In planning our trip around France this year, there was one place that intrigued me: La Colaissiere. This castle (with parts dating back to the Fourteenth Century) is a glorious structure sitting on an impeccably maintained estate in the Loire Valley. You may recall that I recounted another wonderful trip earlier to the Loire Valley — a place filled with great wine and chateaus. I had read that La Colaissiere was in the middle of nowhere but worth the trip. Both statements are true. La Colaissiere is a unique and magical experience for anyone who has not been raised in a Medieval castle. It is living history for anyone with the sense to drive a little out of their way for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
First some history. The name La Colaissiere may derive from its first noble owner Colin of Tours.
La Colaissiere sits on the border of Anjou and Brittany – an historical fault line in the wars of the region. This castle saw a lot of that history and it shows in the architecture – a stratographic record of the wars, treaties, and economies of the region. Chateaucreaux was entirely destroyed in the war over Breton succession in 1420 and the castle itself was damaged. King Louis XI (known as Louis the Prudent, on left) eventually gave the Castle to the de brosse family from the Penthievre duchy as part of “death duties” owed to the throne of Britany. Later, René de Brosse gave the castle to François de la Poëze, who commanded his armies in Brittany. More additions were made in the 18th Century. However, the castle and its inhabitants remained loyal to the King during the French Revolution. The price was steep. In what is still described as the atrocities the “horrific troops of the Republic,” the inhabitants of St. Sauveur and the priest Clovis de la Poeze were killed and a wing of the castle burned down. Pesky peasants.
The most recent and challenging siege occurred in July 2011 when the Turleys of Virginia descended upon the castle. We were coming from Gascony and were a bit concerned. While I had been warned that it was remote, the trip late at night with four starving kids was a bit daunting. First we went through Nantes. I assume there are some nicer parts of the town, because we were struck by some of the least attractive architecture and streets in France. You then break out into the country for about 20 minutes. We had the benefit of a GPS in the van because it was dark and around 10 pm. There was not a soul on the street. When we pulled into the little town next to the Chateau, even the kids thought it was so creepy that it was funny. There was not a soul in sight – like some French version of those 1940 films where every human has evaporated in some nuclear experiment gone bad. The town of Saint-Sauveur has only 782 residents.
We finally found the Chateau and I was wondering if I had made a serious mistake. Then the manager opened the giant metal gate for us and we were mesmerized. Down a long road of beautiful trees and landscaping sat La Colaissiere – a jewel of Brittany. Surrounded by a deep moat filled with giant fish jumping out of the water was the castle. The manager had stayed up for our arrival and led us in with concern for the children. She had suggested that we stop for dinner because they do not serve dinner. However, we blew the timing and could not find a restaurant that served after 9 pm on the way.
We all gasped when we walked through the giant Medieval doors over the drawbridge and found ourselves in the stately courtyard. The hotel plays lovely music in the courtyard giving it a magical feel. All of the kids immediately said that it was just like Hogwarts from Harry Potter. Then it got better. We had asked for a room that might accommodate all of us because we were concerned that the kids might be scared sleeping in a Medieval castle. The manager explained that there was one room that could hold six . . . at the top of one of the towers. We proceeded to go up a small winding staircase to the top of the tower – to the delight of the kids.
After settling us in and confirming the time for breakfast, the manager disappeared. About 15 minutes later, she showed up with a complimentary basket of orange juice, ice, water, and a chilled bottle of Chardonnay for the parents. It was divine. We added a Basque cake that we purchased outside of Bordeaux. The kids then settled into their respective beds and chatted away about possible passwords for “The Fat Lady” to get out of the Gryffindor Tower.
The next morning, the sun lit up the room from the numerous leaded windows on both sides – one looking into the courtyard and over the front of the estate and the other looking into the back estate with trimmed hedges and fields of wild flowers. We set out and explored the castle. The boys played chess (which they called Wizard Chess) on the antique chess set. We walked through the giant banquet hall and around the moot. The Castle has little reading rooms and salons. Benjamin and Jack curled up in a little room overlooking the side of the castle with the wild flowers.
We appeared the only people in the castle – increasing the feeling that we were now in line for the Breton succession. Breakfast was a feast with fresh breads, pastries, hot chocolate, coffee, juices, fruits and the like. You sit in a lovely breakfast room surrounded by antiques and tapestries. I told the kids that we had to eat fast before those “horrific” French republicans came to take our pretty heads.
This is really a hidden delight. It is worth going the extra hour off the highway on the way to Paris or Gascony or Brittany. We loved La Colaissiere and intend to come back.
From La Colaissiere, we will push on to Rennes, the capital of Brittany. We will then go to my dream of visiting Mont St. Michel.