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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in France.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in France.
There’s Mickey!” Our three-year-old hasn’t even set foot in Disneyland Paris and he’s pointing out the famous mouse in all forms — poster, toy, sign… “There’s Mickey!” We knew he’d be excited but hadn’t foreseen weeks of “Mickey Mouse land” questions; our departure couldn’t come soon enough. “There’s Mickey” And now, as we step out of Marne-la-Vallee — Chessy station, we realise that although today was the day we said we were going to Disneyland, we weren’t actually going to be in Disneyland until tomorrow. “There’s Mickey!” This was going to be difficult. Thankfully he’s a little more open to reasoning these days, and the short bus transfer to our hotel, the Vienna House Dream Castle, meant a swimming pool with a slide would happily suffice for the next few hours.
One of eight ‘partner hotels’, it’s cheaper than the seven Disney hotels that are all walking distance and the regular 10-minute free shuttle proves as easy as the Eurostar — the trip from London to the 24-year-old theme park was done in under three hours. But it pays to plan with military-precision — which we thought we had but soon realised the following morning that we had done nothing of the sort.
We didn’t quite get there for opening, (10.30am instead of 10am) we didn’t quite get to grips with the Fast Pass system (they’re pretty much all gone by lunchtime, if not before); and quite get our heads around the food. As the Insight Guide states ‘food is expensive and of the fast-food variety. Fresh fruit and vegetables appear to be banned’. We took this on the chin, although redemption came later.
Heading straight to Fantasyland — one of four ‘worlds’ — we rattled through several of the rides and attractions in quick succession: It’s a Small World, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs…With some precision, but not particularly military, we left some key attractions for our second day, and focused on two of the worlds — Fantasyland and Discoveryland.
With kids of a certain age it rules out several high-octane rides, which means less, if not a lot less, queuing. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast was our main attract ion for standing in line on the first day, before finding a spot for the parade, which is a lot more exciting— especially when the characters are the highlight for the kids. We decided splashing out on the Mickey Cafe would be worth the money—and given the look on the children’s faces as Goofy, Mickey and Minnie toured the restaurant, it was. Somewhat to our surprise, the food was exceptional.
Passing on the fireworks — 10pm is a bit late, Walt — we all collapsed into bed again, and there was no waking them early the next day. Like I said, precision but not military. Disappointed (an understatement) when he was told Spider-Man would not beat Disneyland, our youngest was ecstatic when we found him in Walt Disney Studios Park. After more queuing, and superhero demands sated, we focused our remaining hours here.
Designed as a film lot, it’s set up as a standalone theme park. We went on Crush’s Coaster, Flying Carpets Over Agrabah, and Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin, before we split up. The subsequent queue for Ratatouille with our eldest was testing — over 75 minutes — but for us it was the highlight: a clever 4D experience, in which you race through Gusteau’s kitchen with the rats. Recommended – even with queuing. And that was that, a whirlwind 48 hours. We’ll go again — as soon as the youngest stops saying: “There’s Mickey!”
If you want to do Paris right (and really, is there a wrong way?), we suggest snuggling up in a Prestige Suite at Hotel Plaza Athenee for a long weekend. The ultra-luxury hotel is in the heart of the haute couture district — Christian Dior, Chanel, Valentino, Max Mara and Ferragamo are all there (be sure to ask the concierge to arrange private fittings from the shops in your suite). Our accommodations were literally over Harry Winston and it was fun to imagine all of the amazing jewels downstairs.
The hotel is also just a few blocks from the busy Champs Elysees. The reality is, however, that Hotel Plaza Athenees Prestige Suites are built as apartments and we found ourselves perfectly content to sit and sketch and read fashion illustration books on an oversized couch for the better part of our stay. Apart from the very large living room there’s an oversized bedroom and a boudoir-style bathroom with a large tub and lots and lots of gray-veined white Carrara marble. (To get the vibe of the hotel check out the “Sex in the City” film where Carrie Bradshaw flings open the French doors of hotel room to all the wonders of Paris.
The hotel is also shown in “The Devil Wears Prada”; its truly Paris glamour at its best).
