Nothing beats wide open spaces, nature and nothing but, and not a single other building in sight. Oh how those in Beijing, Moscow and New York must wonder what such an atmosphere is like… this is why any luxury hotel that can offer that quality instantly gets a head-start over the competition, says the gal. Relais & Châteaux-member Château de Locguénolé, in Brittany, France, just makes you say wow. There may be only 22 rooms in the hotel but it is on 250 acres of heavily-mature woodland, right on an inlet of the Atlantic near Lorient. It has its own pontoon, so you could even arrive by boat.
Take the hotel’s bikes for a tour of some of the estate, and look back up at the house, built in 1810 but only turned into a hotel in 1968 by Alyette de la Sablière, who apparently still lives here. The guardian-owner today is one of her two sons, yachtsman Bruno de la Sablière, who crewed for Olivier de Kersauson in round-the-world races 40 years ago. He explains that the name Locguénolé comes from St Guénolé, a mythical saint who, chased by the devil, crossed the sea in one stride and landed here. The de la Sablière family has owned the estate since the 16th century.
Every addition over the years has enhanced the charm of the place. An orangery has fruitful orange, lemon and lime trees in one courtyard, along one side of which is a long room that is perfect for wedding receptions, say up to 200. There was one two days ago and the sign is still up. If the sun had been shining, what a fabulous venue, looking out at those citrus trees, at the heated swimming pool and the fields and trees beyond. We nipped into the pool after our bike ride but did not, sadly, have time to make use of the hammam or sauna.
At every turn there are images of times past. We cycled along a two-mile avenue that, until a few decades ago, was the main approach drive. How many stately de la Sablière carriages must have come along this path, now strewn with so many whole acorns that obviously there either are no squirrels or they have made themselves sick with feasting. Back home, we settled into room 320, the master suite facing down to the water. You go up 27 carpeted stairs formed of what can only be local oak with enormous dowel pins. The same large planks had been used for decades-old and much-loved furniture, complemented by rich damask curtains and silk holding ties. This still feels like the family home.
Down at base level, the former kitchens, with large flagstone floors, have been turned into elegant dining rooms. One, with palest pink linens, still has the former open cooking fire, now decorative. Next door, with palest blue linens, is dominated by a 12-foot wide blues and greens woven tapestry in Flemish style. Mondays, the Michelin-starred chef, Olivier Buerné, has an evening off, but a young man served the most elegant cold collation (for which read cold cuts) imaginable, on gold-edged hotel-logo Bernardaud Limoges. Look at the butter presentation, with its Relais & Châteaux logo.
We had individual plates of smoked salmon, and best paper-thin hams (a plate of both, each), and then rarest cold beef and salad, and toasts, and the most fabulous caramel mousse topped with raspberries and a chocolate swirl, and perfectly-chosen Ch Maucaillou 2007, Moulis en Médoc Bordeaux. It was the same quality at breakfast, in the third room (palest yellow walls, white linens), with a bijou buffet that showed that yes, the French really CAN provide fabulous healthy breads, as well as croissants, if they try. This is a very special luxury hotel, of which there are many lasting memories. See this last photo. Any ideas? Looking out, at dinner, at the new moon, the camera has picked up both the inside of the ‘pink’ dining room and the dark silhouette of trees by the water.