Roger St Pierre enjoys ‘la bonne vie’ at Villa AyraultA divine ‘Sixties retro-Hollywood styled mansion, La Villa Ayrault is set atop an imposing grass mound on the outskirts of the attractive little town of Châtillon du Thouet and just two miles from historic Parthenay.
Close to the Loire Valley and the beautiful coastlines of Brittany and the Vendee, we are talking quintessential France.
This handsome mansion was built by the current owner’s late father, René Ayrault and his wife Thérèse – the wealthy proprietors of a major brickyard that in its heyday boasted the largest brick kiln in Europe, employed 500, had its own branch railway line and shipped 1,000 tonnes of bricks each week.
Madame Fourniau tells the story of how her mother, who was very creative, designed the property but when her father saw the plans, he said ‘Are you crazy? Why have you made the corridors and rooms so small? We have several million bricks already at hand and they will not cost us anything.’
For example, in the centre of the spacious dining room stands a massive ‘Lazy Susan’ revolving table with an electric button conveniently located beside each place so that guests can easily serve themselves with the delights of the host’s delectable Cordon Bleu fare, which fosters the art of around the table conversation, bringing the classic French table d’hôte concept to a whole higher level.
With its white walls, elegant geometrically straight lines, vast panoramic outlooks, abundant brass, marble and warm wood detailing and clever use of indirect lighting, exotic house plants and interesting artefacts, this is a truly out of the ordinary residence, which subtly merges art deco retro, vintage, post modern and futuristic elements into an ultra-chic architectural cocktail.
Beautifully furnished guestrooms open onto spacious verandas and sun-blessed terraces that command 360-degree views of the surrounding gentle countryside and facilitate breakouts, while hot air balloon adventures can be launched.
Besides expansive and well-manicured lawns, there’s a sizeable outdoor heated swimming pool. Barbecues and cocktail parties on the terrace are great for socialising.
The Ayraults were renowned for paying their staff well above the local average wage and those employees who showed exceptionally strong loyalty and work ethic were presented with cars.
This generosity of spirit continues into the present day and the villa still serves a dual purpose as a beautiful family home and a perfect place to welcome and entertain visiting clients as well as family friends and relations. Hospitality is very much the key word of their offer.
The advent of modern more efficient brickyards combined with fast rising energy costs and shrinking demand led to the brick business closing in 1981, but the villa keeps the ethos alive.
It’s all so delightfully period in style and ambience that you half expect Clark Gable and his movie star peers to be waiting to greet you as your car crunches the gravel of the long, winding drive and the super-sized car park.
Think ‘La Bonne Vie’ and you’ve pegged it.