Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Wining and dining at Valençay castle

Cooking has always been a favourite hobby of mine. I therefore spend a lot of time going through cookbooks and surfing the internet looking for new and original recipes. When I’m holiday, I don’t cook, as we either stay in a hotel or a chambre d’hôtes. We have picnic lunches and restaurant dinners, or the other way round, depending on the weather.

My passion for cooking and food is always present, though. That’s probably why my favourite room when visiting the Loire castles, is the kitchen. Over the years, we’ve seen many. Each time I’m impressed by the size of them. They have gigantic open fireplaces, enormous woodstoves and countless copper pots, frying pans and pie dishes. In some place everyday life in the old days is depicted by little ‘household scenes’ with mannequins in period costumes, stuffed animals and plastic fruit and vegetables. Some look very real, others are somewhat ‘kitschy’.

One of the best castle kitchens is undoubtedly the one at Chenonceau. Unfortunately, when we visited the castle in 1999, the place was very crowded and we hardly got to see the kitchens.

Luckily there are other, less popular castles, where you can walk around without being pushed and shoved around by large groups of tourists. In 2008 we were quite alone when we visited the sumptuous Château de Valençay. Although the castle was originally built in the 16th and 17th century by the family of Estampes, it is best known as the home of Talleyrand. In 1803 this exceptional statesman received from Napoleon the order to buy a ‘beautiful ground’ to give princely receptions for the emperor’s guests. Talleyrand chose Valençay, a castle with a hundred sumptuously furnished rooms, a 150 ha park, and 19 000 ha of grounds and woods. To prepare the food for these receptions the castle had to be fitted out with adequate kitchen space and equipment.

We really enjoyed our visit, as there were lots of glass cases containing original menu cards of the dinners that the castle’s 19th century owner hosted. It’s appalling to see how many courses they ate in those days. My guess is that they stayed at the table for the best part of the day and the evening, before retiring to bed to digest the heavy meal they had consumed. No wonder there are so many potbellied men in the pictures that are on display in the château’s long picture gallery!

Upstairs the large dining room table is set for dinner, with exquisite porcelain plates, crystal glasses and carafes, silver cutlery and white linen napkins. It all looks so smart and real that you’d expect Napoleon, Talleyrand and their high placed guests to come walking into the room right there and then. Unfortunately, the use of cameras is not allowed inside the castle, except for the kitchens and the servants’ quarters. So I cannot share this beautiful set up with you. I can only advice you to visit Valençay yourself when or if you travel to the Loire Valley.



Carolyn said...

Martine, you and I are on the same wavelength. I also love kitchens, ancient and modern, and at a B&B I always try to peek into the kitchen (with the hostess's permission). You have moved Valencay up our to-see list.

So far my two favorite stately home kitchens are Brighton Palace (so much copper!) and one at Saltram House near Plymouth, both in England.

ladybird said...

Carolyn: I'm sure you will enjoy visiting Valençay. I'll soon post about another lovely castle kitchen we've seen. Martine