The public is offered to elegance of chateau living
Chateau de Brissac, Loire Valley
Times are hard for the 20-century aristocratic "chatelain" in France. To combat crippling taxes, high heating bills, and soaring renovation costs, the Marquis de Cosse de Brissac and his family have been forced to open their vast 18th-century chateau to the general public.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But like hundreds of other noble families among the owners of France's 2,500 chateaux, 1,400 of them still in private hands, the Brissacs represent a new breed of modern chateau proprietors who have geared themselves to specialized tourism. They have turned chateau-living into an everyday business with style.
"People like to dream, and there is a certain aura about having a candle-lit dinner in the fashion of the 19th-century nobility," said the marquis, who lives with his wife and five children in their Loire Valley country domain in western France."If well done we can answer these dreams."
Over five years ago, the marquis and his energetic wife began hosting regal receptions for visiting Americans or Germans. The receptions ranged from elaborate afternoon teas to sumptuous dinners. The Brissacs hold three to four receptions a month costing up to 5,000 francs ($1,200) for 400 guests in their 32- meter-long guards room with its 16th-century Flemish tapestries and Renaissance furniture.
Some 20,000 tourists visit the chateau and its grounds every year. Moreover, the Brissacs have started arranging exclusive fashion and gastronomic soirees for visiting well-to-do Arabs.
Similarly, numerous other noble families are taking advantage of the mounting interest in chateaux among tourists as well as business people of organizations.
One of the best-known families to have made their lives business are the Breteuils, who run their chateau outside Paris as an undisguised center with class for gala dinners, Japanese weddings, and receptions.
Increasing numbers of chatelains are also establishing highly commercial wildlife parks as sources of income. One example is the Count and Countess Charles Rene de Montmartre who have transported lions, tigers, and elephants to their sprawling oak and chestnut tree-lined Chateau de St. Vrain near Fontainebleau for the enjoyment of carloads of tourists from both home and abroad.
Others, to make the management of their often cumbersome estates more economic, have turned their homes into quality restaurants, hotels, and conference centers. Many of these exclusive establishments are listed in the authoritive Guide Relais et Chateaux and are ideal for casual motoring travelers who care about staying in beautiful and well-catered surroundings.
But even more innovative type of quality chateau tourism which would appeal to foreigners curious to learn more about France is offered by Tourism France Internationan (TFI)
A subsidary of Air France and the Club Mediterranee, TFI has organized a system whereby foreigners may live as room and board guests with families in over 100 chateaux and domains around France. Called "Open Doors to France," the plan expects tourists to spend a minimum of three nights at 149 francs ($37) per night for two persons, a sum that includes all comforts.
The guest may opt to join in family activities and meals or explore the countryside on his own. "We are trying to offer foreigners the chance of a privileged style of living while visiting France," explained Francois de Testa, head of TFI.
Not only does TFI help the tourist choose his chateau according to location and beauty, but also according to his interests. The hosts may be sculptors, musicians, teachers, and each listing in the TFI guidebook gives a brief of the family's history and hobbies. By joining TFI the host families have also promised to help guests in acquanting themselves with the areas they are visiting.