We did venture out one evening for a meal at L’Avenue, at 41 Avenue Montaigne; it has chic outdoor seating and a sultry scene inside (think red velour banquettes and bistro tables). On our return, we experienced the ultimate wow when we opened our balcony doors and looked to our right. There, the Eiffel Tower twinkled away in full view in the evening sky.
Note: This is guaranteed to make the most jaded traveler go weak in the knees.
Our Prestige Suite was swell for two and could have accommodated more. Eighty percent of the rooms at the hotel connect; just ask for the variety of configurations. Going all out? Opt for the Royale Suite; it has four bedrooms.
Jeremy Bieuron, deputy director of sales, can answer questions regarding VIP guests. Head Concierge Jerome Poret and his team can assist with the aforementioned private fittings from designer shops and other exclusive shopping experiences. The hotel is run by Francois Delahaye, who is also the COO of The Dorchester Collection.
Note: Book at least two months prior to spring and fall Fashion Weeks (Check for dates here: fashionweekonline.com). Private helicopters can land at Paris XV; private jets at Paris Le Bourget, 30 minutes from the hotel.
Dior at Hotel Plaza Athenee has six treatment rooms and should be booked at least a week out. The director of the spa, Melina Pourcel, can arrange unique treatments, such as the Dior Skin Analyzer. There’s also a new “tissue massage technique” which is part of the personalized “Prestige Grand Facial Treatment.”
The hotel is known for its exclusive dining: Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee has three Michelin stars; La Cour Jardin and La Terrasse Montaigne are open in spring and summer and are the places to see and be seen in Paris. In winter, La Cour Jardin becomes an ice rink.
For an all-out exclusive experience, book the new “Secret Dinner” at the hotel; every first Saturday of the month through December 2017, famed French magician Stefan Leyshon will present a dinner show in the Haute Couture Room. He is the youngest magician to be admitted to AFAP (the French “Magic Circle”). Dinner is prepared by Chef Alain Ducasse’s team for tables of two to 10 people.
Going to Paris soon? On December 15, the hotel’s lobby will house the first ever Dior Couture Christmas tree.
La Ferme de Saint-Siméon, Honfleur, Calvados
Set on a hill above the historic port of Honfleur in Normandy and with splendid views of the coast, this five-star hotel was once a favourite of artists attracted by the soft light from the sea and sky. In this restored 17th-century farmhouse, Impressionist paintings adorn the walls of the light-filled rooms, while the public areas have period features such as exposed beams and laminated walls. The hotel hosts painting classes, and there is also a spa and a restaurant.
Hôtel Providence, Paris
Built in 1854, this hotel has witnessed the evolution of the neighbourhood surrounding Beaubourg and the Canal Saint-Martin, which is now part of a trendy arrondissement with plenty of bars and restaurants. The hotel is a work of art in itself: each of the 18 bedrooms is individually decorated with designer fabric, bright wallpaper and vintage furniture, and the rooftop boasts a picture-perfect view of Montmartre and the Parisian skyline. The cocktail bar and restaurant also offer a chic atmosphere with cosy sofas and a fireplace.
Hôtel des Académies et Des Arts, Paris
Situated in the 6th arrondissement, minutes from the Jardin du Luxembourg, this hotel knows the value of art. For starters, this boutique property is directly in front of the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere –once associated with Paul Gauguin and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti – and is adorned with works from Montparnasse-based sculptor Sophie de Watigrant. The 20 bedrooms are individually decorated and feature Jerome Mesnager’s ‘white body’ paintings. You can also watch films of the hotel owners’ favourite artists in the video art lounge. Other facilities include the Chez Charlotte tearoom and a wellness area offering massages and beauty treatments.
Hôtel Vent D’Ouest, Le Havre, Seine-Maritime
In the heart of the Channel port of Le Havre, among Auguste Perret’s Unesco-listed post-war architecture, the four-star Hotel Vent d’Ouest lives up to its maritime connections, with many of the 35 rooms having seaside and seafaring themes. The hotel is perfectly positioned between the sea and the city centre. The port has a special place in the hearts of art-lovers as the birthplace of Impressionism, after Claude Monet painted Impression, Sunrise (1874) here. Another big attraction is the Museum of Modern Art (MuMa), which has one of the biggest collections of Impressionist art in France.
