By Margaret Webb – August 2016
In 2003 my friend Kathy and I visited the Château d’ Azay-le-Rideau. Unfortunately, the château’s employees were on strike so we could not enter it. We were able to walk around outside the château and view the lake and grounds. Fortunately for us, the charming town of Azay-le-Rideau has an abundance of shops, and we found our favorite: Le Passé Simple, the Simple Past. Kathy bought many lovely things and I bought a few. The women who owned the shop were very nice and really excited about all our purchases. They gave us little sachets as gifts. In the shop I found a brochure for a hotel not far away. The picture showed a fabulous looking old place, and the shop ladies told us that it is a lovely place to stay. So I called and made a reservation for us for that night. The lady there told me that the only available room for two people was in the chapel. That sounded interesting. She gave me instructions on how to find the place. We had our map and we were ready.
Our room for the night was in Bréhémont, on the south side of the Loire River, not far from Langeais. We followed the lady’s instructions which took us down a tiny, tiny highway into a tiny, tiny town, down a tiny, tiny lane, through a lovely gate to Le Castel de Bray et Monts. This was a hotel and a cooking school. La madame led us across the property, past roses, lilies and ivy-covered stone walls to our “room”, the chapel. It was indeed a chapel, probably a few hundred years old. Just inside the door, on the floor, was a spray of greenery that someone had left. We saw this same type of greenery lying at the door of the cave apartment that was located under the steps leading up to our chapel. (Yes, there was a cave apartment! So cool!) It seems that I can remember reading about some type of greenery that people would put inside a doorway. I can’t remember if it were done to express hospitality and good fortune or to ward off evil spirits. We decided that either reason was a good one. We ate dinner in the main house of the hotel. The lady’s husband was the chef and the instructor for the cooking school. His name wasMaxime Rochereau and he was once executive chef of a famous restaurant in Chicago and of others in France. His picture, as well as framed newspaper articles, decorated the walls of the dining room. Our dinner was absolutely fabulous.
After our wonderful dinner, we told Madame that we were driving into Langeais to use the telephone. There are no public telephones in Bréhémont. The bridge that took us across to the other side of the river was so interesting and ancient looking that we took pictures of it when going across. I was just positive that this bridge was from the Middle Ages, but I read later in the guide book that it was built in the last century. Well, it had the character of a bridge from the Middle Ages so it was worthy of a photograph. After making phone calls in Langeais, we drove back to our little place. I remembered that there was an iron gate at the entrance to the hotel, and I wondered if the gate would be closed when we got there because it was rather late. I was glad that I had told Madame that we were going into Langeais because she knew to wait up for us. When we drove through the gate, which was still open, Monsieur was waiting there for us. He closed the gate after we drove in and turned on lights for us that led us to our chapel. We told him how much we enjoyed the dinner and asked if he were the chef. We knew he was because we saw his picture on the walls of the dining room. But he said, “No, I am just zee deesh washehr!… and gate keeper!” He was a cute little man. The next morning we saw him working in the garden, so we knew he was the gardener, too.
Then in our chapel, we contemplated sleeping there. The chapel was a two story stone building with tall windows and a curving staircase up to the upstairs room and bath. The downstairs room was inviting, but also a bit spooky, when one realized that this chapel looked very much like a mausoleum. The plan was for Kathy to sleep downstairs, and for me to sleep upstairs. The plan was quickly modified when the lights were out. I heard a small voice, say, “Uh, Margaret, I think I’m coming up there.” The upstairs room had a vaulted ceiling, but there was a huge beam across the middle of the room that we had to duck under in order to go into the bathroom. We slept with the window open onto the fields, pastures, fruit trees, and cattle outside, and thanks to a huge fan, we slept comfortably all night long. I placed my duffel bag against the door just in case the wilted greenery at the entrance downstairs didn’t do its job!