Maison Ailleurs, Chartres
Chartres has been a destination five times in my life so far. Art historical days saw me there first as an awe-struck student . The next time was with my wife and two sons at the start of our first family holiday in France over twenty years ago. That visit also involved our first experience of 'McDo', partly as a concession to two young boys, partly for the air-conditioning. The offering of a proper plastic bowl of green salad very nearly made us feel that Ronald's French outlets might serve Happy and Healthy meals. A few years later and Mummy Cheoff had joined us for the summer break. Driving back to our Normandy holiday let after seeing Monet's garden at Giverny, I quietly indicated to Mrs. Cheoff that Chartres was a very small way off our route. After her nod of assent, I tried to hold it together while we drove the last fifteen kilometres westward with the cathedral crowning the horizon. My emotion, knowing that I would share such a special place with my mother, created just enough tear duct action to honour the occasion but not enough to stop me getting us all there safely. The last two visits were as a couple; one a pit-stop as we whizzed homeward through northern France. This year we used Chartres as the halfway house on the journey south to our first holiday property.
We did, of course, enjoy the cathedral again. It is undergoing much disturbance with restoration of the nave and windows but an unexpected delight was the sound of lovely singing from the chancel. What might have been a recording proved to be glorious voices of visiting male choristers, young and old from Chichester Cathedral. Pieces by Byrd, Tallis, Brahms and Stanford were very familiar to Mrs. Cheoff and we both delighted in the unexpected free treat which we had chanced upon.
A rotten dining experience mentioned elsewhere might have cast a little gloom over proceedings but we had already begun to enjoy the best commercial overnight accommodation we have experienced. A glorious breakfast was still ahead of us. We know now that there are two jewels almost side by side in Chartres. Both are ancient buildings which offer special treats in abundance. These are the words from my TripAdvisor review which I freely admit do small justice to Valérie's labour of love.
I'll finish with something a bit high-flown which comes back to me as I write this. It should appeal to Valérie's husband, Sean, who is a fellow lover of the medieval period. The art historian, Émile Mâle, reacted to the intricate and sumptuous painted work of the Limbourg brothers in illuminated manuscripts with these words: 'Moment touchant que celui où l'homme trouve enfin le secret de fixer la beauté mobile du monde.'... That moving instance when someone at last finds the secret of capturing the transitory beauty of this world.
Today you can still enjoy the same lavish care and stunning attention to detail without seeking out and opening the pages of a precious old book. And your stay at 'Maison Ailleurs' will delight more than just your visual senses.