Let’s make one thing clear: ski holidays are never cheap. In order to experience the incredible feeling of standing atop a mountain peak, ready to ski or snowboard down, there is a shopping list of expensive items to pay for: travel, accommodation, ski pass, equipment, insurance, lessons (if required), clothing, food and drink. It adds up to a hefty outlay. But don’t despair; there are ways to save money and to get better value, as I shall explain.
Where to Ski
The choice of resort affects the cost of a holiday. Generally, it is more expensive in the larger, more famous resorts. For a start, there is the ski pass – and it pays to ask yourself whether you need miles and miles of terrain. “If you are a group of beginners or a family with young children, you aren’t likely to need to ski a big area,” says Xavier Schouller, managing director of Peak Retreats, a tour operator which has built its reputation on helping skiers to choose less well-known destinations. “Instead of paying for slopes that you won’t use, choose a smaller ski area.”
A six-day ski pass for the vast 600-kilometre Trois Vallées domain, for example, costs from €294 per adult. Yet for many skiers, particularly families, the 55 kilometres in Aussois would be enough – and the equivalent ski pass costs only €146.
But what about an advanced skier who wants a huge ski area to roam in? Money can still be saved, Schouller says, by considering where to be based. “There are plenty of smaller villages that share the same ski area as larger, more expensive resorts. A good example is Vaujany – a charming village in the Southern French Alps. It is part of the massive l’Alpe-d’Huez ski area, but the accommodation is significantly cheaper. You get a great village atmosphere and world-class skiing, for less.”
Go In a Group
Location also affects the cost of ski lessons. In Val-d’Isère, France’s most popular resort with British clients, a six-morning group lesson will cost 3D4 around €280 per adult; over in Les Contamines, close to Mont Blanc, the equivalent course costs a mere €130. Why such a difference?
“It’s simply choice and popularity,” says Mark Neville, UK business manager for the École de Ski Francais (ESF). “A pint of lager in central London costs around £5, but in Newcastle it’s around £3. It’s like that with lessons, so choosing a smaller or less fashionable resort can help those on a budget.”
Committing to group lessons is a good way of getting the most instruction time for your money. For example, about €200 will buy six consecutive three-hour morning group lessons in La Rosiere, whereas €150 would only buy a private lesson for up to three people, for two and a half hours.
I could never tire of the Côte d’Azur: a golden thread of sensory delights with its sentries of fragrant pines, the relentless chirrup of cicadas, chic boutiques, bouillabaisse and the sparkle of an impossibly blue sea. Neither, it seems, can the millions of tourists who flock here each year.
But few look beyond the cosmopolitan glitz and glamour of the coastal resorts and head inland to a lazier, quainter and altogether more French way of life. Just 13 kilometres north of Cannes and 25 minutes’ drive from Nice airport, Valbonne is one of my favourite inland villages on the Riviera; still considered part of this exclusive strip of coastline, but refreshingly removed from its frenetic activity – the very place to take a stroll.
The village was founded in 1519 alongside a 12th-century abbey and, influenced by Roman military camps, was laid out along a grid pattern, in contrast to the spiral layout of many of its neighbours. Two principal perpendicular avenues converge at a forum known as Place des Arcades. Today this attractive, quintessentially Provençal square, with its cheery pastel facades and parasols shading café tables from the midday heat, is Valbonne’s beating heart. Traffic is banned for much of the time, so it is just the place to while away a happy afternoon of people-watching with a citron pressé. Historical clues are etched and scrawled everywhere: the arcade of the prominent Hotel Les Armoiries is engraved with ‘1628’.
Wander from the square down any of the side-streets and you’ll find ochre stone houses with porches smothered in vines or exuberant bougainvillea, doors with lintels decorated with the emblems of penitents and journeymen, and the occasional snoozing cat. On Friday mornings, though, the village is shaken from its slumber to host a busy market, considered one of the best in the area. Spilling from the square on to the surrounding streets is a veritable riot of scents and colours; stalls are crammed with mushrooms and gleaming olives, rubbing shoulders with bunches of lavender and jars of local honey. Nibble your way around here and you almost won’t need lunch.
