Just a few kilometers from the Normandy coast, and close to Bayeux and Caen, you’ll come across this delightful old manor house set with buildings around an internal courtyard. Drive through the splendid gateway into a place which seems lost in time.
The bedrooms are beautifully and individually decorated. They all have honey-colored stone walls and antiques, alongside all the modern touches in both the rooms and the bathrooms. You walk across the courtyard to the pretty dining room which offers excellent meals using local ingredients of dishes like hot cheese terrine with apples, smoked ham and a green salad, and duck with apple and Calvados sauce. Like the rooms, the restaurant is very good value, with an excellent 29.50 euro menu.
This charming chateau hotel ticks all the boxes. It’s in a village but set in its own delightful park; it’s small with pretty rooms decorated in French country house style, with plenty of toile de Jouey fabrics and comfortable furniture and it has a Michelin 1-star restaurant. And finally, it’s very good value.
The hotel is roughly half way between Cambrai and Le Cateau Cambresis, known for the Matisse Museum. It’s a good base for exploring some of the nearby interesting World War I memorials, particularly the haunting Wilfred Owen Memorial that opened in autumn 2011.
Think of Champagne and you think of romance, so where better to take the love of your life than the Champagne region.
Set in the rolling countryside just north of Epernay, the center of the Champagne region, the white-washed Royal Champagne Hotel was once a coaching inn, where Napolean made regular stops on his way to nearby Reims. It’s decorated in pretty country style, with plenty of corners to laze away the day and surrounded by the great names: Moët & Chandon, Bollinger, Krug, Mumm, Veuve Cliquot, Taittinger, Laurent Perrier and Dom Perignon. Guest rooms are just a few steps from the main house, luxuriously decorated with large beds and bathrooms, and with wonderful views.
The Domaine les Crayères is set in a huge green park but is right in the heart of Reims itself. A gracious, three-storey, pale stone building, it’s an impressive chateau, but with 16 rooms, just the size to feel like a very grand private house.
With over four hundred champagne labels in its cellars, this is the place for a serious drink in front of a roaring fire before a top meal in Le Parc Restaurant.
For dedicated romantics, the hotel offers a special Gorgeous Night package from May 1st to September 30th. You have one night in an Imperatrice or Princess room with a view over the park from your private terrace. There’s a welcome bottle of Champagne, red roses and petits fours on arrival, and a candlelit dinner from the gourmet menu on the terrace of your room, plus continental breakfast.
Practical Information64, boulevard Henry-Vasnier
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 24 90 00
Closed from mid December to beginning of January
Price of Rooms (Breakfast is not included): $$$-$$$$
What this means
This is one of my favorite hotels in France. It looks as if it would be as much at home in a 19th century children’s fairytale as in the 21st century where the helicopter landing site introduces a touch of modern living.
You see the castle as you drive up the hill, dominating the surrounding landscape. Closer in and the central tower rises up before you. You feel that you wouldn’t have much chance trying to storm this particular keep, but it doesn’t stop small children brandishing toy swords and trying.
Inside, the walls are covered with coats of arms, tapestries and paintings; suits of armour are scattered around the rooms and small seats carved out of window cills offer odd viewpoints.
The rooms are all very different -- one as big as a ballroom with huge stone fireplaces and tapestries on the walls; another with two storeys and small mullioned windows overlooking the gardens.
And the icing on the cake is that the restaurant is extremely good, with an inventive kitchen serving up some of the best lamb I have ever tasted, among other notable dishes using local and market fresh produce. This chateau hotel offers a real romantic escape.
It might seem odd to put a modest bed and breakfast among the grand chateau hotels here. But this is worthy of note for various reasons. The little village of St. Didier d’Allier is, according to locals and visitors, one of the most beautiful in this part of France. It has its own small chateau with a pointed tower covered in different colored tiles, presiding over a village of around 9 inhabitants and some 10 houses, many of them second homes for people who value peace and getting away from it all. It's near Le Puy-en-Velay in the Haute Loire region, overlooking the gorges of the Allier.
La Grangette is slightly outside the village on a road which snakes through the heavily forested hillside eventually down to the river. It's a long low building with a cottage garden and some tremendous views over to the little castle. It’s remarkably good value –- from 36 euros to 57 euros per room per night, including breakfast. The four en-suite guest rooms are simply done using natural wood, and there’s a separate large games room making it ideal for families. The four-course meal which includes wine is 16 euros per person and the wife of the couple who own it has worked as a professional chef, so you’re guaranteed a very good meal.
