Monday, May 1, 2017

Sunday April 30 - Rainy Day drive to Château de Serrant

Château de Serrant
Well, we didn't do any cleaning/laundry yesterday, so today we take a slow morning. We're figuring out the laundry situation so things will dry in the same day. Today's twist is a need to hang clothes inside as it's raining outside. No problem - short drying in the washer/dryer, then hanging on the clothes rack in front of our electric heaters does the trick in no time.

It's a 3-day weekend for the French, meaning Monday is a holiday - which also means that the stores will all be closed. And we neglected to consider grocery needs yesterday. So today we have to run to the bakery that is open on Sundays in Brissac. We pick up a rotisserie chicken and some quiche to hold us till Tuesday.'

Our after lunch rainy-day activity is a visit to nearby Château Serrant which according to our Michelin Guide is a 3-star château for its interior furnishings. Just a bit west of Angers, the château doesn't disappoint. It's a sprawling Renaissance building (built on the foundations of a medieval castle, of course) with a parking lot full of cars.
How very French of us. We decided to visit the château at the worst possible time.
A. It's a holiday weekend. (Monday is May 1, French Labor Day and as we knew, everything is closed, meaning all of France is on vacation. Sigh)
B. Château Serrant is having a "Belle Epoque" weekend where tours are led by actors in 19th century character.
C. It's a rainy day and EVERYONE needs to find an indoor activity.

You can visit the main floor rooms and gardens for 8 Euros or for 11 Euros, you can also have a guided tour of the second floor rooms and basement kitchen. So we signed up for the tour in French with 40 of our closest French tourist friends. That makes things a bit difficult. There are informative cards in English for each room, but the detail is slim. And there are so many people you can't see what item she is talking about. Or take a picture without others in it. But, we saw many rooms and some were quite unusual.

When I talked to the tour guide afterwards, she told us that A, B, and C made for extra large tours and we would need a group of 20 to get a tour in English. But we all felt it was worth the price of admission and we'd tour it again.

This château has had a history of many families and sales, of lawsuits and lack of money. So it is surprising that this Renaissance palace is so harmonious in its construction.
moats and cellars of Château Serrant
The moats and cellars are all that remains of the former fortress guarding a passage of the Loire. However, we are confused because the Loire is several kilometers away. You can't even see the Loire from this location.

The Renaissance château was built over several centuries, but always to the original U-shaped plan that centers on a large stone staircase which was apparently quite innovative for its time.

When her husband died in 1675, Marguerite Thérèse de Bautru had a chapel/mausoleum built in his memory. Towering ceiling height and large windows make this chapel quite light in spite of the dark stone used for the mausoleum markers.
chapel with mausoleum (on right) to Antoine Walsh. Other family members are also buried here.

Sold once more, this time to an Irish family who had supported James II of Ireland and exiled himself to Nantes, the family is responsible for furnishing the château. The wife of Antoine Walsh, Louise de Vaudreuil, was a lady of honor to Napoleon's wife, Josephine and the Walsh family hosted the emperor and his wife at the château, for which reason, the imperial suite was created.
The empire bedroom, done in furniture from the Napoleonic era, very up to date for its time.

The château passed through marriage to the La Trémoille family who still live in the south wing of the palace.
South wing of the château 

Our tour is led by an intern who has only been here since March, but who is nonetheless very knowledgeable about the château and its furnishings.
Our tour guide explaining the dates of building the various wings of the château

My favorite rooms were the kitchen and laundry, in the basement, of course. A huge coal-burning stove/oven was installed in the late 19th century. It's 8 ovens were vented under the floor and out the kitchen fireplace chimney.
Of course there's a huge collection of copper pots. And there are two huge sinks set under the windows for washing up.

Next to the kitchen is the servants refectory (dining room) which includes the desk where the major-domo handled the management of the château serving staff.

There is a painting on the wall here and in the laundry that is a reminder that this château was occupied by the Nazis in WWII. But as it was used as a command center, the château was spared damage and looting, thus protecting its patrimony. The paintings were done by a German soldier and depict German soldiers.

The laundry featured not only the washing and drying of linens, but sewing machines for repairs and creation of new linens.
Laundry. Note the sewing machines on left

The dining room is on the main floor and full of elegant features from tapestries to sideboards, china, and of course the requisite dining table to seat dozens.

Oh, and of course an oversized statue.

The Grand Salon is exactly that - grand - from the ceiling to the tapestries of exotic animals to the furnishings which include a prized ebony chest with carvings, inlay, and secret chambers. It is clearly the best piece in the collection as the tour guide spent a long time explaining and showing it,
carved wood ceiling of the grand salon

the ebony chest

the ebony chest opened and its riches discovered

one of the tapystries in the Grand Salon

Perhaps the most striking room of the château is the library, begun in the 1600's by Guillaume Bautru, which today houses more than 12,000 books.

Among them is a first edition of Diderot's "Encyclopedia" and a first edition (1809) of a multi-volume set of books called "Description de l'Egypt" which collected the maps, essays, and descriptions of the scientists and academics who accompanied Napoleon's 1798 expedition to Egypt.
Description of Egypt - the large format books in the bottom left bookshelf

Beyond the library were the rooms of the Duchess that included her bedroom and dressing room. The bedroom had what is becoming typical of Renaissance bedrooms - a canopied bed, writing desk, chaise longue, and small decorations. But the dressing room was quite something else.
the Duchess' dressing room - walls are floor to ceiling cupboards and drawers

French hand sewing like Janis and I used to do
It took up the whole of the tower and had a modern bathroom, dressers and closets built into the walls, a make-up table built into the outer walls of the tower.
the Duchess' make up table

We had seen signs for 2 more portes-ouvertes in Brissac and so followed the one the said "FLEURS - Vauchrétien". We had been to two other open houses in Vauchrétien and they had both been exceptionally good. So we drive over, the boys licking their lips for their reward after château touring. The parking area was packed with cars even though it was nearly 6 pm. We found a place to park - right in front of a green house packed with plants. We were at an open house for buying your bedding plants. Fleurs = Flowers and it is not the name of a winery. No wine, no snacks, just flowers. This is what the boys looked like:
pouty boys

We laughed all the way home.  But Clark was determined to get his treat. Thus, before aperos, we had our Cointreau vs Combier taste test. And the winner: don-da-da-don! Cointreau Noir - the Cointreau-brandy mix. Delicious.
Combier, Cointreau and Cointreau Noir

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