At the bottom of the village stand the 12th-century Église Saint-Blaise, its attached monastic abbey, the Moulin des Moines (now a restaurant) and ancient carved stone monuments. The abbey has been painstakingly restored and, together with its integrated museum proudly displaying Valbonne’s heritage, is the place to make for if you want to immerse yourself in history. The village is also noted for its many art galleries and creative workshops (especially for ceramics, pottery and glass) and has hosted several major exhibitions. A busy cultural calendar blends modernity with tradition in the form of numerous festivals: antiques, theatre and wine-making.
As soon as you arrive in Figeac, in the Lot département, you know you have reached the south – the narrow cobbled streets, the dusty squares shaded by plane trees, the café terraces, the age-old buildings, and the marketplace – a feast for all the senses.
I arrived on the last day of the school year to the sound of happy children playing on a hot summer’s afternoon, and in the background the gentle sound of a fountain in a cool garden. The soothing presence of water is close by, with the River Cele flowing along the edge of the historic centre. In medieval times there was a canal here, and mills and tanneries were commonplace. The canal ran through Place d’Estang and into the Cele until the 1950s, when it was covered up.
The square is a stone’s throw from the river and a couple of alleys away from the marketplace. This is one of the great things about Figeac; it is compact, but each street and building is worth savouring, with history oozing from every pore. A guided tour means you won’t miss the hidden gems, but if you prefer to wander around on your own, pick up a ‘keys to the city’ leaflet at the tourist office and look out for the numbered symbols on the walls.
The town’s architectural heritage is stunning. The majority of the buildings date from the medieval period, but they intertwine with Renaissance architecture – magnificent staircases and ornate doorways can be glimpsed next to half-timbering. The oldest house is thought to be the 12th-century Maison du Griffon in Place Champollion. It is typical of this period with its sculptured motifs of fantastical animals and leaves. Turn around and look up to see the ornate arched windows of a 14th century dwelling, no doubt once the property of a rich merchant, given the quality and sumptuousness of the craftsmanship.
On the same square is a museum dedicated to Jean-François Champollion, who was born in Figeac in 1790. Champollion was the famous Egyptologist who deciphered the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta Stone, and his birthplace is incorporated into the museum. By all accounts, he was a child prodigy gifted in languages, mastering Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Persian during his teens.
The museum also explores the origins of the world’s written languages, from runes to the development of the alphabet and the invention of printing. It is a fascinating mix of the personal – Champollion’s letters to his brother and his work notes are on display – and the global, with examples of writing from South America to Asia. There is even a mummy from the fourth century BC, miraculously preserved in its linen bandages in the Egyptian room.
The museum’s ultra-modern double facade, with its thousand letters, makes a striking impression. The stone exterior represents the traditional architecture of the town, and on top there is a modern `solelho‘, from which you have one of the best views of the square. Look up and on most streets you will see these upper, covered terraces which in days gone by were used to dry fruit and vegetables, and skins used in the tanning industry. The museum’s second, copper facade is set about a metre behind the original stone one and features symbols from 28 writings of the world, hinting at the contents within. It is an imaginative design which took five years in the making.
At the back of the museum is Place des Écritures, where a replica of the Rosetta Stone holds pride of place, and a stone staircase leads to a patio where three papyrus plants are growing. The square is often used as an exhibition area, and for small gatherings. The apartments overlooking the square are ‘social housing’, underlining the democratic feel of Figeac.
I am sitting at a suspended wooden table, staring at the silver shellfish in my hand, poised for the dreaded moment. “Whatever you do, if you can’t stand it, don’t force it. I’ve seen people swallow an oyster when they weren’t sure about it. It’s not a pretty sight. Just spit it out if you don’t like it,” Laurent says gravely. Three pairs of eyes watch as I lift the oyster to my lips and tip. It’s cold, it’s slimy but then I taste the salt, the sea, the lemon and pepper, and the tart but not unpleasant flesh of the oyster and swallow. A look of surprise and relief comes over Laurent’s face and we all laugh at my oyster christening.
Glass of chilled Picpoul de Pinet in hand, Laurent talked about his tasting bar, which he opened only last season. Here, the shellfish couldn’t be fresher. For Laurent Arcella is a third-generation oyster farmer on the Etang de Thau, the largest lagoon in the Hérault département. Upturned oyster baskets serve as hanging lamps, metal chairs are placed around sea-washed wooden tables, a raised bar hides the drinks and a blackboard announces the day’s tasting dishes. “It’s simple, sturdy, but it looks good,” says Laurent, shrugging. It certainly has one of the best views of the Thau lagoon, being set directly on Laurent’s oyster farm and looking out on to the waters and over to the port of Sète.
