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Christmas in the French Countryside—2006

Christmas in the French Countryside—2006

For some years, we had made a tradition of Christmas in the French countryside: a night’s stay at a wonderful hotel or chateau within several hours from Paris, a fine restaurant, and a historic nearby church to visit for midnight mass on December 24th or a Christmas Day service. We opted for Christmas 2006 to stay at Chateau de Noirieux in the valley of the Loire—and, to put it mildly, the experience exceeded our expectations. Located in Briollay, three to three and a half hours from Paris, this beautiful chateau offered great hospitality, warm welcome, comfortable accommodations—and one of the finest dinners we have experienced in France. One star in the Michelin, the Chateau Noirieux and the Come family (M. Come behind the stoves and Mme Come offering a warm welcome) earn three stars in our travel guide. The setting is beautiful, offering woodland and river (Le Loire) views. The dining room is tastefully appointed and the service friendly and professional.

We began with an aperitif of Champagne Laurent-Perrier in the lounge, warmed by the working fireplace. We struck up a conversation with a lovely couple, also guests of the chateau for the evening. They would in short order be new friends and we would dine together, adding good conversation to the exquisite cuisine. We ordered an unusual 2003 Anjou Village (at the sommeliers recommendation—it was 100 % Cabernet Sauvignon, not the typical grape of the region) and it proved a great hit. Our first course, a Carpaccio of lightly smoked Blue Lobster, with “leaves” of Scallops, was utterly mouth-watering, eliciting oohs and aahs from the diners. The pleasurable sounds persisted throughout the dinner: a Barbue caught on the line, poached in “cellophane” Apples and Mushrooms in a mousse of Chataignes. Our palates were cleared with a Sorbet of Kombawa (an exotic fruit) and Champagne. On the main course, Pigeon from the region of Racan, stuffed with Sweetbreads, roasted a la Cocotte in the juice of the carcass and cervil, and accompanied by a Risotto of truffled Jerusalem artichoke. The cheese dish was a simple but delicious roasted crottin (goat cheese) with the oil of Roquette and Mache and pignoli nuts. Dessert was a beautifully presented “Boule de Noel,” a hollowed ball of dark chocolate flavored with Pomegranate in a surprise of Exotic Fruits, bathed in Vanilla with Cointreau and Lime. The cuisine was truly extraordinary and our hats are off to M. Come.

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, we made our way back to Paris with stopovers to visit the Cathedral at Angers (where we heard the Hallelujah sung by the parishioners) and the Cathedral at Chartres. Services were over at Chartre and there were only a few tourists at this usually crowded site. The stained glass windows are among mankind’s great artistic achievements and we reveled in their beauty.

You don’t have to wait for Christmas. Chateaux de Noiriex would make a glorious stopover in Spring, Summer or Fall, with tennis courts, outdoor swimming pool, bicycles and walking paths. I’m sure that fishing in Le Loire can be arranged. In several days, you can visit some of the great Chateaux of the Loire as well.

Take our advice and start planning now!!

Chateau de Noirieux, 26, Route du Moulin- 49125 Briollay, France
Tel: (33) 02-41-42-50-05;
Fax: (33) 02-41-37-91-00;
e-mail: noirieux@relaischateaux.com;
www.chateaudenoirieux.com

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