Living the fairytale life at Hotel Chateau du Grand-Luce

Glorious Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé

From the moment I disembarked at diminutive Tours Airport I could feel I was in for something special. Driving through sunflower fields and idyllically sleepy villages I felt my sense of expectation growing as we headed deeper into the verdant Loire Valley. Final destination? The village of Le Grande-Luce.

It’s a dreamy sort of village with a church, two boulangeries, a chemist and, bizarrely, three hairdressers. And the piece de resistance (well, we are in France) set proudly in the centre of the village is the Château du Grand-Lucé.

Built by the Baron de Luce in 1764 it’s had a rich and somewhat turbulent history having survived the French Revolution, a rampant fire in the village and two World Wars. In the second one it became a hospital for wounded British military officers and paintings from the Louvre were hidden from the Nazis in a cellar under the stables. Since then it’s been a cinema, a holiday home and a fabulous wedding venue, and from Spring 2019 it opens for the first time as a hotel.

As the heavy black metal gates slowly opened, revealing the sweeping driveway and the imposing, neoclassical chateau, I breathed in the regal air and readied myself to play my part in its incredible history. And to enjoy living like a fairy-tale princess for a while!

Grand-Luce: me

Loving the chateau lifestyle

Come on in…

The stunning interior shows off high ceilings, sparkling chandeliers and classically elegant decor. There’s a grand pink dining room (you could have some dinners to remember in there), and plenty of plush seating areas for chilling out.

Grand-Luce: lounge

The beautifully stylish living area

Grand-Luce: dining room

The spacious grandness of the pink dining room

And then it’s time to go upstairs. Wow! How I can imagine dancing down that glorious staircase. The rooms on the first floor are all uniquely decorated, no one is the same. I stayed in the luxury of the Butterfly room, home to the antique wallpaper covered in, guess what, butterflies. Living surrounded by these beautifully delicate creatures quite simply makes life better.

Grande du Luce: seating area

My comfy seating area surrounded by butterflies

A large double bed with canopy and luxurious linen led to blissful nights of sleep and awakening in butterfly heaven, refreshed and ready to enjoy a new day in Loire heaven.

Grande Luce: bed

The tempting, luxurious bed

And from the moment I drew back the curtains (some of the biggest (and heaviest) curtains I’ve ever seen) my heart leapt at the view across the sweeping lawns towards the oak forest in the distance.

The magnificent grounds

Château du Grand-Lucé is set in 80 acres and  you’ll find flourishing flower, herb and vegetable gardens, a lake and meadows. The garden is dotted with statues given as a gift from King Louis XV, may of which are exact replicas of statues at Versailles, and crystal chandeliers hang from the avenue of trees. Seriously, chandeliers in the trees – and they come on at night!

Grand-Luce: crystal chandeliers

The trees sparkle with crystal chandeliers

There’s a quirky perfectly round swimming pool beside the orangery for lazy, sunny days.

Grand-Luce: pool

The sparkling pool beckons

With so much outside space, Château du Grand-Lucé is the perfect place for alfresco dining. Which we did a lot of. Long tables set with crisp linen and decorated with fresh flowers from the garden. You’re off to a good start before you even start eating.

Grand-Luce: dinner outside

Gotta love dining alfresco

Grand-Luce: dining table

Beautifully decorated with flowers from the garden

Grand-Luce: fruit and veg

The greenery of the fruit and vegetable garden

Grande Luce: sunflower

Giant sunflowers punctuate the Loire landscape

Grand-Luce: secret spot

One of many secluded spots to relax in

Food glorious food

Okay France is well-known for its stunning cuisine. And the Loire region does offer a lot of local deliciousness. Like these amazing pork rillettes. Melt-in-the-mouth snacking joy! Or how about some pigs in blankets? Impossible to resist.

Grand-Luce: rilettes

Tasty rillettes are a speciality of the area

Here’s a taster of what to expect. I’m warning you…be prepared to salivate!

Perfectly cooked steak served with a creamy Bernaise sauce and roasted vegetables from the chateau’s garden.