As my companions and I devoured fresh oysters and baked mussels, boats drifted past the pontoon, and it was hard to think of a better place to sample the AOC-protected Huîtres de Bouzigues. Just two days before, we had arrived in Collioure where the journey into Occitanie’s gastronomic culture along the southern coast of France had begun. Every day brought new surprises that delighted the senses.
Collioure is one of those fishing villages that appear frozen in time. The old stone church and its tower, the little pebbled beach dominated by the historic castle, and the traditional barques catalanes moored on the small pier on the seafront, all paint a picture of traditional French seaside life. It isn’t surprising that Collioure became such an important refuge for artists such as Henri Matisse in the early part of the 20th century.
Although the village is now quite small, it used to be a major anchovy-fishing port, with more than 150 barques catalanes plying their trade in the 17th century. Numbers dwindled to around 40 in the 1960s in the face of foreign competition and now just two of the traditional fishing boats are left.
Anchovy fishing is still engrained in the local community (two fish are carved in the stoup at the entrance to the church) and one indomitable producer still holds out against the tide. Maison Roque was founded in 1870 and is now demi-johns lined up outside in direct sunlight and facing the sea, thus enriching the aromas of figs and spices. As we sat outside, tucking into a delicious pissaladiere starter – a thin layer of puff pastry topped with anchovies and capers – and tasting the various wines, I turned my gaze towards the sea and the vines, and thought that the Catalan art de vivre was one that I could get used to.
In the gloomy light of the Joseph Drouhin wine cellars, which cover a hectare below the streets of Beaune, my guide Christophe Thomas points to a door covered in dust and cobwebs. “That’s where Maurice Drouhin escaped the Gestapo,” he tells me. “There are some spiral stairs, and this is the corridor that goes to the cellars of the Hospices de Beaune.” The dramatic story of Maurice Drouhin’s escape during World War II is among the most intriguing chapters in the long history of Maison Joseph Drouhin, one of the town’s most prestigious winemakers.
As Christophe, the firm’s export director, explains to me in the semi-darkness of the ancient cellars, Maurice Drouhin was heavily involved in the Resistance. When the Gestapo came for him in the early hours of that morning in 1944, he had already escaped into the cellars which led to the Hospices de Beaune, the town’s famous hospital. There, the nuns hid him for two months, until the town was liberated by the Allies in early September.
It just so happened, however, that the months of his absence were the most crucial in the winemaking calendar. “His wife had no clue how to run a winery, so she got a bit scared because she couldn’t meet him,” explains Christophe. “She went every day to pray, and the Mother Superior would go as well, and they would pass notes [between each other] and ask questions and get responses to what was needed in the winery. Maurice would write things like: ‘Don’t forget to buy barrels’.”
The story goes that after the war, Maurice was so grateful for the nuns’ help that he handed the Hospices de Beaune a lucrative gift. “He gave a massive amount of Beaune Premier Cru [vineyards] to thank them for saving his life. So every year, we buy back most of the production.”
In the depths of the cellars, Christophe points out the barrels – marked ‘Maurice Drouhin’ – which were bought in the last auction. The sale, which dates from 1859 and takes place over a long weekend in November, is one of the most prestigious in the French wine calendar. Proceeds go to the modern hospital and various charities (the 2015 auction set a record for a barrel at €117,700, around £106,000). A visit to the Hospices de Beaune themselves, housed in the magnificent Hotel-Dieu, puts the history in context and shows how the town’s charitable spirit dates back centuries .
With its multi-coloured tiled roof, the Hôtel-Dieu is the town’s most iconic building. When you bear in mind the architecture of modern hospitals, it is hard to believe that the flamboyant Gothic building was intended as a hospital and not a palace. It was founded in 1443 by Chancellor of Burgundy Nicolas Rolin to care for the poor and sick as the country recovered from the Hundred Years War and the plague.
