by Laurel Avery
As you drive down the curving lane through the forest and come upon the Chateau d'Esclimont it is as if you have left the modern world behind and entered into the realm of fairy tale castles and knights in shining armor. Our stay was not quite the stuff of fairy tales, but it was close. I let my boyfriend know I wanted my 40th birthday to be special, so he decided to surprise me with a romantic weekend for two in a beautiful chateau. As the Esclimont is only about an hour and a half outside of Paris, it seemed an easy escape.
Unfortunately, getting there from Paris was not as easy as expected, mainly due to the French affinity for confusing road signs. I felt I was in some horror movie where I was to be trapped for the rest of my life going endlessly around the same roads trying to escape the city.
The only practical way to get there is by renting a car, as the nearest train station is 11 km away in Rambouillet, unless you are as wealthy as Midas and can afford the 50 euro cab fare.
This Renaissance chateau was built in 1543 for the Archbishop of Tours and its 150 acres contain gardens, walking trails and even a small lake which is home to a beautiful pair of swans, one black and one white. It is even surrounded by a moat!
A veritable army of attendants came to greet us when we arrived and guided us to the front desk for registry while they parked our car and took our bags to our room.
As I had booked the room only a little over a month in advance (and there was a wedding taking place there that day), there was only a room in one of the annexes left. It was well-appointed, but did not have any views of the castle or grounds, and only looked out on the swimming pool. It did have a lovely terrace, however, which is perfect for an early evening aperitif for two.
The marble bathroom had a good tub perfect for soaking until prune-like and thick terrycloth bathrobes and quality toiletries are provided.
We chose to have a kir before dinner in a small (but luxurious) room next to the dining room which serves as a bar. It looks out on the great lawn and the bridge that spans the moat. That day's wedding party took the opportunity to have photos taken there and it was a treat to see the happy couple enjoying the splendor of the fairytale surroundings.
Our drinks were accompanies by a small plate consisting of a variety just-out-of-the-oven appetizers to whet our whistle for what was to come.
The restaurant, La Rochefoucault, serves classic French cuisine, well prepared, with fresh ingredients. The appetizer of Fricasséé de champignons (sauteed wild mushrooms) was out of this world. The chef, Eric Lurthy, has worked at some of the finest restaurants in France, among them the three-star Michelin rated La Tour d'Argent in Paris.
The wine cellar is most impressive as well, though when we were there they were out of a few of the best reasonably priced selections. We chose another and were not disappointed.
Toward the end of dinner we noticed through the window looking onto the great lawn behind the chateau, an enormous hot-air balloon being filled. It glowed from the inside like a magical lantern. After our magnificent meal we strolled hand-in-hand and watched as the balloon slowly ascended, silhouetted against the rising full moon. It was quite a sight.
And to top off the entire evening, just after returning to our room we heard some unaccustomed sounds coming from outside. We went out onto our terrace and were greeted with a gorgeous fireworks display, which continued for about 15 minutes. My boyfriend joked that he had planned this specially for my birthday, but even if he didn't it was very romantic!
If you can manage to make time to do anything but relax and enjoy the romantic surroundings in the company of the one you love, there are two tennis courts, a pool (great for a romantic late-night tryst!), and a pitch-and-putt golf course. The chateau can also provide archery, hot air ballooning and falconry on request. Chartres and its impressive cathedral is only a 20-minute drive away.
228700 St. Symphorien-le-Chateau
+33 (0)2 37 31 15 15
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