This morning, we’re traveling just two hours from Paris, but centuries back in time. We promised the kids plenty of chateaux and a night in paradise.
It’s one o’clock and we’re on the Route des Chateaux de la Loire, the driving itinerary to see the best of these fairytale castles. First stop: Le Domaine de Chaumont, a magnificent chateau that’s also home to the Centre for Arts and Nature. Strolling amidst ancient stones, stables, and a drawbridge, visitors can gaze upon sublime works of art. We loved the Klaus Pinter sphere, a ball of a thousand golden flowers, displayed in the Stables Canopy. Out in the Historic Grounds, Patrick Dougherty has designed natural, nest-like shapes that crouch among the trees. This chateau was a genuine favorite and the children still talk about it. I promised them we’d go back for the International Garden Festival.
After three hours at Chaumont, we head to Les Hauts de Loire. Arriving at dusk at this former nineteenth-century hunting lodge, we are greeted by Le Grand Cerf, an enormous sculpted stag by Pierre Yermia, poised regally in the parking lot. After a quick check-in, we settle into the Family Room in the Carriage House, barely 30 yards from the chateau. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two terraces with views of the grounds and the vegetable garden. The children jump into a steaming bath filled with divinely scented Clarins bath crystals while I slip unobtrusively under the comforter to read. Wall hangings, flowered curtains, and super-soft carpets make you feel right at home, only better.
For dinner, we decided to take a table at the Bistrot rather than the Restaurant Gastronomique. The succinct menu and relaxed atmosphere seemed better suited to dinner with the whole clan. The children are warmly welcomed – the youngest perches happily on a high chair and boys reach for the coloring supplies, giving us time to enjoy a delicious dinner facing the open kitchen. The kids shared a crunchy trout biscuit with stewed leek and potato while we devoured crispy knuckle of lamb with mint-tinged couscous brûlée. For dessert, The Médicis with Old-Fashioned Sugar for the grownups, while the youngsters went straight to the chef to ask for chocolate ice cream. After a liqueur by the fire in the main house, we all set off for bed.
Sunday morning, after a boisterous start to the day, we traipse to breakfast, where a large round table awaits to hold the entire tribe. The children rush to the buffet to stuff themselves with pancakes, fresh bread, and house honey (the hives are in the forest right in front of the property) while the adults lounge around sipping delicious coffee and nibbling steaming, fresh-from-the-oven brioche.
We decide to visit the kids club to entertain ourselves with the wooden toys, foosball, and books. My eldest scrunches down into a Fatboy beanbag chair to read while the others play school on the wooden blackboard. (The club is only open in season but, in winter, families are welcome to use the space.) After this “gaming,” we jump on bicycles (available onsite) to explore the 173-acre grounds. The property is marvelous, a verdant country landscape with well-marked paths for strolling. It’s hard to leave, but we still have two more chateaux to go!
I promise we’ll be back this summer to enjoy the swimming pool, the Clarins spa, the refreshment bar, the kids club, the petanque (bowls) court, the tennis court, and the gourmet restaurant!
WHAT’S DELICIOUS ABOUT TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN ?
“Seeing the world through their eyes. Traveling with children means traveling in a whole new way: You learn to take your time, stop, breathe; to answer their thousand questions, to be present in, and enjoy, every moment. You become curious again, too – it’s wonderful.”