The Grande Salle des Povres must have had a soothing effect in itself, with its beautiful ceiling and 30 red, velvet-curtained beds. The museum tells how Rolin and his wife Guigone de Salins established the hospital, appointing a religious order to care for the patients. The stories of 15th-century remedies are fascinating, while the kitchen and apothecary show how early medicine drew on nutrition and herbs to treat the patients. Later, it became possible for people to ‘buy’ their care, which led the hospital to become the wealthy operation that it remains today. “It’s probably the most profitable hospital in France,” laughs Christophe when he tells me about it in the Drouhin cellars.
In the wine-tasting that follows the cellar visit, he tells me more about the famous vineyards that generate the area’s wealth. The vineyards are divided into ‘climats’, parcels of land that were inscribed into Unesco’s World Heritage list last summer. The `terroie changes so significantly over a relatively small distance that the wines resulting from the vineyards offer a specific character and are highly sought after. Indeed, the world’s most expensive wine comes from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, in the Côte de Nuits between Dijon and Beaune, where red pinot noir is the main grape variety.
Closer to Beaune, however, there are a number of vineyards that specialise in white grapes and so I venture south of the town to one such area – the village of Puligny-Montrachet. Here, Olivier Leflaive continues his family’s winemaking business that dates from 1635, making him the 18th generation to do so. He owns 18.5 hectares of vineyards but also buys in grapes to make his 82 different wines.
This ski season, why not drive to the French Alps to indulge that love of snow,with a range of resorts to suit all abilities and ages. Taking the car with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is a convenient way to travel: you can pack as much equipment as you want for your Alpine adventures without incurring any extra fees and you can shop on the way.
One of the most accessible resorts is Méribel, in the huge Trois Vallées area. It is a great place for anyone who enjoys clocking up plenty of ski miles, with the highest accessible point being Mont Vallon, at 2,952 metres, which offers panoramic views of the Gébrolaz glacier and Grande Casse mountain.
For families, Méribel Altiport has several fun beginner zones, including the Inuits Piste, which organises outdoor games. Skiers aged from five to 12 have a daily entertainment programme, which includes an eagle show, husky-dog encounters and stalls selling home-made hot chocolate.
A lesser-known but equally enticing resort is La Toussuire, part of the Les Sybelles ski area in the Maurienne Valley of Savoie. The 45 kilometres of pistes include the Vallée Perdue, a scenic route that links La Toussuire with Le Corbier, and the more advanced, five-kilometre-long Grand Truc, while the floodlit Petite Verdette piste is perfect for a spot of skiing after dark. Facilities for children include practice slopes, a ski nursery and a ski school.
For somewhere that retains a traditional mountain-village atmosphere, head for Les Gets, with its rows of wooden chalets. The resort is in the Portes du Soleil ski area of Haute-Savoie and has a charming road-train shuttle to ferry skiers to the slopes. Attractions away from the pistes include a weekly market selling regional produce, an ice rink and a quirky mechanical music museum.
Arguably the best local slopes are on Mont Chéry, which has sweeping red intermediate runs that remain relatively quiet due to the location at one end of the huge ski circuit. Once a week, the English-run Ours Blanc hotel-restaurant, at the foot of the mountain, offers candlelit dinners at which guests can enjoy breathtaking views over the Portes du Soleil.
Getting married should be one of the most incandescent occasions of one’s life. We have found beautiful venues to create enduring and wonderful memories.
Manoir de la Foulquetiere – Loire Valley
Who wouldn’t want to get married in the lovely Loire Valley, surrounded by some of the world’s most scenic chateaux? Built in the 15th century, this memoir and its idyllic wedding chapel are set within ten hectares of gardens and woodland, complete with swimming pool, providing ample backdrops for wedding photography to grace the mantelpiece at home. There are nine bedrooms and a reception suite with dining space for up to 150 people, while a catering kitchen gives ultimate flexibility. Two gites and three chalets are also available to accommodate up to an additional 40 overnight guests. Rental includes use of the whole property and floral decorations in the reception rooms, chapel and bedrooms.
The manoir is available for rent at €9,000 for three nights at the weekend or €7,500 for two nights midweek.
