South on long ribbony roads, through towns of half-timbered houses in plains of green fields, trees in blossom, towards the tower of La Madeleine at Verneuil on the horizon. The chambre d’hotes was stunning. Set back behind tall iron gates, painted a pale coppery bluey green. The owner, Domi, served fresh apple juice out on the terrace and sat down to talk. They were just getting ready for their third season. Refurbishment had been long and arduous, but the results were evident. In an old shop to the side of the property they were also preparing a small brocante and salon de thé, uniquely for guests. Would I like to see? She led me along the gravel path and unlocked the door. The old shop was being stocked with items for the garden, pretty linens, ceramics and accessories. Three tall shutters fixed on a wall got my attention. “They come from this house”, she said. “We took all the shutters down when we did the refurbishment. We have the rest up in the grenier.” Domi and I climbed the narrow winding wooden steps up to the large attic and carried down several pairs of oak shutters with moustache hinges. What a wonderful find.
Breakfast was served in the elegant, high ceilinged dining room. I was the only guest. The table was immaculate, silver, glass and white china in filtered sunlight. Warm scones too. I would certainly return.
The other attraction to Verneuil was a large Brocante with a group of antiques dealers – the ones I met were thoughtful and intelligent. The morning passed quickly as I grazed and rifled around the shop. Three hours later they helped me out into the hot day with boxes of books, altar rails, wall sconces, tiles, mirrors, doors, a crate of 18th century documents, glasses, engravings and paintings. One of the dealers, David, said see you tomorrow at Chartres. Another of the dealers, Christian, had started unloading his van alongside Sylvie. He was emptying a Manoir he said, would I like to buy this armchair?
From Verneuil I drove on minor roads through forests towards Chartres. The trees were just coming into leaf, I sang along with Cesaria Evora, I was in France, I was doing what I loved.
A pause at Senonches for provisions. The place was quiet, deserted even. Shelves in the supermarché were mostly empty. I walked back to Sylvie with three bananas and a jar of gherkins in a brown paper bag.