Grand-Luce: steak

Tender steak with perfect Bernaise sauce

Grand-Luce: apple tart

When in France eat apple tart tartin

Grand Luce: salads

The freshest of salad spreads

Grand-Luce: cheese

French cheese simply should not be resisted

And here we are posing in our fabulous, huge windows. It was irresistible. Loved those windows.

Loved Château du Grand-Lucé. A truly fabulous piece of Loire paradise.

Grand-Luce: windows

The best windows with the best views

The details

Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé opens in June 2019.

Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé is less than an hour’s drive from Tours Airport. It is also less than one hour from Paris by train to Le Mans which is about a half an hour drive away.

Find out more

Château du Grand-Lucé, le Grand Luce, Loire Valley, France

Visit https://chateaugrandluce.com/

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Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/chateaudugrandluce/  

A heavenly piece of France at PAUL in Covent Garden

Tonight I’m back in Covent Garden trying out a brand new bistro. I seem to keep discovering romantic stories of family businesses that have been going forever. PAUL is another one of them.

The company was started in 1889 when Charlemagne Mayot and his wife opened a small bakery in Croix near Lille. It was his granddaughter Suzanne and her husband who carried on the business by taking over a famous bakery-patisserie in Lille belonging to the Paul family. They decided to keep the name. PAUL patisseries are now in 29 countries around the world and 125 years later, what has now become something of an empire, is still family owned and run.

I’ve had many PAUL encounters in London. It’s hard to walk past one with their tempting array of cakes twinkling at you from the display. And their coffee’s really good, too. Tonight’s PAUL, though, is one with a difference. Behind the irresistible confectionary is their first foray into the world of restaurants – a classic bistro. With beautifully Parisian decor and a menu based on classic, simple French cuisine, there’s no doubting its French-ness. And the food is wonderful…it’s easy doing simple food, but it’s not always easy doing it to perfection. They’ve certainly achieved that here.

The conundrum of picking a starter was neatly averted by going for a platter! A rather carniverous one at that. This selection of saucisson, jambon cru, coppa, rosette, terrine and smoked duck breast came scattered with zesty onions and cornichons with a basket of assorted bread on the side. They take their bread very seriously here, it’s all made on-site with flour that’s milled from wheat grown exclusively for them by French farmers. No wonder it tastes so good. This meaty combo was amazing. I particularly like the saucisson and smoked duck and could have eaten a whole tin of the pate de Campagne. It was ridiculously good!

charcuterie

Heaven is…a board of charcuterie with onions and cornichons

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Classic pate de Campagne: rustic and bursting with flavour

The petit Camembert came with toasted Campagne bread. A starter to share and get stuck into…dipping the toast into the creamy ooziness of the camembert is wonderful, if potentially messy!

camembert

Delectable baked Camembert with rosemary and honey

The main course options (not surprisingly) shout France! Things like blanquette de veau, Toulouse sausages, Andouilette, Coq Au Vin and steak frites. After a discussion about whether it was boring to order roast chicken in a restaurant (yes is the answer) I decided to try their roasted free range corn fed half chicken, marinated in tarragon, lemon and garlic. Beautifully lemony with a hint of scented tarragon, this strikingly yellow (from the corn) chicken was mouthwateringly succulent and could certainly be entered into a competition for the best roast chicken ever! And it was huge…well, they did say half a chicken so I don’t know why I was surprised at the size…seriously, this is a main for two to share, especially when you consider all the other delicious dishes you are going to be unable to resist!

chicken

The best roast chicken ever? It’s certainly up there

Like the dauphinois potatoes…yummy, yummy, yummy. Love the little pan, too.

dauphinoise

Creamy dauphinoise potatoes to ooh over

Another classic is the duck confit, a slow- cooked duck leg served on buttery mash. Crispy, soft and flavourful, this has got to be one of the best ways to eat duck.

duck

Confit de canard aux olives

There’s a great selection of wines, as you’d expect from any class French establishment.

