After a recent stay at the Chateau de Courtomer in Normandy, we have the scoop on why renting your very own French castle makes a perfect family holiday.
Owned by American Elisabeth Bonner and overseen by British Property Manager Heather Pane, the 25-bedroom 18th century chateau makes an easy, yet impressive, getaway thanks to an English-speaking team and a quick two-hour journey from Paris. After a complete renovation, the chateau is now ready to host weddings, special events and exclusive private holiday rentals, with the flexibility to plan your perfect séjour, just as you wish.
With its architecture inspired by the beauty of Versailles, the chateau makes a grand impression as soon as you arrive. Although not everything you see is original – the building was updated in the 18th century with all of the modern amenities of the day – the chateau actually dates back to 1047, and in fact in the original vaults can still be found underground.
With the chateau now a listed historical building, Elizabeth has hand-picked the furnishings to complement its original style- think colourful Toile de Jouy, bespoke-trimmed drapes, marble fireplaces and antique treasures. Each of the bedrooms have been individually decorated to give them their own character, while the remaining rooms of the chateau feel even more regal with chandeliers, plush velvet furniture, and bookshelves stacked with leather bound tomes. By night, an open roaring fire adds the finishing touch.
Although there is plenty of space for large parties and kids to run around, if you’re travelling in a smaller group, don’t let that put you off inquiring about a stay – the chateau’s farmhouse can sleep up to eight comfortably. It might not have the same grandeur, but it offers its own version of French charm with old fashioned-style stoves and original 1950s tiling. Plus, you can still enjoy being surrounded by 350 acres of private greenery and farmland, and of course, eat well and drink well!
Guests have a choice of going self-catering, with local markets nearby (more on this later) for stocking up the huge kitchen, and a bakery in Courtomer tried and tested by the owners themselves. But if you can splash out on your own personal chef, the indulgence is worth it. Cheerful and talented Chef Franck Ete will work with you to design dinners for any occasion, and satisfy whatever you are craving. Enjoy light yet decadent seafood suppers of oysters, lobster, langoustines and more, served up with fresh bread and homemade mayonnaise; watch the sun go down as you sip champagne in the garden and Franck gets the barbecue going, which will then be served in the rustic Orangerie, or go all out with a full three-course formal dinner in Le Grand Salon dining room. The room also makes a rather extravagant setting for breakfast where you’ll start your day feeling like the King or Queen of the castle, especially with Franck laying out a spread of fresh fruits and yogurts, croissants and pain au chocolats, bien sur, and eggs on demand.
Getting out and about
The chateau of course lends itself to travelling in a big group, and while this can sometimes make it difficult to cater for everyone, Normandy aims to please. If you hire a car and use the chateau as your base, there is plenty nearby to entertain all ages and interests.
History fans might want to make a pilgrimage to the Mémorial de Montormel, which honours the Battle of the Falaise-Chambois Pocket (more commonly known as the Battle of Falaise), the last battle of Normandy and referred to as “the beginning of the end of the war”. The memorial is less than a 40-minute drive from the chateau and offers a panoramic view of this WWII battlefield as well as a museum to delve deeper into the history. Events are also planned on the 18th August to commemorate the event, worth noting if you’re travelling around this time.
As you drive around you’ll pass through many sleepy little towns, so quiet they seem almost uninhabited, but Cambremer is one of the livelier ones to make a stop, while still experiencing La France profonde. For cider drinkers it is also located on “La Route du Cidre” (The Cider Route) of the Pays d’Auge. Local restaurant Au P’tit Normand serves deliciously rustic French dishes; any marked as being one of the specialities of maman are excellent, although the magret de canard (duck) with apples and sauce au pommeau is the perfect example of Normandy on a plate, especially when served with a Kir Normand (cider with crème de cassis and a Calvados kick). The restaurant even had the approval of France’s beloved Simone Veil, who was a regular diner and is now honoured with a pride-of-place photo.
Nearby, Beuvron-en-Auge is pretty enough to have made the cut of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France) and deserves an afternoon of wandering around, popping into antique shops, and an apéro on a terrace.
Explore and enjoy the local food
Foodies should definitely contact the chateau ahead of their stay to plan a visit to some of the local producers in the area, who will happily show you around if the dates fit. Heather can also put you in touch with a local bilingual guide, Dominique, to design a gastronomic tour and to provide any necessary translations. As Franck uses many of the local products in his cooking at the chateau, don’t be shy about asking him how you can do the same at home if you pick up any tasty souvenirs.
Of course in a region famous for Camembert, Livarot, and Pont-l’Évêque, cheese is always an option. But if you want to find out more about the lesser-known local producers, then start with Master Beekeeper Patrick Cholet of Les Cadres Noirs. Patrick gave up his job in the oil industry five years ago to do something wildly different – return to nature and take his beekeeping hobby to a professional level. Evidently he found his calling, as his honeys are now stocked in some of France’s most prestigious Michelin-star restaurants, including Arnaud Viel’s La Renaissance, also in Normandy, and Pascal Barbot’s Astrance in Paris. He even invented his own machine to produce his superior cold-pressed, raw (or in some cases very gently heated) honey, and after showing you how it works, with the odd bee around, he’ll let you try the sweet stuff completely untouched and straight from the honeycomb, as well as give you a taste of the finished products at the end.
At Le Safran du Perche, husband-and-wife team Julien and Nathalie Leblanc are growing their own saffron, something many might not even know is grown here in France. They have a beautiful space located in the heart of Le Perche surrounded by lush green fields and their own goats, and with a small plot of land dedicated to growing and picking this delicate and highly prized ingredient. The saffron is available to buy after your visit, as well as a range of products infused with the spice, including honey made from their own beehives and the delectable “Aphrodite” – a saffron- and vanilla-infused rum.
No trip to Normandy would be complete without Calvados. A tour and tasting session at Calvados Pierre Huet shows that the drink is more than something sloshed into the pan for cooking apples, and why a 100€ (and more!) 15-year aged Calvados could be a rival for your prized bottle of whiskey.
And of course, with this being France a local market is never too far away. Although they take place in different towns and on different days of the week (you can find a guide here), Mortagne sur Perche has a particularly lovely one on Saturday mornings, and also a fantastic restaurant to stop off at for lunch after you’re done, Les Pieds Dans l’Eau.
If you really want to enjoy a spectacular finish – or start – to your stay, make use of all that space at the chateau and ask Heather and the team about organising a ride in a montgolfière (hot air balloon). Compagnons du Vent are the nearest and the best, and speak some English so don’t worry about getting those safety instructions mixed up! The views over Normandy’s vast green fields are breathtaking, and the whole experience of being up and away in the air will certainly be an unforgettable part of your stay.
A minimum two-night stay is required for Chateau de Courtomer at a flat rate of 3950€ for up to 15 people. Two nights at the farmhouse is available for 800€. For pricing up longer stays, additional guests, and additional services head to https://www.chateaudecourtomer.com/.