theLuxury of Experience ISSUE
I N T E R N AT I O N A L M A G A Z I N E
the Luxury of Experience
in South India
Relaxing in Kerala’s Warm Embrace
EXCEPTIONAL B&BS IN FRANCE:
Fine Country Living
A Western Safari
Luxe Cave Grand Canyon Caverns and Inn
The Land of Plenty Secrets
SERVING SOJOURNERS IN SWITZERLAND
The Magazine Written by North American Travel Journalists Association Members
E xceptional B & Bs
Fine Country Living
Off the Beaten Track ...
By Gary Lee Kraut
Think of luxury accommodations in France and visions of palatial hotels with liveried doormen,
plush lounges, single-malt bars, Michelin-starred restaurants, and discreet concierges come to
mind. But another kind of luxury exists, one that beckons travelers off the main roads and into a
parallel universe of fine country living: luxury B & Bs, les chambres d’hôtes de luxe.
From historic chateaux, to rural hideaways, to vineyard-side manors, the best B&Bs provide
enchanting accommodations in remarkable settings and terrific insights through their owners—
your hosts—into the culture, history and cuisine of the regions you’re visiting.
Excellent B&Bs can be found throughout France at a price range of about $125 to $350 per night
for two people, and breakfast is always included in the price. On certain evenings, some chambres d’hôtes also offer a table d’hôtes or guest table where those spending the night can enjoy a
home-cooked, sometimes gastronomic, and typically locally sourced meal, often at a reasonable
price considering the quality of the fare, including wine. When a table d’hôtes is available, travelers are well-advised to take advantage of the opportunity at least once during their stay.
B&Bs are defined in France as properties having one to five paid guest rooms (typically with private bathrooms) to accommodate no more than 15 people. Some establishments may have family
rooms or large suites that can accommodate three or four guests.
City and Town B & Bs
Fine B&Bs can be found in cities as well, though I tend to avoid them because I feel like an
intruder sneaking into someone’s home when I return from a late night out. In smaller towns
though, I’m happy to take advantage of an occasional chat with a helpful owner (and more likely
to come home early). Local tourist boards maintain online lists of such accommodations, along
with hotel information.
For example, in the center of the town of Blois, whose castle is the key to understanding the royal
architecture of the Loire Valley, I’ve received a warm welcome from Bernard Thomas and a sizable contemporary room at La Maison de Thomas, whose breakfast room doubles in the evening
as a wine bar that served as my key to understanding wines in this part of the valley.
ienvenue au Château is a non-profit association
of 142 private owners of chateaux, manor houses
and historic homes who provide accommodations
for paying guests and who comply with the association’s charter of
quality. The member properties are largely located in the western
half of France, with a dense cluster in the castle-rich Valley of the
Kings, the Loire Valley.
Chateau B&Bs aren’t to be confused with chateau-hotels offering
the latest amenities and round-the-clock room service. Instead,
what makes these special is the history of the property, the period
furnishings in some of the guest bedrooms, and the quality of the
Géraud and Stéphanie de Laffon’s Chateau de Gizeux, 14 miles
north of the Loire River in the central part of the valley, is an
Like many of the Bienvenue au Chateau properties, Gizeux has
been in the same family for generations, so your hosts themselves
are a part of the history of the home. Through direct descendants,
Géraud’s family has owned Gizeux since 1786, while portions of
the chateau date back hundreds of years further. Its American
connection is far more recent. Last year, the French Heritage society, an American non-profit donor organization that helps fund
the restoration of French heritage sites both public and private,
announced that it would contribute $30,000 to the restoration of
one of centerpiece rooms of Gizeux, its late 17th-century Gallery
of Chateaux, which guests are invited to visit.
Photo by Marie Gabrielle de Saint Venant
Gîtes de France
France’s Widest B & B Network
îtes de France is a network of 6,600 voluntary B&B owner members classified as one
to five épis (ears of wheat) according to
defined standards. In the upper end, there
are plenty of chateaux and manor B&Bs
in this network along with handsomely
converted farmhouses and other homes of character. A countryside B&B sporting four or five épis would be considered
extensive knowledge of the organic and biodynamic wines and
vineyards produced in the region.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to exclude three épis from that
list because there’s more to fine country living than ears. There’s
also the mouth in the case of B&Bs where your host is also a
great cook. Such is the case at Pascale and Olivier Schvirtz’s
three-ear, four-guestroom + one-yurt B&B La Pinsonnière, 12
miles south of Saumur in the Loire Valley. Schvirtz operates
the wine-happy restaurant La Robe et Le Palais in Paris, so in
addition to a warm welcome and comfortable lodging at La
Pinsonnière, he will, on weekends and during summer and
school vacations, bring the best of the region to the guest table
for a delicious meal. Visitors can also benefit from Schvirtz’s
Murray’s chateau—part 15th century, part 18th century, all
brought together in 1860s version of Extreme Makeover: Chateau
Edition—is located in the former province of Le Perche, now
known for its rural chic, its charming villages, its forest walks, its
craftsmen, and its Percheron draft horses. Looking beyond the immediate area, Blavou is equidistant between the D-Day Beaches of
the Normandy and the chateaux of the Loire Valley, each about two
hours away, with the Cathedral of Chartres a bit closer. Therefore,
travelers who prefer daytripping to changing lodgings from region
to region can explore each of those three diverse areas before returning home to relax at your host’s guest table and living room.
