When my dear friend and mentor Jamie Schler – food writer extraordinaire – announced last year that she and her husband Jean-Pierre were taking over the Hotel Diderot in the Loire Valley, I decided to tack a trip to France onto our planned vacation in England. A workshop was arranged, my friend Stacey and I spent an incredible day in Paris before taking the train down to Chinon, and I returned to Seattle sated with beauty, inspiration and croissants.
And I realise that I never ended up blogging about Jamie’s wonderful hotel. If you’re visiting France and want to stay somewhere just bursting with charm, history and inspiration; stunning rooms; exquisite breakfasts; and, exceptionally delightful proprietors, then I recommend you book immediately.
When it comes to property you can keep your two-car garage, your granite countertops and your walk-in closets. The only things I’ve ever truly coveted in a house are a mature wisteria, a gravel driveway of exactly the right sort of crunchiness and a wrought-iron spiral staircase.
As I turned into quiet, cobbled rue Diderot, the first thing I saw, piled up on the weathered stone gate pillar like an old lady’s swimming cap, was a wisteria of exceptional age and magnificence.
Worse was to follow.
The gravel of the entrance crunched in the most deliciously satisfying way and as I turned to look at the façade, I saw, to my chagrin, the pièce de résistance spiralling upwards. Quelle horreur!
Jamie greeted us and showed us to our room.
Of course there were acres of toile de Jouy and ancient beams and French doors looking out onto a pretty terrace wreathed in peonies.
Tentacles of jealousy started writhing around my cold black heart – this was not just any hotel, it was the fantasy French hotel of everyone’s dreams.
To be fair to the woman, it seems like there might be a little work involved in running a successful hotel.
Jamie posts exhausting updates on Facebook describing her efforts to keep the perfect preserves cupboard stocked with delicious jams of every conceivable flavour and hue.
It is possible that getting up early to prepare a magnificent breakfast replete with locally sourced goat’s cheese, walnuts and honey for hungry hordes of eccentric English tourists is not always sweetness and light.
And I’m prepared to accept that ensuring all twenty-three bedrooms are lovingly cleaned and tidied each and every day might get slightly wearing, as well as spending the winter carefully nurturing the perfect French garden.
But then I remember the evening light caressing the weathered façade, the shadows dancing on the peony-pink umbrellas on the terrace and yes, dammit, the ivy twisting through the railings of that SPIRAL STAIRCASE and I am consumed by bitter envy once more.
Here is madame la châtelaine trying not to look smug. Unfortunately she is far too lovely to hate.