To the manoir born: 10 top châteaux

In France, accommodation with an aristocratic touch is provided at some of its great country houses. Kieran Falconer offers a guide
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The Independent Travel

1 Château La Cour, Normandy

1 Château La Cour, Normandy

Château La Cour lies in tranquil Suisse Normande on a minor road south of Caen. Owners David and Lesley Craven left their respective jobs in marketing and advertising and began work in 1997 renovating this large chateau whose stones date back to the 13th century. This year has seen the completion of their work, with the last lick of paint being applied as you read. The house has been lifted back to the 18th century with the restoration of its panelled rooms, tiled floors, the iron twirls on the double doors and the stone staircase. The three bedrooms (two doubles, one twin) are sumptuous displays of chintz. David grows50 types of vegetable, which Lesley makes use of for candlelit dinners (four courses cost from £18-£26 including wine) served in the highly decorated, mint-coloured dining room. Although the chateau is in the middle of a foresty nowhere, nearby there are the D-Day landing beaches, the Bayeux tapestry, Monet's garden and lots of calvados.

Château La Cour, 14220 Culey le Patry, Normandy (00 33 2 31 79 19 37; www.frenchconnections.co.uk) offers double rooms from €65 (£47) per person per night including breakfast.

2 Château d'Og, Poitou-Charentes

Diane and Alan Neaves ran a hotel and club in Tenby for nearly two decades before selling up and moving to France. They found Château d'Og (pronounced "doge") in the village of Deux-Sèvres, near Niort, in 2002, and have been renovating it ever since. "We couldn't live in it for the first few months," said Diane. Three years later they have two suites ready - the blue and the yellow - both furnished, from their regular trips to brocantes, with old French beds and baths. Another room will be ready by June. The couple have not gone completely native though, and serve an English breakfast. "People are so relieved not to see another croissant," said Diane. To the west are the beaches of La Rochelle (45 minutes) or north-east is Poitiers (one hour) and Futuroscope, a high-tech theme park with virtual reality rides. More natural is Venice Vert (30 minutes), a series of canals among woods, fields and flowers with the odd gondolier.

Château d'Og, 8 rue des Écoles, 79230 Fors, Deux-Sèvres (00 33 5 49 77 89 49; www.chateau-breaks.com) offers double rooms from €45 (£32) per night.

3 Château Villiers-le-Mahieu, Ile de France

This 13th-century medieval fort was first renovated in the 17th century. By the late Eighties it had fallen into disrepair but luckily the roof held. Over the next 15 years this very large chateau has been slowly renovated to its present condition, with 80 bedrooms now offered to guests. The work continues, though, and last year other wings with salons, rooms and suites were being spruced and shined. More decoration is to come. The suites are renovated in a traditional way with a modern twist, so lots more lavish chintzes and toile de Jouy for the walls, but there are plasma screens and high-tech bathrooms, too. You can play pool, pétanque, darts and tennis. You can fish within the 45-acre grounds, and cycle. Although close to Paris (La Défense is 30 minutes' away), the immediate area ( www.pidf.com) is worth exploring, particularly Rambouillet and its forest.

Château Villiers-le-Mahieu, 78770 Villiers-le-Mahieu, Ile de France

(00 33 1 34 87 44 25; www.chateauvilliers.com) offers double rooms from €159 (£113). Breakfast costs €15 (£10.70).

4 Château de Reignac, Loire

The Loire seems to breed chateaux. This example has been painstakingly perfected by Erick Charrier with fabrics, colours and prodigious Louis XV, XVI and Empire furniture and other period antiques. "We started two years ago and finished a few months ago," he says. "The main structure was OK but the décor was 19th century and horrible. I wanted to bring back the blush of the 18th century." Each of the 12 bedrooms is dedicated to a French celebrity, and Charrier has sought to make you feel that they have just left the room. The public rooms include a library, music room and chapel. If you start suffering from chateau fatigue remember that you are in the Touraine wine area, and Vouvray is the local tipple. Otherwise take a peek at www.visaloire.com for inspiration.

Château de Reignac, Saint-Loubes 33450 (00 33 2 47 94 14 10; www.lechateaudereignac.com) has double rooms from €135 (£97). Breakfast costs €14 (£10).

5 Château La Roque, Provence

This chateau is perched high on rocks, overlooking the village of La Roque sur Pernes with its tiers of medieval houses lining the hill. The chateau has been reconstructed, renovated and refurbished time and again since the seventh century - in the Middle Ages it was constantly being destroyed and rebuilt. Guests can choose from three suites and two de luxe rooms, all with views of the surrounding valley and the garden, where crickets chirrup amid the almond trees. Each suite and room is individually decorated with Provençal furniture but is quite lightly furnished, as is the way in the south. Chantal and Jean Tomasino have tried to keep visible as much of the original architecture as possible. You are only 25 minutes from Avignon and Orange, Aix-en-Provence is also handy and the vineyards - and wines - of the Luberon are within pip-spitting distance.

