Hotel Review: Modern Luxury in the Vineyards of France

Hotel Review: Modern Luxury in the Vineyards of France

There is no shortage of landmarks and charming chateaus in two of France’s greatest wine regions, the Loire Valley and Champagne. Modern, design-focused lodging, however, has been much slower to develop. But two recently opened properties in the region — one a renovation, the other a new development — are changing that.

From 150 euros, or about $175, based on current exchange rates.

Designed by the award-winning French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the Relais de Chambord is a four-star boutique hotel set in a converted inn located directly on the Domaine de Chambord, a Unesco World Heritage site and the largest enclosed natural reserve in Europe. The hotel, which opened in March 2018 after an 18-million-euro renovation, isn’t embellishing when it promises Château views from some of their 55 rooms — the Château de Chambord, the Loire Valley’s 500-year-old landmark, dating back to the era of François I, is truly in its backyard. An earthy color palette in guest rooms and the decorative use of vintage garden tools and nature-inspired engravings in common areas, on loan from the Domaine’s conservatory, create a design scheme that is at once contemporary and in harmony with its surroundings. With an upscale restaurant, Le Grand Saint Michel, as well as a wellness spa and a host of outdoor activities, including horseback riding and organized bike rides, the Relais de Chambord has positioned itself as a culinary and nature-focused getaway.

Within eyeshot of the Château de Chambord, beloved for its French Renaissance architecture and its recently restored French formal gardens, the hotel has the rare luxury of sitting directly on the Domaine de Chambord, one of only three national parks in France and located two hours from Paris.

I booked a Chambord room which offered unobstructed views of the Chateau’s rear formal gardens, breathtaking even as rain fell for part of my stay. The orange-hued velvet headboard and cashmere throw on the bed added a warm touch to the room’s otherwise understated and neutral color palette. The key design element common to all 55 rooms is a statement wall featuring a black and white illustration of one distinct piece of the Château de Chambord. A bonus: blissful quiet, save for the sound of the Domaine’s fauna awaking with the rising sun. Wi-Fi is free and each room has a minibar, however mine was out of order during my visit.

Although it was compact, the bathroom included all of the essentials for comfortable use: a glass-enclosed shower, a large mirror, soft robes and towels, and Fragonard bath products, created especially for the hotel.

While the hotel has a billiard room and spa, which includes two treatment rooms, a hammam and sauna and an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the Cosson river, it’s the outdoor activities in the park that make the stay special. Guests can rent electric boats across from the hotel for rides along the canal at the foot of the Chateau ($18 for 30 minutes), borrow electric bikes to explore nearly 10 square miles of park land, take a 4 x 4 tour with a forest guide to discover the nature reserve’s biodiversity ($20 for a 90-minute tour), play a round of tennis in courts reserved for guests, or visit the Château (the hotel has standard tickets and can book private tours for guests). Royal Connection is an affordable shuttle service that works regularly with the hotel for guests who wish to take day trips to visit other Châteaux in the region.

The Grand Saint Michel, the hotel’s primary restaurant open for lunch and dinner (and for breakfast, exclusively for hotel guests), is arguably the hotel’s center of attraction with its warm, contemporary design featuring an eye-catching light fixture designed by Marcel Wanders, and modern bistro menu that highlights seasonal products from local farms. When the weather allows, have your meal or even a glass of wine outside on the spacious terrace facing the Château. Room service was not yet available during my stay.

The Relais de Chambord is an affordable, comfortable and quiet home base to explore one of France’s most spectacular heritage sites.

From 400 euros or about $460

Epernay is lined with the headquarters and visiting centers of the world’s most renowned Champagne houses like Moët et Chandon and Perrier-Jouët, making it one of the region’s most popular spots to visit. But the small town has long lacked enough hotel options to accommodate demand, leading most visitors to stay in nearby Reims. Le 25bis, from the biodynamic champagne house Leclerc Briant, fills the gap with a guesthouse that marries contemporary Scandinavian design with antiqued French furnishings. Occupying a private residence from the 18th century, the five-room property was designed by UK-based firm RamseyKrause to be a homey extension of the winery’s adjacent tasting room. Whether in the ground floor sitting roomor in individual bedrooms, the designers preserved as many period elements as possible, like the original pine floors and the Empire style plasterwork. Two leafy terraces make for peaceful areas to have breakfast in the morning and champagne tastings in the afternoon.

At 10 minutes by foot from the Epernay train station, 25bis sits at the very heart of the Avenue de Champagne, a grand thoroughfare lined with Champagne houses that earned Unesco World Heritage status in 2015.

Each room is done up with different color schemes and decorative features. I stayed in Room 3, which overlooked the property’s rear garden. It blended 19th century French antiques with clean, beautiful lines, like the hulking armoire near the bed and wooden desk facing the window, with contemporary pieces from brands like Knoll, Carl Hansen & Søn and Ercol. The striking yellow Louis XIV bergère armchairs were redesigned by RamseyKrause with a new velvet. But the big draw for me were the bookcases filled to the brim with the Blanche collection of literary classics published by Gallimard.

The mostly-marble bathroom was spacious, brightly lit and featured both a claw-foot bathtub and one of the largest showers I’ve ever seen in a boutique property. The shower’s stainless-steel rimmed glass enclosure prevented any water from spilling over onto the floor. Inside, there was a marble ledge with enough space to place both my own products and the Hermès ‘Un Jardin sur le Nil’ bath and body products provided by the hotel.

A half-bottle of Leclerc Briant is offered as a welcome gift to guests in room minibars. Small, complimentary tastings are offered daily in the tasting room. Visits to the Leclerc Briant cellars and production facilities are available by appointment only (free of charge). Full tastings there run between 20-40 euros, depending on the cuvées selected. Of course, the guesthouse manager will also reserve visits and tastings at other Champagne houses upon request.

There is no on-site restaurant for guests, but breakfast is included in the room rate and can be taken in the exquisite dining hall, lined with hand painted Zuber wallpaper, on the terrace or in your room. A list of recommended restaurants nearby and in Reims is provided in each room.

Le 25bis is an exquisitely designed, upmarket home-away-from-home for autonomous travelers who don’t need 24/7 service, conveniently located to the region’s most famous Champagne houses.

Relais de Chambord, Place Saint-Louis, Chambord, France; www.relaisdechambord.com/en.

25bis by Leclerc Briant, 25 bis avenue de Champagne, 51200 Épernay, France; www.le25bis.com.

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