In a modest village near fabulous Fontainbleau is a large wooden gateway in a high stone wall, with a ‘cottage’ behind and five acres of grounds – quelle surprise! It was home to a couple for 40 years: she the aunt of the owner of a nearby château, he a Russian… hence the wonderful, whimsical collection of art. Note the busy, bohemian, sumptuous salon; it is awfully grand – the sofas are not for sprawling – but it’s homely too (play a boardgame, browse a book) and excessively cocooning at night. Within a 15-minute drive are some of the greatest French châteaux – Courances, Dampierre, Fontainebleau – as well as the cobbled painters’ village of Barbizon, the school of landscape made famous by Millais, Corot and Rousseau. Back home, the vast ‘salon’ opens to a courtyard and a garden with immaculate topiaries and towering trees. Take a rug to the tufty grass, or swim a long lap in the pool; it hides behind a hedge (of course!). This is an untouched home, perfectly preserved, The kitchen may be of an era less sumptuous than the rest, but you can always book in a chef.