This review is taken from our guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: France.
It’s 3am and I’m playing billiards with Mr Smith. I say playing but I mean beating, despite – or perhaps because of – the merlot we demolished over dinner. With balls still to kill, Mr Smith is getting desperate. He resorts to accusations of cheating, and bad gags about ball-play. I keep my cool, balance buttocks on the baize for a tricky backwards shot, and expertly pot the black. ‘Never mind, darling. Fancy a film?’
It may sound like Mr Smith and I are out on the town but, in fact, we’re in a 16th-century château in the sleepy village of Marthon in south-western France. Outside, in the inky darkness, apple-green fields surround ivory-stone streets and terracotta-roofed buildings. The craggy-faced elders we admired in the village earlier are snoring now, and contented dogs are dozing off their baguette and bavette scraps, whimpering fitfully as they picture fat rabbits.
But here in Château de la Couronne, the night is young. We lounge on the cream leather sofa in the cinema room and watch Bond blow things up, play with some gadgets, and perform his vanishing-knickers trick on the ladies. It looks quite tiring; we think 007 would be better off here, where it’s warm, snug and free of explosives. He could play seducer by strumming on one of the electric guitars hanging on the wall, or croon on the microphone and caress the keyboard. He could shake his martini at the Stone Salon’s wood and glass honesty bar, crunch on pistachios, relax fireside on the battered Chesterfield, and rest his dragon flamethrower on the table fashioned from tree roots.
He’d love our suite: a white expanse set in a turret, with bold red and black splodgy paintings on one wall, two silver Chesterfields, a palatial bathroom with two tubs, and a beautiful bed framed with wood and ochre fabric, piled high with marshmallow-like duvet and pillows. As the film continues, our thoughts turn to the bed with increasing frequency. Soon we’re boudoir-bound – climbing the spiral wooden staircase, walking down corridors lit with pools of green light, hung with dappled black and silver canvases and salvaged wooden doors. Back in our suite, blankety bliss envelops us.
The next morning, we wake early, having left the shutters open so that our Vitamin D-deprived Blighty complexions will absorb optimum sunshine. Beyond our balcony, the grounds are looking good: an emerald park, with rows of perfectly pruned hedges, white tables with parasols and spidery black chairs. The warm spring air exerts a pull on us, and we ask owners Mark and Nicky (fellow Brits) for breakfast alfresco. Nicky lays a spread of feather-light pastries, creamy cheeses, sweet jams and zingy orange juice. In the past, I’ve classed fruit salad in the ‘safe but boring’ category, along with soup – but the specimen Nicky serves up is divine: slices of sunshine-yellow pineapple and mango, scattered with plump blueberries, raspberries and ruby-red pomegranate seeds, served up in sundae glasses. Breakfasting outside is marvellous – as well as eyeing up each other, we admire the glimmering pool and lush grounds, and plan a ramble in the gardens later on.
After breakfast, we view the château in its sunlit glory. Rooms are sprinkled with a buccaneer’s bounty. I like the glittering art deco lipstick case and vanity mirror, and the piano is a handsome beast. Mr Smith is keen on the battered top hat adorning a radiator, and the lobby’s acid-green and white armchair. We could praise the château all day, but there’s exploring to be done, so we clamber into our hire car.
Our Peugeot 1007 has doors that newfangledly slide back to open. The button to release these is identical to the button that works the windows. Except that this button is positioned far from the windows, whereas the ones to operate the doors is within easy reach. Several near-death experiences later, we arrive in Brantôme, a historic town that Nicky has recommended.
Walking around, we check out Dordogne hotels with jade-green shutters and antiquated black lettering, the Benedictine abbey flanked by wooded slopes, the stone bridge and, above all, the Dronne river, flowing through the town. A short stroll leads us to irresistible delis where we stock up on rich tasty cassoulet and pretty candy. Next stop is at a seemingly unremarkable café where steak, topped with fragrant chopped onion, accompanied by slender, salty frites are far superior to what you’d find in an equivalent establishment back home. We’ve crossed bridges, we’ve eyeballed the abbey, we’ve shopped, but now we’re pining – our château awaits. Resistance is futile, so we hop into our chariot.
Back at boutique basecamp, we run baths. Regally occupying individual tubs, we sip champagne plucked from the bathroom’s minibar. The artfully tarnished mirrors steam up, herby bubble bath scents the air, and it’s all deliciously intoxicating. A dinner reservation at an Angoulême restaurant stirs us from our perfumed paradise. Several plates of foie gras, salmon parmentier and an extremely phallic lamb shank later, and we’re back. It’s as though we never left. In the Stone Salon, by the flickering fire, Mr Smith pours me a drink and, with a challenge in his eyes, necks a handful of peanuts.
‘Billiards, my sweet?’ As if he needs to ask.