The breakfast and snack menus look extremely tempting, too. Who can resist a croque monsieur, or madame for that matter.

And then there’s the desserts. A range of tarts to start with – the lemon (citron) is truly scrumptions (I’m running out of adjectives!) or you can sample millefeuille, eclairs, macarons, brioche-based delicacies and sorbets and ice creams.

© Giles Christopher - Media Wisdom Photography Ltd

Cakes, tarts, slices, macarons…a fabulous array of sweet delights

 

© Giles Christopher - Media Wisdom Photography Ltd

The elegant and welcoming interior

PAUL had only been open about a month when I visited. The strangest thing about it (in a good way) is that it feels like it’s been around forever and you are eating classic family recipes that have been passed down through the generations.

The space is stylish and comfortable, the staff serve with a twinkle in their eyes and it’s also extremely good value. For example, my jumbo helping of chicken costs £12.50.

A great new addition to the Covent Garden restaurant scene, as well as to the family business. Welcome La Restaurant de PAUL.

Le Restaurant de PAUL is at 29 Bedford Street, Covent Garden

Square Meal

If you’re going to Beaune

So it’s time for the welcome return of guest blogger Jan Orchard who has been experiencing the joys of Beaune. My mouth is watering as I read…thoughts of the best cheese shop in the world (I may never get out if I walked into that)…wine lists with over 800 choices and the rotisserie van that’s always present in the markets of Europe and impossible to walk past without purchasing…Wow, Beaune is some foodie destination. Here’s what Jan has to say

The home of some of the most famous wines in the world – think Romanee Conti, Puligny Montrachet, Givry and St Aubin – Burgundy is famous for traditional, rustic food and great produce. The wine capital is Beaune, a walled town of immense charm where eating and drinking well are the most important things in life. If you are heading south, it’s a natural halfway stop – but also well worth a three or four day holiday. Just forget the diet.

If you are planning to visit Beaune, Ma Cuisine is a must – but only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and not in August or February. This small restaurant is a favourite with locals in the wine trade and with visitors – so booking well ahead is vital. We once sat next to the most riveting wine merchant, rumpled and devastatingly attractive in that French way, who taught us more about wine by explaining our choices than you could learn in a a year. His advice – buy by the man – famous winemakers don’t make bad wines. Our Bouchard and Hubert Lamy choices met with approval.

So, what makes Ma Cuisine special? Fabienne Escoffier cooks traditional Burgundian food in the Elizabeth David tradition while knowledgeable Pierre presides over a wine list with 800 amazing choices. It is food a Frenchman from 100 years ago would recognise, firmly based in the culinary history of the region – and yes, they are Escoffiers from the famous chef’s family.

There is a set three course menu priced at around 25 euros and an a la carte. Both are displayed on blackboards and vary depending on what is good in the market. Three of us had beef carpaccio – which was wafer thin and excellent. I had plump griddled scallops, wonderfully fresh and tasting of the sea. All four of us had the demi coquelet – a little free range chicken, roasted and subtly spiced (there is ah istory of spices in this area with spice biscuits a tradition in nearby Dijon). We shared cheese – local pungent washed rind Espoisses served with Ma Cuisine’s rustic bread.

Loiseau des Vignes couldn’t be more different. Run by Dominique Loiseau, the widow of Bernard Loiseau who shot himself fearing he ws about to lose a Michelin star, this one-starred restaurant is next door to elegant Le Cep. The bar there is lovely for a pre-dinner drink and for people watching the clientele of very well-heeled Americans.

Loiseau des Vignes does a 25 euro lunch – there’s no choice but every course is outstanding. The waiters are the sort who know what you want before you know you want it – and materialise silently by your side. There are over 100 Premier Cru wines by the glass – a chance to try some top vintages at an approachable price.

Lunch starts with a complimentary gougere – the cheese choux pastry that is a favourite nibble in Burgundy. On the day we went the starter was an amazing crab soup with white crab meat on a tiny croute, surrounded by a rich crab bisque and finished with a cream of sweetcorn soup poured by the waiter. It sounds odd – but it was fabulous.

