château, part of which is itself dug out of the stone, and the still-standing 15th-century staircase the 19th-century château was built around.
In the fall, the forest behind the château is carpeted with mushrooms and wild cyclamen in flower. For summer visits, the swimming pool is beautifully sited on a terrace below the château, with glorious views over the river. Bicycles are available to guests.
The super-friendly owners, Emmanuel, Dominique and Eric, speak a number of languages between them and are prepared to provide fine French meals with advance notice of a day or so. They also make their own delicious jams with unusual flavor combinations – e.g., quince, orange and cardamom or watermelon, grapefruit and apple – for breakfast (they are on sale along with wines and other local product’s in the château’s boutiques).
Two blessings for those who want a quiet, clean environment: there are no television sets in the rooms (although there is a flat-screen in the public salon for real addicts), and the château is totally smoke-free.
I could find only one small thing to complain about, but unfortunately it is something the owners have no control over: the noise of a nearby road, which can’t be seen but provides a hum of traffic when you are outdoors – a slight annoyance for city dwellers who crave perfect calm when visiting the French countryside.
Château des Ormeaux: Route de Noizay, Nazelles, 37530 Amboise. Tel.: 02 47 23 26 51. Fax: 02 47 23 19 31. Rooms: €112-150. Open year-round.