Wow! I am so excited to share another new KDHamptons Travel Diary with you all. Our dashing Brit pal, Kieran L. Lewis, checked in to share this gorgeous photo album from his trip to the Loire Valley, France last week. Kieran spent his first summer in Southampton last season, and is in his final year at Tufts University pursuing a B.A. in Peace and Justice Studies as well as Media and Communications. Just when you think the majestic homes of the Hamptons can’t be beat….take a look at the breathtaking château below. Thanks for sharing your diary with KDHamptons Kieran~ see you this summer!
Kieran shares……There is nothing quite like Europe. From the rich culture dripping with history and traditions that have been bequeathed from generation to generation, to the diversity that exists between – and within – the many countries that comprise this continent, there is much to be explored. Having grown up in the English countryside [below], I would count myself as truly fortunate. My home lies amongst wooded lands and undulating fields that seem always to trump the beauty of the many other places I have encountered during my travels, thus validating the phrase, ‘there is no place like home’.
Going on desultory drives down the countless hidden lanes in Sussex [below] is perhaps my favorite pastime while at home with my mother. Often these aimless journeys lead us to derelict churches, or ancient pubs nestled comfortably amongst woods, camouflaged from the naked eye.
Such is my inclination towards the countryside, my mother and I decided to venture onto the roads less traveled of our French neighbors, our destination being the primordial area of the Loire Valley, sitting roughly three hours southwest of Paris. A swift train ride beneath the waters of the English channel and we were on our way; the beauty of living in Europe.
The Loire Valley follows the Loire river, stretching for 630 miles making it the longest river in France- and is home to some of France’s most awe-inspiring châteaux, which figure significantly in French history. Almost all are open to the public and many are owned by the French government, or have been taken over by hospitality chains. But, much to my pleasure, a few of these châteaux are still owned and inhabited by the families who have maintained them since their conception.
Such is the case for our final destination, Château de Ternay [above]. Sitting on the cusp of the well-known Loire Valley and the little explored Vienne region, our drive to the Château led me to wonder if, in fact, there was any civilization still existing in these parts. Maintained by the Count and Countess de Ternay, the Château’s construction dates back to the 15th century, while the Count’s lineage to the Château extends to the early 1800s. As we turned off the deserted back lane just before the hamlet of Ternay, and onto the unassuming driveway, the magnificent structure of the Château [below] elicited a slight gasp from both my mother and me!
The gentle incline shaped an even larger and more striking image of the Château, asserting its dominance over the entire landscape. Upon arrival we were greeted in true style by the Count and Countess with a bottle of locally made champagne in the main drawing room.
Sitting in the wood-paneled room by the gargantuan fireplace with classical music permeating the air, it felt as though nothing had been altered since its earliest inhabitants. The family opens up five rooms for guests, all of which have character and charm in abundance, largely due to their careful preservation, and thus guaranteeing a very personal escapade.
For nature zealots, surrounding the Château are 111 acres of woodland to be explored at your leisure, no doubt done so accompanied by the two endearing resident dogs, who know every inch of the grounds, so you need not worry about about losing yourself amongst the many paths in the area. The woods are also home to animals such as wild boar and goats, so while adventuring, keep your eyes peeled for these elusive specimens.
Unfortunately, my mother’s health suffered a turn for the worse during the trip, consequently keeping her secluded to her chambers. Yet it must be said that if one is to fall ill, an ancient château situated in the French hinterland is the place to do it. To enhance the scripted nature of this scenario, the physician who was summoned to attend my mother was the archetypal French country doctor whose duties doubled as the mayor of the local town. American woman falling ill in the French countryside in an idyllic château…..I see the makings of a great romantic period novel? But I digress.
This rather unfortunate circumstance, however, permitted me the time to wander the land for hours on end, often stopping in the middle of a wood only to hear the layered tones of birds exchanging the daily gossip and the whispering branches tossing in the wind. The stillness of these particular woods is especially enchanting, evoking a humbled state of being that is equally unnerving.
Due to the many oak trees on the land, we indulged in the activity of truffle hunting [below], a truly taxing process that consists of walking at a sedate pace with the Count and his dog – who has been extensively trained to locate the scent of the truffles – and extracting them from just below the soil. From an observer’s standpoint, not a great deal of non-canine skill is required, but it is nonetheless a fascinating spectacle and a rare opportunity.
Although the French are famed for their cuisine, there was nothing quite like the first meal we ate at the Château, courtesy of the Countess: a four-course delight, artfully created with the use of locally grown produce as well as fare from the Château’s farm, and served on the family’s seemingly antediluvian crested china. The subdued lighting exuding from the candles and fire, the faint sounds of piano and strings, accompanied by the vintage portraits lining the walls, are all a subtle reminder of the Château’s authenticity. This, married with its gastronomic charms, culminates in an unparalleled ambience, allowing one to abandon all notion of reality and fall into times of yesteryear.
Another wonderful meal was experienced at Trésor Belge, an exquisite restaurant in the neighbouring hamlet of Pouançay. As it was the off-season, we were afforded the pleasure of having the place to ourselves as well as the undivided attention of the master chef, André Willemsen. The décor was quaint and tasteful, with hints of his Belgian homeland displayed proudly around the room. Having a capacity of 16 people, the ambience is intimate and genuine, and with over 55 Belgian beers to select from, you are sure to find something you like, or perhaps indulge in something new.
If you can tear yourself away from the Château’s seductive grasp, then it is necessary to visit the many other historic, fortresses and vineyards in the region. With such a depth of culture, this area of France has innumerable fascinating sites and towns to occupy you for days, if not weeks.
Trésor Belge restaurant- http://www.tresorbelge.com/
Château de Ternay- http://www.chateau-de-ternay.com/