The Best-Kept Secret of the Loire Valley Castles: Chateau de l'Islette
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm giving away the best-kept secret of the Loire Valley castles. We lived in the Loire Valley, my husband's native land, for two years when we started our family, and this was one of our favorite spots. For it's a place to be savored, a place in which to spend a leisure afternoon, and not a place where you'll see hordes of tourists waving their phones and selfie sticks in the air. The place is Chateau de l'Islette. There, I gave it away.
First thing you have to know about this castle: it's the residence of the castle owners, Mr. and Mrs. Michaud, who are warm and lovely and would greet you in person when you come to visit. Chambord and Chenonceau may be outrageously beautiful, but you won't see François the First or Catherine de' Medici coming out to chat with you anytime soon.
This personal side of Chateau de l'Islette makes the castle a community-building venue. We met Mr. Michaud while he was running errands around the castle on his bike, and he explained to us that he enjoyed it when guests stayed around for the experience. There are benches and lounge chairs all around the estate, and guests can picnic in the leafy park, which we certainly did whenever friends came to visit us in the Loire Valley.
Chateau de l'Islette, literally "castle of the small isle", is a 16th century Renaissance castle that sits by a small isle on the River Indre. It is often considered the "younger sister" of Azay-le-Rideau castle because of its similar appearance and riverside location. The castle was once the residence of renowned artist Auguste Rodin in the late 19th century, after a succession of owners, it's been open to the public only since 2010. The estate includes the castle, the riverside parklands and gardens, and the charming, ivy-clad old mill that looks like it's straight out of a fairy tale.
As the castle is an actual residence, we can only visit the interior with the guided tours. On the ground level you'll enter a meditative small chapel with a vaulted ceiling painted with a starry night sky.
Once you arrive at the second level, you'll enter the sumptuous Great Hall that has beautiful painted wooden interiors featuring family emblems of past owners of the castle. The Great Hall is now the family living room, and you'll see books and magazines that the owners are currently reading on the small tables. If feels like visiting a friend's country house, well, a friend's country castle rather.
A French Renaissance castle is not complete without a handsome kitchen filled with a full set of copper cookware. Copper is a great conductor of heat, and nothing quite cooks like it; copper pots and pans are used in traditional French kitchens like that of the Godfather of French cuisine, Mr. Paul Bocuse.
Big and wide copper basins are perfect for preparing home-made jams with those wild blackberries that can be found everywhere in the Loire Valley towards the end of August. In our Loire Valley years, we'd bike around the countryside to pick the mûre sauvage and bring them to my mother-in-law, she'll then cook them in her copper basin to make coulis and jam. The fragrance of simmering blackberries is simply irresistible. Often times the jams won't last very long in the household...
I also fell head-over-heels for a unique bathroom in the castle. If you've been reading this blog, you know that I always check out the bathrooms when I visit a place, because it's the true face of design and management. The lobby or entrance hall can be magnificent and enticing, but the bathrooms really tell you whether the owners are detail-oriented. In the case of Chateau de l'Islette, what I can say is that their elegant savoir-faire definitely shows through in the bathroom. The mirror mosaic cabinets and ceiling bring the lush green gardens outdoors inside, and on snowy days, the entire bathroom glistens in white.
After an intimate tour of the castle's interior, it's time to head outside to enjoy that certain douceur de vivre (sweet and slow living) of the Loire Valley.
Fancy some refreshments? Head inside the mill for some drinks and snacks. Need some rest? Grab a lounge chair by the river and listen to the sweet murmur of the water. Feel like exploring? Rent a small boat and paddle away into the streams and chase the blue dragonflies.
Chateau de l'Islette is a lovey retreat for families with babies and children. The serene environment soothes your senses and calms your spirit. Walk around the park with babies, I can guarantee you they will fall sound asleep. For older kids, there are knight and princess costumes to borrow at the entrance so that kids can visit the castle in style!
Loire Valley is dotted with castles, some grand and magnificent like Chambord, some charming and coquette like Chenonceau; but if you're looking for an authentic experience of a chatelain, head over to Chateau de l'Islette: the owners' open-arm welcome will give you some unique and lovely memories of the beautiful Loire Valley.
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