Does the thought of staying in a French chateau, enjoying some fine dining, and playing a spot of golf tickle your fancy? Well, add some lessons in how to make chocolate and you have the perfect family break…
Since I can remember I have dreamt of staying in a French chateau, so when the time came for me to plan a short family holiday, I decided I would make it happen. I needed to find somewhere that encapsulated romance and rustic charm, but also offered the kids plenty of activities, so when I came across Chateau d’Augerville I was instantly won over.
Located in Augerville-la-Riviére, about an hours’ drive south of Paris, it offers peace and tranquillity, fine dining and luxury accommodation, as well as being surrounded by an 18 hole parkland golf course. But as if this wasn’t enough, the chateau has its very own artisan chocolate factory and patisserie, where you get the chance to learn how to make chocolate by the master himself – and this got my whole family very excited.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS. It was a grey and drizzly morning when headed off to Chateau d’Augerville, with the car full of golf gear and two very happy kids in the back. We took the P&O ferry over to France and enjoyed breakfast and champagne in the Club Lounge. This was the perfect way to start the journey.
Unfortunately, driving from Calais to the chateau took us a lot longer than the three and a half hours we’d scheduled, as we were ensnared in Paris traffic (avoid if you can). But at last we arrived, perhaps a bit worse for wear, but still full of expectations and we were not disappointed. The chateau lies surrounded by a moat (which fills with water in the winter) and has several historic outbuildings, including two converted 17th century stables, each housing 14 rooms and suites.
As soon as you enter the main building, it opens up into four wood-panelled lounges with coffered ceilings and magnificent fireplaces. We were welcomed by friendly staff and showed to our rooms by Stéphane, the front office manager, who speaks excellent English. Our inter-connecting rooms were absolutely stunning with high ceilings, fireplaces, luxury bathrooms and large windows looking out on the 9th hole. And to everybody’s delight, there were delicious chocolates on our pillows – I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
HAUNTED FAIRWAYS. Chateau d’Augerville has a long and colourful history. Originally the property of the Augerville-Beaumont family, it was bought in 1452 by Jacques Cœur, the minister of finance during the reign of King Charles VII. His grand-daughter, Marie Cœur, felt a strong attachment to the place and later undertook the renovation of the village, church and feudal castle, which had been destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War. Legend has it that she still haunts the fairways and that sometimes golfers catch a glimpse of a woman dressed in white, roaming barefoot on the golf course.
Through the centuries the chateau has had many famous and illustrious guests, among them King Charles IX and King Louis XV. The chateau eventually fell into disrepair, but a Paris industrialist bought it in 1919 and restored it to its former glory. In 1997, its current owner purchased the property and proceeded to transform it into a luxury hotel with 40 rooms and suites.
TRANQUIL AND CHALLENGING. After a short rest and a quick cup of coffee, we grabbed two buggies and headed out on to the golf course. Luckily, the weather had cleared up as soon as we left Paris and the sun was now peaking through the clouds. Designed by architect Olivier Dongradi in 1995, the 110-hectare estate has been transformed into a superb 18-hole golf course that blends beautifully into the rolling landscape.
It was quite late in the day by now and the course was quiet so we took our time and just enjoyed the enchanting scenery. The children got the job of driving the buggies and had a lot of fun whizzing over the fairways as my husband and I played golf. Picturesque ponds and long, smooth greens proved to be challenging obstacles and much time was spent searching for wayward balls. With plenty of elevated tees, the course is quite technically demanding, but most of all I was struck by how peaceful it was.
We ended the day with a meal at the hotel’s restaurant ‘Jacques Cœur’, which serves traditional French cuisine. The kids are, unfortunately, not very adventurous, but luckily the chef was most accommodating. They ended up with beautifully pan-fried fish and chips, while my husband and I indulged in one delicious dish after the other.
CHOCOLATE HEAVEN. The following morning we enjoyed a breakfast of freshly baked croissants and pancakes, which were so delicious it was hard to stop eating. Feeling rather full, but happy, it was time to learn how to make chocolate, so we headed over to Les Douceurs du Chateau d’Augerville, situated in a building next to the hotel. Stéphane came along to translate as Hervé Boudot, the chocolatier and patisserie chef, doesn’t speak English.
As we stepped through the door, we were met by a sweet smell and the kids’ eyes grew large at seeing all the tempting confectionery. A smiling Hervé welcomed us, explaining that we would be making chocolate macaroons.
Our children were put to work mixing the powdered almonds, icing sugar, coco and beaten egg whites, while Hervé told us how to achieve the perfect result. The kids then piped out small, slightly uneven blobs, which were baked and later filled with a chocolate ganach, expertly done by the wee ones. The end result was pretty impressive and they tasted absolutely heavenly.
Before leaving with a large box of our fresh macaroons, Hervé took us around the small factory and showed us how the various chocolates were made, which was fascinating, but best of all, we got to sample a few. I have to say it’s the best chocolate I have ever tasted – made with high quality ingredients; they are not too sweet and have a rich, deeply chocolaty flavour. We also tried something they call ‘blond chocolate’; a lucky accident, which turned out rather marvellously – made from caramelized milk jam. Delicious.
There was even a bust of a lady and a Ferrari both made completely out of chocolate, truly a work of art to my taste.
AMONG THE TREETOPS. After lunch our kids were a tad high on sugar and need to burn off some energy, so we made the five-minute drive over to Base de Loisirs de Buthiers. Set amidst a forest with huge, protruding boulders and strange rock formations, there is something here for everybody. You can ride ponies, play in a water park, ride bicycles, do archery and much, much more, but we decided to go for the high-wire tree-top adventure. I hadn’t originally planned to join in, but it looked so exciting I thought I’d give it a go.
There are several levels of zip-wires, rope ladders and walkways, so there is fun to be had for all ages, including me. We started out at a lower level and I thought to myself, I can do this, but when we reached a tunnel that we had to crawl through, I bailed out. The others continued on and felt brave enough to complete the highest of the adventure trails.
My husband and the kids really enjoyed themselves and finished off tired but happy. Returning to Chateau d’Augerville, we relaxed in our luxurious rooms, before being dragged out onto the golf course again – our children enjoyed driving the buggies so much, they wanted to do it again!
SPLENDID GRANDEUR. The next morning after another wonderful croissant breakfast, it was sadly time to leave the chateau. We’d had such a lovely time and all the staff had been so friendly and welcoming, we didn’t feel ready to go. But before returning home, there was one more place we had to see, Chateau de Fontainebleau – one of the largest French royal palaces.
With over 1,500 rooms arranged around a series of courtyards, set in 130 acres of parkland and gardens, it is truly magnificent. The home of French monarchs for centuries, parts of the palace date back to 1528, although there has been a chateau on the site since the 12th century.
This is a place to spend a day, but we only had a couple of hours, so we wandered through the Grand Apartments and visited the Napoleon Museum, who after the French Revolution made Fontainebleau into an imperial residence. I wished we could have spent a more time here, but we needed to reach the ferry and that meant ploughing our way through Paris traffic.
On the journey home we were all feeling a bit sad that our French adventure was coming to an end, but luckily we had a big box full of macaroons and a selection of delicious chocolates to comfort us. I’d better stay off the scales for a while…