Tel: (Fr) 2 54 00 29 56 manoirfoulquetiere.com
Chateau de la Couronne – Charente
This charming chateau is hidden away in the charentais countryside just an hour from Cognac and only 20 minutes from Angouleme, but with its huge bedrooms and bathrooms, four salons, private cinema, 14.5-metre heated swimming pool and two hectares of private grounds, it is unlikely that you will feel the need to venture out. The chateau is available for private rental and wedding packages that include a wedding planner to ensure the dream day lives up to expectations. The owners are English native speakers, too, making things that little bit more straightforward. Flexibility is everything, with past weddings ranging from just 20 people up to 160, and the professional kitchen and spacious dining room provide plenty of opportunity for a good party. The chateau is available for rent at €2,200 a night or €13,500 for a week, and sleeps up to 26.
Tel: (Fr) 5 45 62 29 96 chateaudelacouronne.com
Chateau de Mercues – Lot Valley
Occupying a fairy-tale setting on a rocky promontory above the River Lot near Cahors, this 13th-century chateau just begs for wedding photography. The gardens are a combination of groomed and wooded parkland, affording spectacular views, while a swimming pool, terrace and tennis court complete the ultimate outdoor relaxation package. The Relais & Chateaux property offers a fine-dining restaurant, which has just won its first Michelin star, and a winery. The wedding programmes pay huge attention to detail, such as initial consultation visits and advance menu tastings. The chateau has 30 bedrooms, but can accommodate up to 100 guests for dinner.
The chateau is available for exclusive rent at €6,000 for one night from 3pm to noon the following day Apr, Oct, Nov (€9,000 May, June, Sept; €14,000 July, Aug). Catering packages and drinks packages are available at extra cost.
Tel: (Fr) 5 65 20 00 01 chateaudemercues.com
Chateau de Mazan – Provence
Just 30 minutes from the ecclesiastical splendours of Avignon, this family-run, independent hotel might well appeal as a slightly quirkier wedding destination, for the chateau was once owned by the notorious Marquis de Sade and was the venue in 1772 of the first theatre festival to be held in France. The castle has 25 bedrooms, decorated in a modern and elegant style, some with a private terrace or even a hammam cabin.
There are a further five bedrooms in the house. Landscaped gardens are graced by an outdoor swimming pool and beautiful surroundings, so it is the perfect opportunity to relish the 300 or so days of sunshine a year that the area enjoys.
A wedding package is available at €6,500 for one night’s bed and breakfast accommodation for 12 people, personal wedding planner, photographer and up to three albums, three-course meal with open bar and a marquee.
Tel: (Fr) 4 90 69 62 61 chateaudemazan.com
Chateau de Prye – Nievre, Burgundy
Set within seven kilometres of walls and, in turn, within 150 hectares of wooded parkland, this rambling estate, complete with towers and turrets, swiftly transplants the visitor from everyday life into the setting of Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast or perhaps Sleeping Beauty.
The enormous guest bedrooms – there are only two suites and three rooms – are furnished and decorated to complement the general atmosphere, while the chateau kitchen, with its vast range and copper pots, is well worth a sneaky peek. The oak-panelled dining room with its views of the park is a delight at breakfast time. Wedding ceremonies take place either in the grounds or can be arranged in the small church at the edge of the domaine. With the addition of marquees and outdoor structures, up to 450 people can enjoy a reception to remember.
A wedding package is available at €4,000 for one night’s bed and breakfast accommodation for 14 people, services of a wedding planner, photographer, three-course meal with two rounds of drinks.
Tel: (Fr) 3 86 58 42 64 chateaudeprye.com
Chateau Les Oliviers de Salettes – Drome, Provence
Set in glorious, rolling countryside, the chateau is surrounded by five hectares of lawns, meadows and woodland, including a plane-shaded 30-metre petanque track. With facilities including a compact wellness centre, housed in an ancient, stone-vaulted winery, as well as two outdoor swimming pools, there is little chance of pre-wedding jitters taking hold. There are 28 bedrooms, with 16 in the main castle and 12 in the bastide, just 25 metres away. The chateau offers a plentiful supply of peace and tranquillity, combined with luxury and comfort.
The chateau is available for rent at €9,000 for two nights (accommodation for 25 guests), including use of a personal wedding planner, marquee, rehearsal, catered three-course meal, cake and bar.