Direction Essone department in the Ile de France region near the Gâtinais forest, and discover a picture-perfect landscape of green fields dotted with pretty rural towns and villages, and one of the best maintained castles in France, the Château de Courances.
Still inhabited by its current owner, the beautiful 17th century castle is a dream come true. Think tall iron gates, an elegant stone double staircase to the main floors, a honey-coloured stone exterior topped with a light slate roof and surrounded by acres of beautiful gardens.
Pierres d’Histoire, the high-end French rental company Pierres d’Histoire, has made it possible to have Courances to yourself for a few days by renting out the former house of the manager to guests. La Régie de Courances, a two-storey gite with all the trimmings – including high chairs and cots, and toys for the little ones – sits at the entrance to the chateau grounds and gives guests a preview taste of castle life.
Pull back the velvet curtains in the morning and you will be charmed by the daylight filtering through the tall chestnut trees that sway along the long driveway to the chateau. Each floor has an apartment with two bedrooms and a kitchen, which the owners have taken care not to restore too much so that the spaces remain welcoming and inhabited.
Hand-drawn sketches and watercolors of birds and plants found in the field hang in the hallway, while a selection of books about the region and the artists who lived nearby in Barbizon or Milly-la- Forest like Jean Cocteau and Niki de Saint Phalle are scattered across console tables by plush velvet sofas and Victorian chaise lounges arranged under floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto the park with a creak.
In winter, sit down to read by the open fireplace in the living room after a lively country walk through the 185 acres (open to the public at weekends) of woodland and gardens with plans water features that look like something out of a fairy tale – perfect for younger guests to wander around. In the summer, picnics are held on the lawn until the setting sun shines the castle walls pink and purple.
Just an hour south of Paris, Courances is located at the gates of the Gâtinais forest, ideal for immersing yourself in nature and getting a taste of French country life without having to stray far from the city.
In Courances, there is also a small café in the old water mill where you can have lunch or have tea and pastries, with a corner of tables in a small clearing in the forest at the back, or a front terrace that meticulously overlooks the Japanese gardens.
Walk along the gardens and you will arrive in front of a wooden gate which leads to the restaurant where the friendly staff, really great with the children, serves lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends, on open wooden tables decorated with the most beautiful flowers. Below is a small shop selling produce grown on nearby farms like fruit and vegetables, a small selection of locally made jams, pastes and other miscellaneous items, as well as a collection of handmade soaps and wooden utensils for bathrooms and kitchens.
For evenings and mornings off, you can also order breakfast baskets with crispy fresh baguettes and salted butter, jams and fruit to be delivered to the door, as well as light homemade and Mediterranean mixed dishes local products from the restaurant’s kitchen.
Respectful renovation of historic properties is what sets Pierres d’Histoire apart from other holiday home rental companies. In addition to the Régie de Courances, the small company has six other houses comprising a manor house in Normandy, two stately family homes and an apartment on the grounds of another chateau not far from Courances, as well as a beautiful manor house in the Luberon countryside and a restored mill in Languedoc. The soul of each property shines through through carefully considered renovations and tastefully hand-picked finds that match each home’s history, making it feel more like staying at a friend’s house than another. impersonal rental.