04 May 2012 by Chris Jones
Chateau de Blavou, Mortagne-au-Perche, Normandy
Combining chateau grandeur with chambre d’hote
Rolling hills, lush greenery, verdant pastures dotted with apple trees…where else could we be talking about but Normandy? Our featured property this month is a fantastic 5-bedroom chateau set deep in the region. But if a chateau sounds too grand or too big, then don’t be put off. True, this is somewhere that’s ideal for gatherings of family or friends. But the owners also arrange chambre d’hote – bed and breakfast – accommodation for those who only need a room or two.
Idyllic nature park setting
Set in the pretty Perche Natural Park, this is just the place for those who love nature with wild deer, hawks, hedgehogs and woodpeckers greeting you as you arrive. But the location is anything but isolated – Paris is only two hours’ drive away and attractions such as Monet’s Garden at Giverney, the splendid medieval cathedral at Chartres and the world famous racetrack at Le Mans are are all within easy reach.
The chateau itself was built in the 15th century. With pointed towers, manicured gardens and grand staircases, this is everything a British visitor might expect from a fairytale French castle.
Set in large gardens and surrounded by 30 acres of parkland, there’s plenty of exploring to do. There’s even a small lake where you can row one of the boats or just sit in the sun. In the garden there’s an apple and cherry orchard with plenty of quiet spots for reading or a doze in the afternoon.
Indoors, as well as five luxurious en suite bedrooms which can be rented individually for smaller parties, there’s also a grand dining room as well as a 15th century kitchen in the vaulted cellar, where guests can enjoy a sumptuous evening meal.
The owner’s story
Owner Nigel Murray moved to this corner of Normandy two years ago and explains, “After 35 years of doing the same old job in London, it was time to do something different. It all came about after seeing a picture of a fairytale château on the web.”
Immediately taken not only by the house, but also the surrounding countryside he recalls, “The grass and trees never seem to lose that intense green of early summer, and when you combine the perfect English summer with cider, fantastic local cheeses and a mixed cultural background that provides interest throughout the year…you know this is something special.”
There’s no shortage of local attractions and chief amongst them is the Saturday market at Mortagne-au-Perche. Here you can buy fresh vegetables, goat’s cheese and yoghurt, local beef, pork or chicken straight from the local farmers. And don’t forget to stock up on Normandy’s finest produce be it cheese, cider, calvados or the local black pudding. And when you’ve finished shopping, the cafés are a paradise for people-watching.
Nigel recommends a visit to a nearby village called Réveillon, famous for its Friday jazz café, “Locals, Parisians and expats of all nations arrive to eat Shirley’s hearty fare and to hear Bob Tinker, her partner, join in with the group playing anything from Miles Davis to New Orleans Jazz – it’s Ronnie Scotts in Le Perche!”.
Nigel also recommends a trip just down the road to medieval Bellême, a fortified village officially recognised as one of France’s most beautiful, “Walk up the cobbled streets to the old town and there you’ll find everything from flower shops and antique shops to places selling exquisite dressing gowns and modern sculptures.”
Asked about local gastronomy, Nigel is brimming with recommendations, amongst them La Croix d’Or in Le Pin which “serves with elegance making you feel as if you’re amongst old friends, and all for a menu starting at 10 Euros”, as well as a restaurant in Mortagne, where Nigel says chef Freddy Pommier will cook an exquisite meal as good as any Michelin-star chef, at a fraction of the price.
And if all this has whet your appetite for a taste of Normandy’s cuisine, countryside and hospitality, then you find out more here. Rates start from £100 for a double room.