If you have been watching Escape to the Chateau, like me you’ll have fantasised about quitting the day job to buy a little slice of French history, preferably smack bang in the middle of vineyard, so you can sip your own champagne and eat pastries in the middle of your private ballroom, or whatever else those crazy French kings used to do.
However, after a quick reality check involving checking my bank balance, I decided to leave those projects to the pros, and do the next best thing: stay the weekend in a French castle, soon to be luxury hotel (opening summer 2019), in the Loire Valley.
First off, a speedy bit of history for you. Château du Grand-Lucé in the Loire Valley was completed in 1764 and remains one of France’s finest examples of neoclassical architecture. It was created by architect Mathieu de Bayeux for Jacques Pineau de Viennay, Baron de Lucé, and is one of the very few structures to survive the French Revolution completely intact. The English translation of Grand-Lucé directly translates to “big light” but actually refers to the Age of Enlightenment.
It’s about one hour from the airport of Tours, or from Paris to Le Mans station, if you’re doing a weekend there first (why not?). The Château is part of a village rather than off in the countryside. It sits right in the middle of Le Grand-Lucé where there are two boulangeries, a fifteenth-century church, a lawyer, a florist, a pharmacy, a charcuterie, two banks and three coiffeurs.
There are 16 bespoke rooms uniquely designed for uncompromising authenticity, but with a modern twist. Think antique beds but modern marble bathrooms, rich tapestries mixed with more contemporary art. Even the more modest suites are opulent, so you really can’t go wrong here.
The plan is to open more rooms by next summer though, and if you want to push the boat out, you can rent our the whole place, which is perfect for a destination wedding.
If you’re after a more modern experience, you’ll also be able to rend studio rooms which are housed in a separate building.
Let me paint a picture: Imagine a place where French nobility had the most epic parties, and where Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau stayed here at great length during the philosophical movement.
A place where paintings from The Louvre were secreted away under the stage in the theatre (the former stables) and protected from Nazi pillaging.
That place would be quite opulent right? Well that’s what you get here. The castle has of course been modernised, but in a clever way that pays homage to King Louis XV’s reign.
The walls in the Salon Chinois are covered in canvas with murals painted by Jean-Baptiste Pillement whose work is displayed in the Louvre and National Gallery in Washington DC, amongst other museums in the world. The pink dining room is all lavish chandeliers, oil paintings and antique furniture, mixed with more modern trinkets.
The manicured gardens are home to several statues which were housewarming gifts from Louis XV and many are exact replicas of statues at the palace of Versailles. In the middle of it all, a round swimming pool made to look like an ancient fountain.
Whilst I was there, all meals were prepared by a local Loire chef, and whilst each dish was as inventive as the last, even the simplest meals were delicious, thanks to the delicious ingredients. Think fresh baguette and croissants, local cheeses and wine, as well as charcuterie and home-grown veg.
When the hotel opens fully next summer, there will be two restaurant options on site.
You really must
A spa is also due to open next summer, but just enjoying the pool in the flowering gardens is enough to relax. Make sure you take a leisurely walk around the grounds as there is so much to see, from the ballroom and orangerie to the maze-like back gardens and lake.
If you can bear to leave the chateau, there is a farmer’s market every Wednesday just outside the front gates, or or you will be able to go on daytime excursions to local sites including the historic town of Amboise and Leonardo Da Vinci’s nearby former residence, do wine tasting, cycling, boat excursion & more.
The Hotel Chateau Du Grand-Lucé will open in the summer of 2019. You can pay per room, or hire out the whole chateau (prices tbc).