Château La Roque, Chemin du Chateau, 84210 Le Roque sur Pernes (00 33 4 90 61 68 77; www.chateaularoque.com) offers double rooms from €100 (£72) per night. Breakfast costs €13 (£9).

6 Château de Prye, Burgundy

This family-owned pile was once the property of the Queen of Poland. Now Antoine-Emmanuel and Magdalena Du Bourg de Bozas (you can tell that there's a little blue blood there) have been busily restoring a building with foundations dating back to the 11th century. Most of the main building was created during the 17th and 19th centuries. And the two suites and two rooms reflect that heritage, having been decorated recently in a late-18th/early 19th-century style with period furniture. If you are tired of luxury then take a wander in their huge estate which is bounded by a 7km stone wall. Clearly some forefather was worried somebody was going to rustle his prize Charolais, which they still keep. For le sportif there is canoeing on the Loire, a vast network of footpaths, waterways, lakes and woods nearby - and the Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre vineyards.

Château de Prye, 58160 La Fermeté (00 33 3 86 58 42 64; www.chateaudeprye.com) offers double rooms from €85 (£61) per night.

7 Château de la Puisaye, Normandy

Diana and Bruno Costes Brook restored this 19th-century family residence with pain and passion. The woodwork, floors and chimneys of the vast dining room, library and living room are back to what they would have been. And the five cute rooms are decorated with family-owned period antiques and others found in brocantes. Diana grew up in England and worked as a lawyer, but now spends time being soppy over her two cats, Ginger and Blackberry, and her donkey. She makes very good marmalade, which you can taste over a traditional English breakfast. The chateau is surrounded by a 19-hectare park where deer flit between the beech and oak. You are only an hour and a quarter from Paris and close to Monet's Giverny (45 mins); Le Havre and Caen are two hours' drive.

Château de la Puisaye, 27130 Verneuil sur Avre (00 33 2 32 58 65 35; www.chateaudelapuisaye.com) offers double rooms from €75 (£54) per night.

8 Château Saint Quentin, Provence

In the 17th century this chateau was said to be well-known place of villégiature - which I thought quite saucy until I realised it meant "holidaying". It still is. Lenka and Jean-Louis Civade have resurrected this mansion on a Luberon hillside into something light and airy. The five rooms have tiled or wooden flooring with plain walls and vaulted and beamed ceilings, and have been decorated with attractive little touches - a piece of driftwood here, a Roman sculpture or an 18th-century cabinet there. The website is a joy of blossomy French writing. "In the morning, take two or three steps from bed to chaise longue, open the shutters, let your body gently embrace the curve of the rattan." From that rattan you can see the surrounding hills through the shutters and Mourre Négre, the highest peak of the Luberon. The adjoining park has cedar, eucalyptus, cypress and pine trees, with a ribbon of stream where "getting lost means getting back to yourself again". Apt, a nearby town, has a nice Provençal market, but otherwise this place is very much a retreat.

Château Saint-Quentin, 84400 Saignon (00 33 4 90 74 39 07; www.chateausaintquentin.com) offers double rooms from €80 (£57) per night.

9 Château de Mirambeau, Charente-Maritime

This is a beautiful experiment. The owner, who has a number of hotels, mainly in Italy, gave the designers a free hand, and they have attempted to reflect three generations of home life, from the late 18th to the early 19th century. This manufactured past has been lavishly presented using fresh tones of ivory, pink and green, high mirrors and tapestries. The library is decorated in gorgeous red silk and velvet with Italian chandeliers. A cognathèque cossets fine brandy. Carpets have been specially woven. The 19 rooms and three suites use miles of Jouy fabrics (literally); beds have baldaquins, and bathrooms are in marble with retro fittings. In the spirit of the 18th century, meals (created by local chef made good, Frederic Milan) can be taken anywhere. The chateau is set in eight hectares of grounds with two tennis courts, an outdoor pool and an indoor pool. For more cognac you go to the town itself or visit Bordeaux.

Château de Mirambeau, 1, avenue du Comte-Duchatel, 17150 Mirambeau (00 33 5 46 04 91 20; www.chateauxmirambeau.com) offers doubles from €200 (£143). Breakfast costs €19 (£14).

10 Château de la Rivière, Bordeaux

This is principally a vineyard whose award-winning wines, according to the Wine Spectator, are "smooth and refined, with silky tannins and a pretty berry, vanilla and mineral character". But La Rivière, which overlooks the Dordogne valley, opened to paying guests last year. Now there are five rooms in the Renaissance wing of the chateau, simply furnished with minimal chintz. Take breakfast overlooking the vineyards, among the most extensive in the region, which produce arguably the greatest wine appellation, Fronsac. More than 900 barrels and 600,000 bottles are laid down underground.

Château de la Rivière, Fronsac (00 33 5 57 55 56 51; www.chateau-de-la-riviere.com) offers doubles from €130 (£93). Breakfast costs €20 (£14). Guided tours of the cellars cost €4 (£2.80).

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