The amazing crab bisque served with sweetcorn soup

The amazing crab bisque served with sweetcorn soup

The main was a beautifully cooked sous vide cylinder of Bresse appellation controlee chicken with tiny vegetables. For dessert there was a mille feuille that combined very crisp, very thin layers of pastry with a chestnut cream filling – or you could choose a selection fo cheese. Coffee comes with the best macarons I have ever tasted – they’re blackcurrant because Burgundy is big on blackcurrants, crisp on the outside, melting within.

The cheese trolley at Loiseau des Vignes

The cheese trolley at Loiseau des Vignes

Beaune is packed with restaurants. Food does tend to be hearty – it’s designed for those who work hard on the land. Typical dishes are boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, jambon persillade (a terrine of ham set in parsley jelly), oeufs meurette (paoched eggs in a wine sauce – sounds awful but is actually delicious – and of course escargots awash with garlic butter.

Hearty was certainly the word for the plat de jour myself and Chris had at Au Raison. Tired after a very long drive from Calais in the rain, we went into a cafe advertising a 12 euro plat de jour. It was packed with truckers and builders, concentrating on putting away a very large amount of food. There was absolutely no other choice than the plat. Madame (at least 6 foot tall and built like a rugger player) plonked a large bowl of dressed lettuce, some bread and a puff pastry rectangle with a cheese filling on our table – this was the starter. The main was a choice of pork or lamb – two thick slices of beautifully cooked meat sitting on a mountain of potato puree. Cheese – one huge plate with several different cheeses on it that circulated from table to table followed, and pudding was a banana. It was an experience and great to see that this sort of food still exists.

Food and wine are central to the Burgundian way of life. Beaune is packed with wine shops and with the head offices of some of the biggest and most famous names in wine (Bouchard, Drouhin, Louis Latour) where you can taste and buy. Shops include the fabulous Alain Hess, the best cheese shop I have ever seen, offering over 100 varieties plus pates, traiteur (ready made to take away) dishes, olive oils, spices – and of course, wine.

Saturday is market day where the whole of the square opposite the Hospice de Beaune is packed with stalls selling whatever fresh vegetables are in season (it was asparagus and artichokes when we were there), honey, charcuterie, roasted chicken and pork (the rotisserie van appears at every French market), pizza from a wood fired oven, flower and vegetable plants, local cheeses, artisan breads, apple juice, spices, soaps – all incredibly tempting.

Heaven for asparagus lovers

Heaven for asparagus lovers

A stunning pile of artichokes

A stunning pile of artichokes

The rotisserie - the aromas alone are impossible to resist

The rotisserie – the aromas alone are impossible to resist

Heritage tomatoes from the south come in all shapes and sizes

Heritage tomatoes from the south come in all shapes and sizes

The market finishes at lunchtime when you can go and relax over something nice. Our favourite is Le Chevalier, a cafe with outdoor tables in the Petit Place Colbert. Top choices are grilled goats cheese salad, coq au vin, morel mushroom omelette – and Chris swears by the Andouilette – a rather grisly sausage made from offal.

How fabulous that all sounds! Wine and food to delight and so much of it…Another destination on my list. Thanks Jan for transporting us into the foodie heaven of Beaune.

Bulls, markets and Marc at 5am in St Remy

My first guest blogger on my new blog. Welcome Jan Orchard. She wrote about her visit to Arzak in San Sebastian for the previous, destroyed blog and I’m glad to say has agreed to making another appearance. And it’s a real goodie from the town of St Remy in Provence, France.

Visiting St Remy by Jan Orchard

If you ever have the urge to feel like a character in one of Peter Mayle’s novels, take yourself off to St Remy de Provence, sit in the Café Place and watch the passing scene. On market day, you’ll be serenaded by the sounds of Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf and less appealingly Johnny Hallyday from the vintage record stall.

