What changes have you have seen with the average holiday makers – what are your clients like and has this changed over the years?
The travellers who come to our site for accommodations are quite often people with time to spend a week or two in France (teachers, for example) and many are older experienced travellers with time such as retirees. Of the middle-aged demographic, we have seen more group (friends and family) time and travel in France. And, of the younger people, there has been a dramatic increase in destination weddings. France has a magnetic draw as there are always return visitors, people who loved it the first one or two times, and those returning for the 20th time.
In the past decade we have seen more people searching for places where soldiers in their families were placed during the First and Second World Wars, and others looking for family connections in France. From the members of our site, there have been changes as well. We began 17 years ago with just B&Bs and now one third of our members are strictly B&Bs, while almost half combine that with offering gîtes and rental options, and the remaining members are self-catering rentals only.
Many people would assume staying in a chateau would cost a lot more than other holiday options, is this the case?
Not at all! Rooms in châteaux and country manoirs can range in price from €85 per night for double occupancy to over €400 per night. What’s more it’s a more valuable experience when you are a guest known by name rather than room number as in a hotel. There is also the sense of history that comes with staying in a chateau, as many are over 500 years old!
People, especially women, travelling alone will feel safer than in a hotel, and if they have a car, it is securely parked on the estate. Interacting with other guests is also pleasant at the dinner table or around the pool, and there is never a crowd. Finally, the settings are incredible ~ some estates are hundreds of acres, all are beautifully landscaped with many specimen trees or parks designed by famous landscape architects, and many have streams running through or are on river banks. The solitude is priceless!
How do you create bespoke holidays and work around people’s needs?
We are happy to provide personal attention to a traveller’s requirements, and we are here when they have questions or want to make changes or additions to their reservation. Computerised booking sites do not offer any personal attention, and we often hear from travellers who booked with them who now want something extra and contact us!
We are always available to suggest things and do and see near their accommodation, and guests can ask property owners to arrange such things as wine tastings or hot air balloon rides, and our site provides links to car rental agencies when they arrive by train or air.
What was your first chateau trip to France?
Our first ‘luxury’ stay was in a château gatehouse, converted to a two-bedroom, self-catering gîte many, many years ago. It was in the Pays de la Loire and was a fascinating building, the other half of which was a chapel over the family burial room. We were asked not to go into that half of the gatehouse, to which we agreed. However, the last night we were there we heard shutters banging and could find none that were not secured. In the morning, our daughter commented that she heard that noise each night precisely at 11PM ~ we had encountered our first ghost! We know of another one, but that’s another story.
My desire to begin the au Château site in 2000 was because the sites on the web were primarily in French for châteaux (often poorly translated into English) and those in English were from the UK and offered everything from one bedroom village houses to large estates in the UK and Europe, with only some in France.
I wanted to provide a resource for travellers in English focusing only on France that would show them a property’s charm, amenities, history, prices, directions, nearby sights, and more all on the first page so they didn’t have to go from page one to a second page for prices or another page for directions, for example. Finally, we received permission from Michelin to use their maps to indicate the exact location of each property. This Michelin link is also on the member’s first page.
Why is France unique to you?
We find it stunningly beautiful as we travel around the country. We love the villages, all the rivers and towns along their banks, the culture we find in family life and strong traditions, their appreciation of their history and architectural heritage, the care they provide for everything from Roman ruins to the infrastructure, and the relaxed lifestyle we don’t have at home. Our visits are usually one month, and we see France from a visitor’s perspective which I think helps us know what other travellers are looking for.
We love the food, of course, have found the people consistently kind and pleasant toward us, and have made many friends ~ people we continue to see during our visits. One feature of the French we noticed almost from our first visit more than a quarter of a century ago is their honesty. Originally unfamiliar with French francs, we quickly learned that we never had to count our change after making a purchase. Now, with euros, it is still true. The French take great pride in their country and, we believe, want every visitor to come away with a good impression. If one is polite and doesn’t speak French but tries a few French phrases, they will be appreciated and made to feel welcome.
For more information, and a fantastic selection of Chateaux in France, visit au-chateau.com