A Country Countess Visits the City of Light
by Countess Marnie de Vanssay
Almost all our guests visiting us at Château de La Barre, our Loire Valley family home, transit through Paris. So, invariably, conversation drifts to our capital, and sharing ideas of what we do, buy, see, eat and where we sleep when we go to the City of Light.
My husband Guy and I met in Paris forty-four years ago, when I was reading Psychology at the University with his sister. On our first “date”, although we were full-fledged Parisians, we hoped onto the touristy “Bateaux Mouches” for dinner — which we have yet to take again, if just for a cruise down memory lane.
Years later, we left Paris to take over the family country estate, which has been lived in by the Comtes de Vanssay for more than 600 years. Quite a heritage to maintain indeed! We then underwent (and survived!!) a few years of major renovations at our Château in the Loire Valley, and for several decades now, have welcomed many wonderful guests into our Château Hotel.
These days, our full time presence at the Château is required during the season from Easter to All Saints Day and from Christmas to after New Year’s Eve. So trips to Paris tend to be November to March. But Paris has no season, or every season is a Paris season!
Paris is a city to stroll around, so the Hôtel d’Orsay is always our first pick because of its prime location. After breakfast, we enjoy beginning the day with a visit to the Museum of the same name, housing one of the largest impressionist art collections in the world. Then we cross the Seine back to the Quais, and after a little browsing through the stalls of the bouquinistes, we savor Guy Savoy’s two-star cuisine at the deliciously affordable lunch menu prices.
Or, we continue our walk onto the Rive Droite into the Marais if we are planning afternoon visits to either the Louvre, the Musée Camando Arts Décoratifs, the Musée Carnavalet, the Musée Picasso, or need to visit the famous auction house Hôtel Drouot for a “treasure hunt” to add a specific piece of art to our château collection. Then we enjoy lunching at the still quite unknown former house of the 14th century alchemist, Nicolas Flamel (Auberge Nicolas Flamel) reputed for having turned lead into gold. To satisfy our shopping desires, we need his secrets desperately!
Generally we prefer to remain on the Left Bank and just stroll around the Quartier Latin with its infinite number of alluring boutiques, gourmet shops, small galleries, antique stores and fabric designers. Closer to the Seine along the Quais, as well as rue Bonaparte, rue de Lille, rue Jacob, rue des St-Pères, the most prestigious antique dealers rival with top fabric designers such as Nobilis for prime location.
Then we’ll cross the Boulevard Saint-Germain, down the rue du Bac, past stationery engravers, fragrant candle makers, patina silver pieces, fun party accessories, chic lampshades, embroidered linens, silk nightwear. Whatever you never knew you might someday wish to own to embellish every aspect of your home décor can be found here.
Eventually, we pay a visit to la Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse (Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal) at the end of the rue du Bac, to jar our values away from a total orgy of materialistic delights.
After this extravagant pilgrimage down shopper’s paradise, we head off to spend our few remaining euros in one of our favorite places — and one of the oldest restaurants in Paris, La Petite Chaise — in existence since 1680, and offering reliable quality at affordable prices.
The following morning, before catching the fast-speed train or driving back to our Château, we load up on goodies, beginning at the best cheese shop in the capital and in France, the supplier of the Presidential Palace of L’Elysée: Fromagerie Nicole Barthélémy.
Next, we stop in at Le Bon Marché, as it rivals Harrods in London any day. Alternative to the crowded Galeries Lafayette and Printemps Haussmann, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche is the signature of the chic and arty spirit of the area nestled between the 6th and 7th arrondissements of Paris — afterall, Le Marché is now owned by LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy). Very “Left Bank”, this department store has been catering to Parisians since 1852, date of its creation. Far from only selling fashion accessories for women, Le Bon Marché has it all, for men to children, from decoration to gastronomy.
Finally, after stocking up, we pack up our purchases, all the while swearing we will diet…after tomorrow!
Marnie de Vanssay and her husband Guy are officially known as Comte and Comtesse de Vanssay. Their Château de La Barre, which has been in the Vanssay family since 1404, is located in the Loire Valley on a 100-acre park, with gardens, a family chapel, and 16th century fortifications.
At Château de La Barre, Marnie and Guy will not only welcome you as family friends, but assist you in planning your visit. Activities include: tours of Loire wineries, excursions to Renaissance castles and the Plantagenet City of Le Mans, or balloon flights departing from the Château park. Twice weekly, Guy and Marnie host a Grand Siècle Dinner with all the family silver and crystal.