In France you can stay in a great cha teau instead of a hotel, if you think ahead and get reservations, and this is such a heady experience it unsettles some guests like the Wraging-ffludds (as I shall call an English couple I met there).
The cha teau in question was Les Reaux, a mile or so from the Loire River near the town of Port Boulet. The house is perfectly suitable for Disneyland with its two great candle-snuffer towers and moat full of water (you can swim in it back of the house, descending by little stone steps), though the bridge is now stone and permanent and can no longer be pulled up to the portcullis gate to keep the enemy at bay.
They still bar the massive wooden doors at night, probably to keep any wandering guests from drowning in the moat. Instead of guns and boiling lead they now rely on a rather old and (if it may be said without offense) quite fat Doberman bitch, who usually can be found dozing on the spiral staircase of worn oak. When you pass she cocks an eye, decides you are not a Saracen and drifts back to her reveries of bones, or whatever, though several times a day she heaves herself downstairs and into the formal garden, which she patrols rather casually before collapsing by a table under an umbrella.
She is assisted by a King Charles cavalier spaniel who I think is too small with a tail too large and a spot of red fur right in the middle of her white head. She is called Volume -- probably a joke of a sort in French -- and is a lot more interested in green tennis balls than Saracens, if you ask me. Volume is also the only dog I ever knew that took a fancy to one particular pebble in the gravel walks, and carried it around and buried it from time to time, then went back and dug it up.
*My room made me guess Diana Phipps had got at it, the walls covered with a fabric put on with a staple gun, very smart, but smart rooms always bother me -- how do you scrub the fabric clean? The floors are old quarry tiles. Those you can scrub to your heart's desire, so I guess the room has the best of both worlds. Anyway, the cha teau was built in 1435. This family, once bitten by the cha teau-building bug, really went to town and in no time started building Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau and some others.
A single room costs about $55, as I recall; in any case, cheap by American hotel standards, and they feed you splendid breakfasts. You pay extra for what they call "lunchs" and dinners, all on the semispectacular side.
It was at one of these dinners I met the Wraging-ffludds, who struck me as ideally enterprising in the American sense and tremendous travelers. There was something about Luxor and Dubrovnik, I think. They take traveling seriously and (you would assume they were American if you didn't hear them talk) were determined to get everything out of France that France offered, culturewise, foodwise and cha teauwise.
"We have been on the cha teau circuit the last 15 days," the gentleman said, "and have a number of days to go. Listen, this cha teau of Les Reaux is the best so far. We stayed at one that was supposed to be 16th century, and you know when you get there they say it used to be 16th century but they tore it down or something and the present cha teau is brand new. I didn't care for that, let me tell you.
"We spend one night at each," he went on.
"Isn't that a pretty hectic arrangement?" asked an American at the table. "I mean, packing and unpacking every day?"
"Not really," said Wraging-ffludd, who I gathered did not pack or unpack anything more weighty than a camera. His wife, with that strawberries English complexion and a regular sunburst of bright yellow hair, had the underlying grave mien (beneath the surface smiles and laughter and sprightliness) of a woman who packs and unpacks seven large suitcases every day.
A folder I read about these cha teaux that rent out rooms said Les Reaux has a piscine, but I think that was just the moat. Where it circles around the castle in the back it is pastoral, with dappled sun coming through the willows along the bank, and these stone steps down into the water. I had no swimming shorts, but took off my shoes, rolled up my trousers and dabbled happily, hoping nobody would see me in this rather unmacho exercise.
We went on to Chartres, which boasts the hottest hotel room in all Christendom, and then to Paris, which boasts the third hottest. The French do not comprehend fans. There is not one between Dieppe and the Spanish border. You take off your pajamas, fit a damp bath towel over your front and lie down to the sleep of the just.
Of course as you get older, your taste for roaring around France one night per town fades considerably, and you lean toward one spot where you estivate indefinitely. One night near the Opera I found a splendid hole in the wall that sells hero sandwiches (chicken) for $1.90. You go up some tiny twisting stairs to a glass gallery and look out at the crowds in that part of town. It's air-conditioned, and the television has a soccer match that tends to throw South Americans into ecstasy and reckless driving in convertibles.
Great peace (and considerable coolness) was often to be found in inexpensive hole-in-the-wall joints in Paris. Gnawing my sandwich by the Paris Opera to ease my disappointment that there was not a seat in the house left for "The Magic Flute," I reflected how nice it was to be cool and eating a great sandwich, and so inexpensive, too, and what a good Monday it really was and being Monday I guess it was Blois for the Wraging-ffludds, if the lady hadn't given out completely on the 50 (or thereabouts) suitcases.