If you want lunch, get there by 12,30 latest – the tables are occupied by robust Provencal types who want to tuck into the plat de jour before it all goes. The plat changes daily – while we were there the choices were moules mariniere featuring fat, juicy mussels from the beds at Sete and brandade de morue (salt cod) with mashed potato and a tomato stew.

This is just an ordinary café but the food is outstanding. We both had hand rolled trofi pasta served with creamy burrata. One dish came with pesto, the other with a rich, full tomato sauce, both were fabulous and over generous. As we ate, we watched a dead ringer for Carla Sarkosy, all pout, high voltage glamour and poker straight hair pick at a beef tartare between puffs on her cigarette (eating exterieur in the South of France means smoking is allowed – even if the exterieur is a veranda). The enfant with her was badly behaved for a French child. Usually when confronted with food, French children stay in their seats, eat up and from time to time comment on the menu. We’ve never recovered from seeing a five year old order and enjoy oysters!  I’ve also eaten salade chevre chaud at Café Place which instead of the usual grilled goats cheese on a croute is a toasted ham and goats cheese sandwich with bayonne ham, fig chutney, sun dried tomatoes and a large salad.

Trofi pasta with pesto and Burrata at Cafe Place

Salad chevre chaud with a difference

St Remy is set at the foot of the Alpilles and is a major area for olives, fruit, tomatoes and Mediterranean vegetables. The Wednesday market is a food lover’s heaven. The narrow streets are packed with stalls selling local olive oil, mountain cheeses, olives, little jewel like boxes of strawberries, redcurrants and other fruits, tomatoes in every colour imaginable, pesto, tapenade, pungent anchoiade, sun dried tomato paste, the ubiquitous Vietnamese nems you see in every French market (a relic of the Colonial past), saucissons, hams and more. The table setting isn’t neglected either – there are dozens of stalls laden with colourful salad bowls and dishes, table linen and the Opinel knives no French countryman can be without – so handy for cutting a piece off a passing cheese or saucisson!

This great olive stall also sells hummus, tapenade, pesto and sun dried tomatoes

Sun dried and fresh Provencal tomatoes with herbs. Heaven.

Cheese, glorious cheese from cows, sheep and goats.

You’re going to need something to carry all your food home in! Go on, buy a new basket.

The porchetta is sold by the glass at this stall

As you walk around the streets, you’ll see signs saying, danger, manifestation taureau. This refers to the annual bull festival  – a spectacular event where the gardien horsemen from the nearby Carmargue come into town with their little black bulls who run through the streets. They take part in a bullfight too – but not the Spanish corrida. The bull gets to chase unarmed young men around the bull ring. One event during the festival features a large pool in the centre of the ring – it is not unknown for the bulls to give up chasing and go and stand quietly in the water instead ! Posters around the town advertise that Ferdinando or wboever from a particular mas (farm) will be appearing – and lists his parents and his and their victories.

St Remy has tourists but is still very much a Provencal town. Get up at 5am and you’ll see workers sitting at the Café Marche with a glass of Marc and a strong coffee. There are designer shops and galleries – but also many beautiful patisseries and delicatessens. On the drive into town there are farms advertising wine, honey or olive oil tastings – well worth a stop.

Stay at Hotel Gounod, right on the main square. Ask for a garden room. Eccentric in the extreme with religious statues and clutter of various sorts everywhere – but very convenient and with parking. For a treat, head to Mas de Carassin which is about a mile outside town. Dinner is a wonderful experience here – there is no menu, everyone has the same four courses but it is delicious – and advertised in the morning so changes can be made if there is something you don’t eat.

Thanks Jan! How amazing does St Remy sound and look? I’m totally sold on the place! The closest big town is Avignon where you can catch a bus there. Oh and Marc is a fearsome spirit made from squashed grapes and stalks after the wine is pressed – a real firewater officially called Pommace Brandy! Who’d have thought I’d learn about a new liquor I hadn’t heard of.

Do you have something you want to share on my blog? I’m always keen to have you help me cover the world of food…so get in touch if you have something to say.