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ABOVE, TOP: At Château d'Esparron in Provence, breakfast is served in the vaulted kitchen, where a generous buffet is laid out and guests settle around the homey oak table. This kitchen's open fireplace and traditional potager-style oven, once fed by embers, are reminders of how labor-intensive cooking remained for centuries.
ABOVE: Château de la Bourgonie. Its proprietors, Hubert and Christine de Commarque, have not one but three château properties in the Dordogne Valley plus the most venerable name in the region. This is their family residence, a distinguished demeure constructed in the 14th and 17th centuries around a large central courtyard on a manicured 74-acre estate of gardens, pastures, and woodland.
Vacationing at Private Châteaus & Manors in Rural France

Imagine awakening in a château. You slip out of a canopied bed, open French windows, and step onto a balcony overlooking terraced vineyards and the tiled roofs of a sleepy provincial village in the misty river valley. You descend the winding stone staircase to a breakfast with homemade jam and berries from the garden, while your hosts share insider's tips on the best of what to do and see in the region.

This isn't a dream. Today you can stay at a family-owned château or manor house, while enjoying the personal care and service of a bed-and-breakfast. For centuries, France's private châteaus and manors have remained a domain closed to all but the families of owners. But in recent years, in efforts to generate revenue for preservation, owners have been restoring their inheritances, installing modern comforts, and welcoming guests to share their homes. The book French Country Hideaways takes you on an exclusive tour of 30 hidden gems where you can experience gracious French country living.

ABOVE: Another de Commarque property is La Poujade, a short drive east of Château de la Bourgonie in the hamlet of Urval. An enormous trellised grapevine on the terrace of the estate is reputed to be the largest and oldest in Dordogne.
ABOVE: Château de Guilguiffin is one of the most distinguished historic properties in western Brittany. The current château is the latest aristocratic residence to occupy the site since 1000. The Marquis of Ploec built it as a hunting retreat during the reign of Louis XV, with stones from the ruins of a fortified residence. Its ground-floor salons and first-floor guest suites retain an authentic 18th century character with a lively color register of paintwork and fabrics.
These guest houses are warm and personal — with an authentic ambiance that sets them apart from historic properties run as commercial hotels. These off-the-beaten track estates were selected because of their unique bond to the land, the terroir. None of the properties has more than 12 guestrooms, and most offer table d'hôte dining, which showcases the specialties of the region. France remains the number-one European destination for Americans, and its three most popular regions are the focus of the book, which also offers recommended nearby restaurants and activities in these enchanted landscapes.
ABOVE: Château de Ternay, in the Loire Valley. Loic de Ternay has the distinction of living in a château bearing the family name. His ancestors occupied it for three centuries. Far from blasé, Loic is committed to preserving and animating Ternay, considering it a duty to transmit its history to younger generations.
ABOVE: An al fresco salmon dinner at the Château de la Flocellière. Another treat at this estate is regular costumed Renaissance evenings. Elaborate costumes await guests in their rooms.

Text from the book French Country Hideaways,
by Casey O'Brien Blondes. All photographs by Stephanie Cardon.

Text © 2005 Casey O'Brien Blondes. Photos © 2005 Stephanie Cardon.

Reprinted with the permission of Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

ABOVE: The Château de la Flocellière translates as "flower of the skies" because its stately gardens have a profusion of flowers. Standing since at least 1090, its guests are immersed in a millennium of history. A reward of straying from the habitual tourist trail is that one encounters such unexpected treasures as châteaus that were once important fiefs and bore witness to the wars, passions, and political intrigues of France's turbulent past. For those seeking a historic home experience, this enchanting estate is hard to beat. It has six towers of varying epochs.
ABOVE: Beynac-et-Cazenac, overlooking the Dordogne River in the Dordogne region. Second to Paris, Dordogne has the richest legacy of historic monuments in France. Famed for its dramatic river valleys, verdant landscape, and magnificent forests, the region is popular with nature lovers, anglers, cyclists, kayakers, hikers, and equestrians. It's also an idyllic setting for leisurely promenading, riverside picnicking, or escaping into a good book.
ABOVE: Château d'Esparron is located in the Provence region. Esparron is at the southern limit of Alpes de Haute Provence, where Lake Esparron flows into the canyons of the Basses Gorges du Verson. These foothills of the Alps have some of the most dramatic scenery and purest air in Provence. The craggy terrain is carpeted with green oak and pine. This château has overlooked the lake since the Castellane family first implanted a fortress in 1218. While the château was transformed gradually in a composite of styles through the 19th Century, the current owners are progressively restoring it. The family of Count Bernard Castellane, the owner, is the 31st generation of his family to inhabit the property.
BUY THE BOOK

French Country Hideaways is available wherever fine books are sold or at the Rizzoli bookstore in Manhattan,
31 West 57th Street (between 5th & 6th Avenues),
New York, NY 10019.
(800) 52-BOOKS.
For a complete list of Rizzoli books,
go to www.rizzoliusa.com.
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