The more notable B&Bs, such as those described here, are accustomed to foreign visitors, so there’s rarely a language problem for
English-speaking travelers. For extra reassurance, there are also
plenty of English B&B owners in France. Nigel Murray, your host
at the Chateau de Blavou on the southern edge of Normandy, is
one of them.
English spoken here!
B & Bs in Wine Country
Wine regions are particularly ripe territory for B&Bs. In the heart of Burgundy,
for example, just a few miles from Beaune and some of the region’s prestigious
wine villages (Pommard, Mersault, etc), Christian and Laetitia Remoissenet
have transformed a medieval farmhouse into a B&B of contemporary luxury
(including a small heated pool) called La Ferme de Marjolet.
One place to look for other top B&Bs in wine country is through the website
Clévacances.com. Clévacances is a label for B&Bs as well as holiday home rentals with an official imprimatur given to properties by each department (comparable to an American country), with from one to five keys, like stars for hotels.
Though Clévacances listings include far more than wine country B&Bs, that’s
where I first came across Catherine Gastaldi’s elegant and sunny La Bastide de
Brurangère, a five-key property, located in the Vaucluse area of Provence. There
are vineyards as well as numerous challenging biking routes in that area.
On recent explorations in Provence, I visited Château de Gigognan, a chateau
not in the aristocratic sense but in the wine sense. Located between Orange and
Avignon in the Chateauneuf-du-Paper winegrowing area, this is a worthwhile
halt for those interested in biking along this portion of the Rhone Valley. While
the owners, Anne and Jacques Callet, aren’t always present, you can enjoy the
wines they produce here .
If you go:
GITES DE FRANCE:
BIENVENUE AU CHATEAU:
LA MAISON DE THOMAS
(and his father Bernard)
12 rue Beauvoir
Tel. +33 (0)2 54 46 12 10
4 bedrooms. €90-100 ($119-132) for two.
No guest table because plenty of
restaurant choices nearby.
B & Bs of Character
... and of Characters
I find B&Bs especially attractive when I want to explore areas that seem
to be in the middle of nowhere—because with some guidance from my
host I soon discover that nowhere is actually somewhere.
Not only have I found homes of great character in such areas but also
owners who are themselves wonderful characters. So it is with Fred
Pollini (della Libera) who heartily welcomes guests well off the beaten
track at his exceptional B&B La Fontaine de Grégoire in Saint-Urcize.
Saint-Urcize is a village on the Plateau d’Aubrac, a cattle-strewn zone
overlapping three regions in the center of France. Pollini has magnificently restored an old manor built by a notary in 1788, creating a
home of rustic luxury with five large guest bedrooms, a breakfast room
with a great fireplace, and a vast attic billiard room/lounge–the perfect
gathering spot after a day of fly-fishing in the nearby Bès River. (Pollini
is known in international fly-fishing circles as the man to see when you
want to cast for trout in these parts).
There’s no guest’s table at this B&B, because just around the corner
Pollini’s wife Isabelle operates the saloon-like restaurant and bar (and
no-star hotel) Chez Remise. Chez Remise has been in Isabelle’s family
for five generations, though Pollini’s mark is clearly on the walls: they’re
decorated with fly-fishing paraphernalia. It’s a curious place indeed—
which is exactly what a traveler wants when well off the beaten track.
CHATEAU DE GIZEUX
Géraud and Stéphanie de Laffon
5 bedrooms, €130-180 ($172-$238).
Two of the rooms can service as family
rooms for a couple with 2 children,
Guest table possible.
Olivier and Pascale Schvirtz
rue des Clos
49260 Sanzier Vaudelnay
(a village near Puy Notre Dame)
4 rooms and 1 yurt, €66-82 ($87-108).
Guest table weekends, summer and
CHATEAU DE BLAVOU
61400 Saint Denis sur Huisne
Tel. +33 (02) 33 25 68 90
5 bedrooms, €160-185 ($211-244).
Guest table possible.
LA FERME DE MARJOLET
Christian and Laetitia Remoissenet
21190 Monthelie (Burgundy)
Tel.: +33 (0)3 80 20 00 16
3 large suites, €120-190 ($158-251).
Guest table on Tuesday and Friday
evenings. Cooking classes possible.
La Bastide de Brurangère
137, chemin des Rols
+ 33 (0) 6 75 24 59 29
3 suites, €260-390 ($343-515).
CHÂTEAU DE GIGOGNAN
Jacque and Anne Callet
1180 chemin du Castillon
84700 Sorgues (within the wine appellation
T. +33 (0)4 90 39 57 46
5 bedooms. €180-210 ($238-277).
LA FONTAINE DE GRÉGOIRE
Fred Pollini (della Libera)
Le Bourg, 15100 Saint Urcize
Tel. +33 (0)4 71 23 20 02
5 bedrooms, 160€ ($211).
Open Feb. 1 to Oct. 31.
No guest table because Fred’s wife
Isabelle operates the restaurant
Chez Remise around the corner.
Note: The prices indicated are high-season 2013 prices (and are approximated in $US at a rate of €1=$1.32). See the B&B’s website for
photos of and specific pricing for individual rooms. Prices include breakfast. Suites and family rooms are also often available. Guest table
may require reservations, especially for the evening of your arrival. Inquire about specific guest table dates for the period or your visit.