Nothing can strike fear within the walls of a historic French Chateau quite like three Texas women, fresh from an overseas flight, armed with too much des baggages, and a dire need for continuous Rose and ’round the clock air conditioning.
Like Provence’s famous wind, Le Mistral, we blew fast and furious into Chateau de Varenne, an enchanting chateau turned bed & breakfast above the charming village of Sauveterre, overlooking the Rhone Valley between Avignon, the historic home of the Popes, and the famous French wine appellation Chateauneuf-du-Pape. With a storied history dating back to the 17th century, Chateau de Varenne, and Emma and Paul Radford, the lovely Irish-British couple who manage it, wrap you in warmth and history from the moment you step up the stone stairs and into the stunning antique filled main hall.
Let’s stop for a moment and imagine…a relaxing vacation-esque melody playing under the chirping of birds and the singing of the cigales that heralds summer in Provence. A trio of linen clad ladies politely laugh, sipping champagne, their perfectly coiffed hair stirring ever so gently in the breeze, as they stroll eloquently through the doors of this breathtaking home.
Alright, that’s not how it happened. We three road weary travelers noisily stumbled in – bearing tired eyes, hungry bellies and giant rolling bags – and immediately started wandering around, opening doors and pawing the antiques before our official welcome. Even in the most dire physical state of exhaustion, it couldn’t be helped. Like a sneaky friend bent on giving you what they know is best for you, the chateau confidently invites you to take a great American snoop around as if to say, “give me your tired, your weary, your over scheduled travelers”. It’s like being summoned to a well heeled friend’s house for dinner and arriving before the rest of the guests. So snoop we did, until a soft Irish voice called out to us “Hello?” Emma and Paul to the rescue.
Once shown to our beautiful room, the adventure began. Within an hour, we’ll accidentally lock the room safe (who knows the code?), short out the power in our wing of the house (that might have been me) and surely test the patience and sense of humor of the management (not even close).
When we call our hosts, they’re completely non-plussed. Paul laughs politely (not even a wink of sarcasm) and ventures up the stairs to survey the scene. Emma, in her calming Irish accent suggests, “How about we set up a bite to eat and some chilled Rose for you on the terrace?” Like real Texas women, we swoon – then head to the pool.
It’s the perfect scenario for happiness – tremendously French with a charming British touch, in one of the most beautiful spots on earth, Provence.
It’s easy to love it here. The bar downstairs in the salon is on the honor system and I truly believe, kindness begets kindness. If you’ve never been to the famous lavender coated hills and legendary villages of Provence and don’t know where to start, Emma and Paul will send you in the right direction to make the most of your holiday. Suddenly, you’re relaxed. Without speaking a lick of French, you’ll find yourself smiling at the locals and exchanging bonjours and mercis you never thought would spring so naturally from your mouth. Because you know from the moment you check in, everything will be okay. I’ve had the pleasure of staying in a great many chateau hotels throughout France and no other sojourn has been quite like this. I have memories of staying in sauna-like fairy tale turrets with my husband and kids that didn’t happen to be air conditioned – during a heat wave, birds flying into open picture-perfect windows that will forever make me think I’m in a horror movie, and rude management who could care less if your shower’s not working or you’re stuck in the bathroom because the ancient door won’t open (all true stories). But not here. Chateau de Varenne, under the the Radford’s care, is lovely, effortlessly lovely.
For curious travelers interested in spending a few days (or a week) in an honest to goodness piece of French history, the Chateau does not disappoint with original Louis XV furniture, ceiling frescos, stunning chandeliers and old world architecture. A wedding here (easily welcomed), would be memorable. Chateau de Varenne has the take-your-breath-away simplicity of a perfectly lush pink peony, a delicate whisper in your ear saying faites attention – pay attention – stop, relax. Even if Avignon wasn’t calling you to explore it’s historic walls, or the caves of Chateauneuf-du-Pape weren’t begging you to taste the famous vintages created from its extraordinary soil, Chateau de Varenne will soothe your busy American mind, make you unplug, smell the wisteria and open another bottle of local Rose.
My most memorable experience here? The 400 year old Lebanese Cedar that fronts the chateau is like a majestic witness to the past and a keeper of the future. If only it would whisper its secrets to me. I couldn’t stop staring at it, wanting to know what its seen in four centuries with a perfect view of the activity at the chateau on one side and Mont Ventoux and the Luberon just beyond. Imagine the stories of war and intrigue, clandestine meetings along the balustrade, stolen kisses in the gardens below, love lost and found within the chateau’s walls. After a few days here, you’ll be convinced that the murmuring of the natural springs that feed the chateau’s fountains, along with a chorus of birds are conspiring to send you a message. My advice? Check into Chateau de Varenne for a week, and figure it out.
For more information and to book Chateau de Varenne through Emma and Paul, click here www.chateaudevarenne.com