After living in Montmirail for seven years, I didn't think we had anything new to discover in our immediate area. But when some friends from California came to visit us this summer, I leafed through our collection of brochures and local guide books for a good day trip and was surprised to find, just a few minutes drive from Maison Conti, the beautiful Château de Courtanvaux.
The setting of this grand old castle is quite breathtaking. Although just a few minutes outside the village of Bessé-sur-Braye, one has the sense of being in the middle of the countryside, surrounded by views of rolling green hills and forest. You approach the château down a long tree-lined drive and arrive at a parking area next to a large expanse of grass. When we arrived, late in the afternoon, there were several card tables set up where retired folks, arranged in fours, were playing bridge; a wedding party was in the middle of taking photographs on the lawn; and a dozen or so cyclists were strolling around the grounds, after parking their bikes against a large stone urns. It was an extremely picturesque scene.
The château itself began life in the 14th century. It was enlarged during the 15th century and was passed down through the original family for hundreds of years. It was never once sold until 1978, when the community bought it.
During its history several very colorful characters lived in the castle, including a Romanian princess who outlived her husband, heir to the château. She was a bit insane replacing the face of Jesus in the chapel, for example, with the face of her deceased husband. She also painted the coat of arms of every family in France which had any relationship to her husband's family. In essence, all the important families of France. Apparently she felt slighted by the French aristocracy and displayed her credentials right on the walls of her living room.
We took the tour of the house, which is not furnished, except for the kitchen. The guide was entertaining and full of stories. We spent a longer time in the park, which I found delightful.