At the end of a long, leafy avenue of plane trees you arrive at the little Château de Pintray and immediately you’re drawn to the charming peculiarities of the place. There’s a skeletal sail-less windmill in the courtyard, a chapel and its twin lodge on the lawn, and an ancient rustic cottage tacked onto the formal blue-shuttered façade of the château. Inside the house and it’s all very Lewis Carroll. You’ll find antique nursery pieces (a hobbyhorse tricycle here, a Guignol puppet theatre there) juxtaposed with the items from the adult world like the billiards table in the dining room. Curiouser and curiouser! It’s hugely gratifying to arrive at a place that so immediately shows its personality. However, this is no museum-piece château: Maryvonne Rault runs a very busy chambres d’hôtes business in the main house and her husband Marius has transformed the vineyards which now produce some of the region’s best dry and sweet white wines. I was here at the end of April and the place was full. At busy times like these Madame is constant motion: one moment she’s serving a splendid breakfast to over a dozen people around the huge dining table, the next she’s dashing hither and yon with a phone in one hand, and a wad of wine receipts in the other. She speaks good English; did I imagine it or did she mutter “Oh, my ears and whiskers!” as she rushed off to take another phone call? The rooms here are stuffed full of character too: big comfy beds, real family portraits, antique wallpaper, huge roll-top baths. The accommodation is real and sometimes quirky; what’s that bright light shining through the cracks in the wardrobe door? There’s a window in the wardrobe of course! What better way to choose the colour of you shirt in the morning?
Crossing the walled courtyard you enter Monsieur’s domain: the winery and cave. He’ll give you a tour of the vines, show you the production process and talk at length about wine and cuisine – two things that are inseparable according to Marius. The château’s Montlouis wines are superb. Bone dry, medium sweet and syrupy sweet dessert wines which all have one thing common – a delicious acidity that makes them lip-smackingly good accompaniments to a wide range of classic European and Far-Eastern dishes. I particularly enjoy the Cuvée des Armoires 2002 with its aromas of litchi, mango and pineapple that would be great with porc laqué. Another that to me says, “drink me!” on the label, is the 2006 demi-sec with its smooth palate of apricots and exotic fruit. You should try this with honey-glazed chicken Tajine with figs and apricots – yum, yum. Before leaving I take a quick stroll in the gardens and ponder the Alice theme further: if it weren’t for the fountains in the middle of the lawn this would be the perfect place for a game of croquet!
Château de Pintray, Lussault-sur-Loire 02 47 23 22 84