Well here it is: the Château de Cheverny, set in France's beautiful Loire Valley.
Do you see the resemblance? Just knock off the two outer wings and it's Marlinspike Hall.
Let me show you around. Inside it's a very cosy sort of grand château.
The rooms are elegant and decorated with exquisite good taste, but it's on an altogether more human scale than some of the other châteaux in the area. At a stretch - a really, good, strong stretch - you could just about imagine yourself and your nearest and dearest lounging around in those wonderful interiors sharing some quality time together.
It's a really sweet spot that's been passing in and out of the hands of the Hurault family since 1504 as their fortunes have risen have fallen. Circumstances were difficult for them in the mid sixteenth century and they were forced to sell the place to a chaplain of Henry II, who sold it in turn to the notorious royal mistress, Diane de Poitiers, in 1551.
Diane was quite a girl. They believe that she became the royal mistress in 1534 at the venerable (for the standards of the day) age of 35 whereas Henri was only sweet sixteen. It would be called child abuse today and she'd get sent off to prison, but way back then Diane played her cards with sufficient brilliance to bask in the royal affection for the rest of the King's life. She was eventually displaced as the royal mistress, but she was to remain the King's lifelong companion, commanding power through him, for the next 25 years until his premature death in a jousting accident.
In 1565 Diane sold Cheverny back to the Hurault family. This is what the place is believed to have looked like back in the sixteenth century:
|The former Maison de Cheverny as painted by the itinerant Jesuit, Étienne Martellange|
One thing that charmed me about the place was how cosy it felt for a grand château. It really had the feel of a place that had been lived in and loved by many generations of the Hurault family, who continue to live there to this day.
And many of the rooms were laid out with little vignettes that told the stories of their lives: the room above, for example, gives us a little peek into the bride's world on the day before her wedding. Can you just imagine her going to sleep in that bedroom, feeling nervous and excited about the day ahead, and hardly able to close her eyes and lose sight of all her wedding finery?
The room below was set out beautifully for an elegant lunch, with a wonderful glass pantry and a scullery kitchen full of warming pans and moulds leading off from the main salon. Again I could so easily imagine the lunch, laid out, the grand people feasting and the servants peeking through the door from time to time to see if anything was required.
Predictably one of my favourite rooms was the sewing room. It was a dream: all nicely ordered with everything organised for the convenience of the seamstress who would be able to work with all her tools close to hand. And just look at those dreamy linen sheets all beautifully laundered, ironed and folded, and tied up with ribbons.
The interiors really deserved a glossy photo shoot. There were acres of silk wall hangings. All the upholstery and soft furnishings had been artfully chosen to blend and marry together in cohesive colour schemes. It was a study in elegant living.
They also had a great collection of armour, which kept the boys happy.
I was very taken with the strong boxes. Can you imagine trying to break into the one below with your hairpin? These strong boxes were popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I'm not sure whether the elaborate mechanism was desperately effective, but its appearance added to the status of the chest. As we all know, it's important to look strong. Most would-be thieves will chose an easy life, so if you make it look as though nicking your valuables is going to be super-difficult, there's a strong chance they'll slope off quietly to search for a softer target elsewhere.
And the gardens outside were very special too. During the Second World War they stored many of the treasures from the Louvre in the Orangery - including the Mona Lisa herself.
And out back there's a bunch of hounds that go hunting twice a week. I don't think I've ever seen quite so many dogs together. To be very honest they were the highlight of the visit for me. I could have stood and watched them for hours, looking at how they interacted as a pack. They were so boisterous, and full of beans. We didn't manage a head count, but there are about a hundred of them.
They've had hunting dogs here since the seventh century, and there were nods to that history throughout the house. I was especially taken with this table cloth in the breakfast room. The hound had been beautifully embroidered. Isn't he handsome with his great long tail?
We didn't stay to watch the pack tuck into their dinner, because we'd got our own dear hound in the car out back, who was sitting with his paws crossed patiently waiting for us to return. But you can see the Cheverny pack enjoy a chicken dinner on the link below. They really are quite something.
If you'd like to visit the château you can find it's homepage here with opening hours and details of its exact location: Château de Cheverny Homepage.
All the best for now,