I didn't have to think twice when I was offered a chance to spend a week at a French castle. What girl doesn't dream of being a princess in a castle, even if the opportunity presented itself a few decades, or more, after the first blush of youth?
"Absolutement!" I shouted.
"The Count," a friend of mine, invited me to the family castle, Chateau D'Avully, in the Haute-Savoie region of France, close to Switzerland. The chateau dates to the 12th century, a true medieval castle, and during excavation Roman tiles dating to 50 B.C. were found.
When I first met the Count, he was living in a warehouse with no heat, didn't have a car, and told me that his family owns a medieval castle.
Exciting, I thought.
Right, thought my brother, who contacted a friend of his at Interpol to validate the claim. The Count's story checked out. I smiled like the Cheshire Cat. This could be fun.
He called himself nonconformist. I called myself the Countess. He invited me to visit, booked my plane ticket, and off I flew to Geneva, Switzerland. After the Count picked me up at the airport, we drove along Lake Geneva, past glittery, well-preserved people and gilded stores like MontBlanc and Chopard. We headed east toward Brenthonne.
As we entered the castle grounds, the Count pointed to his family's vineyard on the left, where they made wine under the appellation AOC Marignan. A French chateau must come with a vineyard, of course. He plucked a bunch of green grapes, and we ate them in the car, spitting the seeds out the window.
As we crested a hill, I saw the castle in the distance. It looked like Winterfell from the HBO series Game of Thrones, and was exactly as I imagined it. It had flags flying from the tower and parapets, and coats of arms painted on the walls.
The Count took me on a tour of the castle - the banquet hall with two huge fireplaces, each bigger than his Renault car, the gallery with hidden doors to secret rooms, and the men's hunting room with dusty stuffed animal heads on the wall, their glassy, accusatory stares following us as we walked by.
The apartment where we stayed had huge wooden beams across the ceiling, modern plumbing and heat, and a small ladies' chapel adjacent to it should I choose to confess my sins. I tried, but I was too excited for deep introspection.
Then we went to the sculptured formal garden with its fountains and closely maintained boxwoods, and sat on stone benches with white roses draped on either side. He told me about his plan to build a labyrinth, picked a quince from a tree for me, then shot off the cannon in my honor. I almost swooned. And this was all in the first few hours of my visit.
That week, my knight in shining leather put me on the back of his noble steed, a Ducati motorcycle, and drove 110 m.p.h. to Lausanne, Switzerland, and St. Remy de Provence. I wore a heavy helmet that snapped my neck back and forth when he changed gears, hung on for dear life, and thought I was unbelievably cool. We ate freshly caught perch at an outdoor restaurant in Evian, and afterward went to an English-style pub called "Le Bureau." The Count explained that men could call their wives at home to tell them that they were "at the office." Those clever Frenchmen!
I met his 96-year-old father, who goes to work each day in his suit, and whose sister will be 103. Other family members and friends made me feel welcome, even though my grasp of the French language was limited.
Later in the week, we met up with his friends in St. Remy, the quintessential Provence town, and stayed at a B&B owned by Myriam, an interesting older woman with blown-up fish lips, dark slashes for eyebrows, and a penchant for loose, low-cut shirts. She liked the Count.
Alas, too quickly, my week was up, and it was time for my fairy tale to end. It was time to get back to reality, and that was OK because I missed my kids. Merci, Monsieur Le Comte, for the magical week. When you visit me in New Jersey I will take you to the Renaissance Faire.