This country of amour is very popular as a wedding abroad choice. With plenty of romantic chateaux, vineyards and palaces, you'd be hard pressed to not find a location here for your dream day. Our gorgeous couples below found their perfect day in France - can you too?!
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 Valentine 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 manor, a Downton Abbey type of place, to which you could convey parents and closest friends for three days of elegant festivities, travelling back into time and stepping into the exclusive world of French aristocracy…
previous guests at Chateau de la Barre, a private estate less than 2 hours West of Paris, did just this.
Having spent a long weekend at the chateau shortly after meeting each other, the day they became engaged, they phoned up Comte and Comtesse de Vanssay, who had in the meantime become their friends Guy and Marnie :
“Could you by any chance host our wedding for us over three days in October? Be a sort of Maggie Smith character as in Downton Abbey? 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 chateau family crest were quickly dispatched, in the style of those sent out for Kate and William’s wedding the same year! And some telephone calls later, a menu worthy of “Babette’s Feast” was drawn up with the chateaus’ 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.
D day – 3, some shopping addicts hit Paris prior to D-1, Friday, when all the wedding party met up at the fast speed train station for a 43 minute trip down to Vendome, a quaint little city along the Loir. Then off to their secret location, Chateau 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 chateau orchard. At 4pm the “stag” party head 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, D day, began 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 pm 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 Nancy, the bridesmaid but also a soprano opera singer, broke out into an angelic rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria. Light streamed though the stainglass windows as they exchanged their vows.
During the short walk back to the chateau everyone’s gait became light as the first notes of “Hello Dolly” sifted out into the air coming from the chateau reception rooms. The groom’s parents had met during the original musical!
A lively champagne cocktail ensued, to further tunes played by the Jazz orchestra from the trendy band of 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 chateau since!
To the call of “Les maries sont servis”, bride and groom led the way into the XVIIth century grand dining hall, mellow golden Sauternes glistening in the candlelight through in the 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 favourite 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 Chateau de Chenonceau, known as the castle of the six queens. With a visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s home on the way. And tea in the “most English of French Gardens” on the way back, 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 Mediterranean couscous, with Count & Countess disguised in Djelabahs, an amusing sound off to the bride and grooms’ departure to Marocco for their honeymoon! But rest assured, we managed to avoid the belly dancing!
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 and 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.
By Chateau de la Barre
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