July 6, 2004 -- Bonjour my poor dear non-vacationing friends! If I sound a little excited, forgive me. I am so thrilled to be here on a riding vacation that the enthusiasm is getting the better of me.
This morning began in the dining room of the Chateau de Beaujeu, sitting around a table the size of a skating rink eating fresh croissants with raspberry jam made from the raspberries in Madam Monique's expansive gardens. We followed that tasty treat with fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee.
The day progressed from great to even better. After collecting the horses from their overnight retreat in a lush field, we tacked up and rode out through miles of beautiful wheat fields. All along the way were wild flowers of poppies, delphinium and morning glories. The expansive views were breathtaking, and we saw only a very few cars.
For lunch we stopped at the Chateau de Boucard and had a picnic on the magnificent grounds. We rode down a tree lined alley for about a mile before the chateau emerged resplendent in the afternoon sun. Everyone thinks that castles have moats and this one did not disappoint. My architect friends would never have moved from this spot. This was the backdrop for a wonderful picnic lunch during which we were introduced to the best baguette and soft cheese I have ever had.
After a small nap we mounted and traveled through beautiful and diverse geographic areas. As we rode through a densely populated hard wood forest, our guide Patrick explained that many of the trees from this particular forest were oak trees used to make the oak legs for the wine in Bordeaux. In addition, he was tickled to report that several wine makers in the Napa Valley region are also ordering the oak from the same forest for their oak legs.
We spent several hours in the saddle this afternoon and the exceptional quality of the horses was very obvious. Most of us were fortunate to be riding a Salle Francais horse. They were exceptionally forward moving, yet very well trained. The riders were obviously very good riders and extremely comfortable with their mounts. I think these horses would comfortably take care of even a beginner with a sense of adventure.
We are very fortunate to have Patrick's wife, Jeanne Irene, and their daughter, Hortense, along on the ride with us all week. I found out that today is Jeanne Irene's birthday and they are planning a big celebration for her tonight.
And as they say, Madame el Monsieur -- we have saved the best (of today) for last. After a brisk canter, a tennis court came into view. That piqued our interest because the last few hours have been spent traveling through miles of forest. We discovered that the forest is privately owned by count Beraud de Vogue.
As we were traveling through the forest we came to a large circle with eight very straight carriage roads diverging from it. Jeanne Irene told me that most of the surrounding forests have these circles which are used as meeting places for the riders who hunt. The riders would separate for hunting the game and return at an appointed time to meet at a particular circle. However, the forest we were riding through was privately owned so the circles were not marked with signage. The circles were used exclusively by the count and his friends. Imagine having your own forest?
Expectations were running high when the Chateau de Verrerie came into view. It took our breath away. My mouth dropped open, and I was glad to have learned Mon Dieu (My God) because I got to be shocked and overwhelmed in French as well. The chateau is absolutely unbelievable. We walked the horses around the front of this palatial estate trying to absorb its magnificence. (I hope my photos come out, and you will be able to see them when I return to technology in the U.S.) We rode past the lake, bridges, archery course and guests strolling the grounds, and then dismounted to give our trusty companions a well-earned night of rest in the chateau pastures.
The Count himself greeted us like royalty and ushered us into the chateau where our rooms and luggage awaited us. I walked up ancient marble staircases draped in oriental rugs to find my suite. Many homes I have seen in are not as large or sumptuous as this suite. The bathroom features a huge claw foot tub, separate shower, a few chairs, fluffy bathrobes, bottled water and a child's bath tub I might just use for the fun of it.
I had the pleasure of meeting the Count personally and we spent a few minutes chatting. According to him, many Europeans travel with their dogs, and his fear is that they will think the child's tub is for their dogs, which he doesn't mind because he is a great dog lover himself. As it turns out, he has a lovely pack of hounds. I told him that I hunt with the Myopia Hunt Club of Hamilton, Mass., and he was thrilled. He knows the Master of the Myopia Hunt, Donald Little, who is quite well respected in France. The Count issued an invitation to the Myopia Hunt to come and hunt every day for a week, and he will provide fresh pack hounds daily.
Tomorrow the Count will be hosting a tour of the extensive chateau, but tonight, I must see if I can make the birthday party.
Au Revoir - Mes Amis - you really would love it here.