Marry Like the Royals at Château de la Barre
Flames crackling in a majestic fireplace, mellow candlelight reflecting on delicate crystal Champagne flutes, a purple velvet bottle of Claret accompanying savoury meats en sauce, ornate bone china and heavy silver resting on crisp embroidered damask linen, in short, the most refined and romantic setting to “pop the question.”
And then muse away together about when, where, how and with whom to celebrate the memorable event…
After discarding the usual Country Club wedding with hundreds of “must include” guests and acquaintances, then ruling out the trendy but solitary faraway island found on the cover of every glitzy travel brochure, you come to wish your family owned a stately English manor, perhaps even an authentic French château, to which you could convey parents and closest friends for three days of elegant festivities, traveling back into time and stepping into the exclusive world of French aristocracy…
Previous guests at Château de la Barre, a private estate less than two hours West of Paris, did just this. Having spent a long weekend at the château shortly after meeting each other, the day they became engaged, they phoned up Comte & Comtesse de Vanssay, who had in the meantime become their friends Guy and Marnie: “Could you by any chance host our wedding for three days in October? There will be both our parents, our siblings and about twelve very close friends.”
Enough to privatise all of the twelve luxurious en-suite rooms and suites, each gilded with sumptuous designer fabrics, fine XVIIIth century antiques, tapestries and paintings.
Invitations bearing the château family crest were quickly dispatched, in the style of those sent out for Harry and Meghan’s wedding! And some telephone calls later, a menu worthy of Babette’s Feast was drawn up with the château’s top chef. Bookings were secured for the many onsite activities and the countdown began with house staff busy polishing oak parquet floors, intricate bronze handles, and all the antique silver, while the gardener went into overdrive to ensure the vast flower garden was at its prime.
Paris was a first stop for some shopping addicts prior to the weekend, as Countess de Vanssay had arranged for some of the ladies to meet up with her own seamstress, millner and shoe designer, to provide the perfect outfit. Then all the wedding party met up at the fast-speed train station for a 43-minute trip down to Vendôme, a quaint little city along the Loir. Then off to Château de la Barre, welcomed by Comte & Comtesse de Vanssay, 20th generation in their ancestral home, the walls of which have seen many a family gathering!
Indian Summer was balmy and afternoon tea was served under the centennial elm trees, along with fresh cider from the château orchard. At 4:00 p.m. the “stag” party headed off to the famous 24-hours Le Mans race track for a competition driving eight different Porsches under the mythical Dunlop tire. The “hens” opted for a foie gras cooking course with (much!) wine tasting. At dusk, all congregated for a stroll around the magnificently restored medieval Plantagenet city, followed by a visit to the cathedral where Henri II married Alienor of Aquitaine more than 800 years ago, and finally, a gourmet dinner in a XVth century oak beamed Auberge, before the magical light show onto the Gallo Roman walls began.
Saturday commenced with a leisurely brunch, then once the hairdressers arrived, all disappeared into their respective rooms while tables were cleared, deliveries receptioned and more bouquets set up. 3:00 p.m. saw the most elegant group make their way to the newly renovated family chapel for a blessing. The bride and groom glided down the little isle to kneel on the prayer benches in front of the alter, as the bridesmaid, who was also a soprano opera singer, broke out into an angelic rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria. Light streamed though the stain glass windows as they exchanged their vows.
During the short walk back to the château everyone’s gait became light as the first notes of Hello Dolly sifted out into the air coming from the château reception rooms. The groom’s parents had met during the original musical! A lively champagne cocktail ensued, to further tunes played by the jazz quartet from the trendy Club de la Huchette, in Paris’ Latin quarter.
Cameras were flashing as the bride and groom kissed underneath the portrait of the Marquis de Vanssay, who had been married in these very rooms in 1778. Actually all the furniture of the ornate Grand Salon had been crafted especially for his wedding and has never left the château since!
To the call of Les mariés sont servis, bride and groom led the way into the XVIIth century grand dining hall, mellow golden Sauternes glistening in the candlelight through thick cut crystal amidst an abundance of white lilies with their intoxicating fragrance. Laughter and joy mingled until the wee hours of the morning, accentuated by witty speeches and the rhythm of cheerful favorite songs requested and danced to by all.
Food not being a priority on everyone’s list on Sunday, it had been decided to embark on a cultural sightseeing excursion down to the romantic and famous Château Chenonceau, known as the castle of the six queens. A private tour of this château was organised with the Head Botanist as the guide. Then they all stopped for a visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s home on the way back before enjoying tea in the “most English of French Gardens”, hosted by the owner, sister-in-law to former French President Giscard d’Estaing, grande dame and famous horticulturist.
The farewell dinner was an informal and relaxed impromptu Greek moussaka and Cretian salads, with Count & Countess daring a few sirtaki steps, an amusing send-off to the bride and grooms’ departure to Santorini for their honeymoon.
In the morning, we all saw the bride and groom off early to catch their flight, then some guests lingered on for another two days of aristocratic R&R, simply enjoying the bucolic scenery, the medieval villages and discovering the well-hidden gourmet auberges France is famous for.
The Comte & Comtesse, however, had little rest, since everything needed to be geared up for another couple, older this time, who had requested a similar scenario, but to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary with a renewal of vows.
Comtesse Marnie de Vanssay Born in America, educated in Italy and Switzerland, Countess Marnie de Vanssay, together with her husband, Guy, the 20th Count de Vanssay, own Château de la Barre. Comtesse de Vanssay also manages Countess Connections to provide individuals and small groups with bespoke travel experiences, during which discerning travellers enjoy the unique aspects of French and European culture – from its architecture, history, gardens, wine and craft traditions to its art de vivre in luxurious and private settings.
Through their numerous contacts they are able to offer travellers the rare opportunity to meet and spend time with the often colourful owners of grand historic houses and chateaux, as well as access museums and events in a totally exclusive manner. Their twelve years experience in the travel industry, and their life-long knowledge of France and Europe, enables them to provide the highest level of personalized service as well as unique and creative insider tips.
The Comtesse de Vanssay has contributed previously to Travel Curious Often. See her article on Paris: A Country Countess Visits the City of Light.