A visit to the annual Festival de la Tomate held the second weekend in September at chateau de la Bourdaisiere in the Loire Vallée.
Yesterday I joined a journalists group visiting the tomato fete. Just a short 55-minute TGV train ride from Paris.
This year's fete had a tie-in theme appropriately with Disney's Ratatouille.
Country luxury hotels are, thank goodness, short on the Marie-Antoinette syndrome that's taken over too many Paris hotels. The chateau particularly has a feeling of a cabinet of curiosities - very intriguing.
The owner of the chateau, Prince Louis Albert de Broglie informally joined us to explain the details of his great endeavor - preserving over 640 heritage tomatoes and developing biodiversity farms that can feed up to 50 families.
We set off to see the property, visiting farms and cultivation plots, the Prince leading the way and proudly explaining the progress they've made. The gardens were designated a national tomato conservatory in 1998.
Purveyors displayed the many varieties.
Not just tomatoes are cultivated at the chateau, but more than 240 varieties of rare Dahlias are grown by resident expert, Mme. Martine de Roquefeuil/a>.
The main plat was roti de porc au Romarin and of course Ratatouille, that famous Provençal stew of summer vegetables, plus a savory tomato flan and tomato bread.
To follow a fine chevre of the Loire Vallée, St. Maure, served with delicious tomato jam made at the chateau.
Naturally I raced off to buy a jar only to find another jar of tomato jam waiting in our goodie bags at departure. Can one ever have too much tomato jam? Two bottles should keep me going until next September's Festival de la Tomate hopefully.
Naturally I gave him my August Tomato Sketch Letter but I forgot to take a picture of him holding it unfortunately. It's not everyday you get to give a prince your artwork...
There were tents selling wonderful country-made items: pain d'epice, nougats, gardening tools, gardening books, plants, holistic creams for the event. And the chateau has fabulous gift shops with many designs from Le Prince Jardinier, the mark of the chateau, including the Prince's own vest design in Bordeaux velvet.
I regret not picking up a bar or two of his tomato soap. The tomato bath salts looked enticing though to have a bathtub in tiny Paris apartments is a luxury not many can boast of.
The Prince took over Deyrolle on 46, rue du Bac and breathed new life into it. When there was a fire in 2008 he rallyed artists and others to contribute to an auction that rebuilt and repaired the devastating damage. Deyrolle is a must-visit when you come to Paris. A step back in time to a magical world.
The trip to the Festival de la Tomate was magical indeed. I felt all green and ecological afterwards. Bear came along bien sur and plans to return next year. Meanwhile this upcoming weekend is Jours de Patrimoine, so the chateau will be open and free to the public - a truly lovely way to spend a weekend afternoon exploring the gardens and supping on a tomato lunch non?