You breathe the clear air; look at a spectacular night sky with the Milky Way streaking across ti above you; and go for long walks. St Pryvat d’Allier, the local village, is on the pilgrim route from Le Puy-en-Velay to Santiago da Compostela.
The Auvergne is on my list of top underrated destinations in France.
Practical InformationLa Grangette
Haute Loire 43580
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 71 57 24 41
Closed November to April.
Dining on a balmy evening on the terrace high over the Dordogne river as the sun slowly dips below the horizon brings home the beauty of the Chateau de la Treyne. The renovated 16th and 17th century chateau is surrounded by formal gardens that stretch out into a private forest, providing peace and quiet, great walks and more practically, the wood that feeds the crackling log fires on crisp autumn evenings.
The 14 rooms and two suites are elegant, each individually decorated with antiques, comfortable sofas and some with four-poster beds. The very grand Louis XIII restaurant has tapestries on the walls, soft lighting and crisply laid tables. It's a fitting setting for the Michelin-starred chef who produces great dishes using regional specialties: foie gras, Quercy lamb and duck. Family owned and run, this turreted little castle is a delightful place..
Tel.: 00 33 (0)5 65 27 60 60
Closed from mid-November to December 22, and from January 2 to last week in March
Price of Rooms (Breakfast is not included): $$$-$$$$
What this means
Dine and sleep in an old Cistercian monastery, but one that has been transformed from monastic life into an incredibly comfortable oasis of peace. Set in the heart of the Burgundy wine region, the Abbaye de la Bussière is a rich collection of warm stone buildings dating back to 1130. It's at La Bussière-sur-Ouche, near Dijon.
The Abbaye grounds were once the working farm of the abbey, with fish ponds, a constant water supply and a mill. You enter the cluster of buildings through an arched stone gateway in the village and you're taken away from the modern world. Green lawns and wooded slopes surround you, with only the sound of birdsong to disturb the profound peace.
Bedrooms are scattered throughout the various buildings, so there’s always a different perspective to enjoy. The ecclesiastical nature of the original main building makes for odd, hidden away corners, and small and large rooms that you come across almost by accident.
There’s plenty to do in the area, from hot air ballooning to sampling the wines at the various vineyards that made the area so wealthy. Or just chill out beside the small lake.
Located in a vast 350 acre park just outside Tours, the Domaine de Beauvoir dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Thick stone walls, mullioned windows, solid old wooden doors, fireplaces and antiques take you back to the past, while enjoying all the high tech amenities of 21st-century living. With a small lobby as you enter every room, you know you'll get all the peace and quiet you could want.
The chateau was originally built into the rock, which has made a perfect wine cellar. And in this perfect cellar, there are some very good local wines which you can sample at special wine tastings. The energetic can take bicycles and take off down the forest paths. Or you can chill out by the large swimming pool at the bottom of the front garden.
There are several dining rooms, some intimate, others a little larger, all decorated in pretty pastel colors. Dine by candlelight, or in summer eat outside on the terrace with the sun gradually setting in the evenings over the green landscape.
The South of France has long drawn those after lazy sunny afternoons sitting on a terrace, with the blue waters of the Mediterranean sparkling in the distance. It’s synonymous with heady, luxurious living. And it’s famous for those small hilltop villages, once surrounded by defensive walls, now full of small cobbled streets, boutique hotels and good restaurants.
St. Paul de Vence is one such village. And right in the center, Le Saint Paul Hotel offers just the right feeling of intimacy and fun. It’s built alongside the old ramparts, with rooms on different levels, each one with warm stone walls, antiques and incredible comfort. The village might fill up during the summer days with visitors, but there’s nothing better than sitting here on the terrace, feeling a little smug and sipping a glass of something cold and delicious. It’s prettily decorated with a choice of dining in an imtimate restaurant with painted walls and a tinkling fountain, or in summer on the outdoor terrace.
The village is quite large with enough to occupy you during the day. Or make your way down to Nice and its various attractions. There are plenty of museums in and around Nice, many of them related to the different artists who settled here for the pure light. Or perhaps take a cooking class in the old city. And for the gourmet, Nice is a magnet for food lovers.