Flying from Nottingham England to Limoge France took no more than an hour. After getting through what I thought was a meticulous sorting, packing, and weighing job of my bags, I still ended up having to pay 50 british pounds just to carry my purse on the plane. Ryan Air is the only airline that flies to Limoge, and believe me they milk the heck out of it. I even heard they wanted to charge for the toilet (Ryan Air is owned by an Irish fellow, so a famous ladies singing group in Ireland has made a great spoof of what it's like to fly on there- click here to watch- there are some Irish swear words- just so you can beware and have a translation:)
I was on my way to Limoge Airport to meet Norma Shipper, an American of Argentina descent who has lived in Europe for over 25 years, and is super woman and all around amazing hostess of Chateau de Montautre. I had met her through my long time friend Lacy, who has worked at the Chateau for years, and hooked us up on Facebook. Chateau de Montautre is a 36 hectar (around 70 acres) estate built in the 1400's for a French Lord in the historically rich Limousin countryside. Centrally located in France, about 305 km south of Paris, the Limousin is known for it's beautiful rolling hills, quaint farms, and quiet countryside. After two years of searching throughout the US, Bahamas, and Europe Norma and her husband, Rinne, chose the Limousin for it's pure and peaceful location, away from over crowded tourist areas. They have been tremendous stewards of the land, remodeled the chateau and entertained thousands of people from all over the world in the 12 years they have lived there.
As a child my favorite Disney character was Cinderella. French chateaus, maidens, balls, carriages, and castles were the epitamy of my childhood fantasy, and here I was, right in the middle of a Cinderella setting. Montrautre translates into "Other Mountain" referring to it's location on the highest part of the area. Built on the ruins of a Roman Temple (of which pillars still stand in the kitchen, and a mortar for grinding grain on the back porch), Montautre was once surrounded by a moat, has a stone wall, and a river runs underneath the ground. Built after the 100 year war and given to a royal general for his war time service to the King, the Chateau had always been in the same family until Norma and Rinne aquired it. It's location even spared it from the Nazi's during WWII, as it was completely hidden.
Rinne and Norma have remodeled the entire chateau, from basic stone towers full of rubble, to beautiful guest rooms, exquisit bathrooms, a medieval bar and banquet hall, coach house, pool and poolhouse, and a kitchen that is reminiscent of Cinderella's kitchen, wood heat and all. Of the many rooms in the Chateau, I enjoyed the Flower Room, high in the attic. Norma warned me that the house encouraged sleep after which I enjoyed a splendid 12 hours of my first night, and the glorious French sunrise on my last morning.
Norma's dream of Chateau de Montautre was to create a place of gathering and health. For 12 years, every night of peak season Norma, a trained chef, has prepared and served an authentic 5 course French dinner. Apertifs, hors d'oeuvres, pasta/soup, salad, main course, cheese, and dessert. (Oh and don't forget the Vin) It's quite a feast (and feat), for everyday she spends most of her day in the kitchen, while Rinne works on the grounds, builds structures, tends to the animals, and helps serve at dinner. Norma speaks at least 4 languages, so she can communicate with almost every guest. Known to make her own cheeses, pasta, and ALWAYS a handmade desert, Norma cuts no corners, and all I can say is, every meal she prepares will make you feel loved and cared for.
Whether enjoying dinner in the kitchen next to the warm fire, or in the traditional dining room with other guests sharing stories and profound moments in life, eating and drinking becomes a bonding experience. Their current dream is to move Montautre into the wellness field, turning the old stables into a spa and wellness facility, offering services and programs that incorporate the growing trend of wellness and lifestyle management. They currently offer different retreat gatherings such as painting and cooking classes, Tai Chi, and detox cleansing weeks. They rent individual rooms, the Coach house, and the entire Chateau (to families etc) in peak season, and host weddings and receptions. This is a phenomenal retreat setting, with it's beauty, quiet, and nature abound.
Animals are a big part of Montautre- horses, sheep, chickens, cats, and dogs. On the day I arrived, unfortunately their loved dog of 12 years, Chica, had died moments before I stepped off the plane. It was very sad, and for Norma who had just me, it was hard for her control her sorrow. Within the next hour I was there as they laid Chica in the ground, a very sacred moment for me to be a part of, as I know all too well the loss of an animal friend. The cats are like children, each with their own basket by the fire, and even a stray farm cat who came to the backdoor every night was lovingly served his dinner. Roaming chickens, a sheep with one leg, and Dutch horses magnificent in size and grace make Montautre not just another vacation place, it's truly a home.
We took a glorious walk through the countryside on my second day, without seeing one person or car, and there was nothing but the sound of birds and deer running through the trees. We ended up at the Chapel, a Middle Ages church renovated by Rinne. He is a master builder, a carpenter like none I have ever seen, living up to the Dutch woodworkers reputation.(check out the pictures of the renovation here.) If any of you would like a home in the French countryside, the Chapel is for sale, and words can do it no justice.
I could go on and on about the stimulating conversations with Rinne, wonderful meals prepared with love by Norma, and the true relaxation I so enjoyed at Montautre. As Norma dropped me at the Fromental train station for my next destination; Paris, I had a strange sense that I would miss the French countryside's remote peace and simplicity of life. Merci to Norma and Rinne for all their warm hospitality. It was a true pleasure, making me appreciate joy in re-creating such a special place, and experiencing a true travail de l'amour (labor or love).
To learn more about Montautre, what they have to offer, see more photos, or to plan your next wellness vacation to France visit www.montautre.com
Next stop Paris!
Cinderella ( Dr Hillary :)