1. Villa Rene Lalique, Bas-Rhin
This timber-framed Alsatian property, found near France’s border with Germany, served for decades as a handy base for the glass designer Réne-Jules Lalique, being just a mile from his still-operational factory – now also a museum. In 2015, the Villa Rene Lalique’s six suites, after a modern makeover, re-opened to guests with ample Maison Lalique crystalware amid family photos. Debuting alongside it was a Mario Botta-designed glasshouse where chef Jean-Georges Klein now delights diners with his cooking. Just as dazzling is the Lalique chandelier – designed in 1928 for the Orient-Express train – that now hangs in the middle of the two-Michelin-star restaurant.
Getting there: Strasbourg’s airport is 65km away, while surrounding village Wingen-sur-Moder also has rail connections to Strasbourg.
2. Les Prés d’Eugénie, Landes
Named after the wife of Napoleon III, who gave her patronage to this tiny hot-spring village in far south-western France in 1861, Eugénie-les-Bains has retained its A-list lustre ever since. Stay at Les Prés d’Eugénie (above and main photo), a private country estate of meadows, vines, palm-tree terraces and hedge gardens along the Bahus river. You’ll also find a large Ferme Thermale spa and its citrus-milk bath treatments, plus 45 spacious, elegant rooms. Food is the headline attraction, however: super-chef Michel Guérard’s three-Michelin-star restaurant serves his cuisine minceur (a healthier version of nouvelle cuisine); while sister restaurant La Ferme aux Grives, a few minutes’ walk away, is where new dishes are trialled.
Getting there: The Pau-Pyrénées airport, which has daily services from Paris, is a 40-minute drive. Bordeaux is about twice as far.
3. Château de la Côte, Dordogne
This converted, family-run hotel makes for a fairy tale and unexpectedly affordable base a little further north in France’s vintage Dordogne département. Built six centuries ago, it resides on a hilltop overlooking the Périgord Vert: a sub-region where you’ll find woods, sunflower fields, riverside town Brantôme’s troglodyte abbey and some of France’s prettiest villages. The 17-room Château de la Côte’s ivy-dressed turrets and hulking wooden door give way to log fires and proud suits of armour. You’ll also find rooms with four-poster beds, while the 8ha grounds incorporate a pool, children’s play area and secret arbour (garden house). Breakfast can be taken outside, as can glasses of Bergerac wine in the evening. Bookings can be made via Sawdays.
Getting there: Bergerac-Roumanière Airport is the closest, at 48km away, while the bigger terminal at Limoges is within 80km.
4. Le Clos des Terres Soudées, Marne
Its location in the village of Vrigny, six miles from Reims, puts Le Clos des Terres Soudées on the northern edge of France’s champagne country. Champagne lovers can spend days touring Côte des Blancs and Vallée de la Marne cellars, and visiting strange, hobbit-style huts at Bruyères which may have inspired Tolkien, before holing up at this country house. Run by the eighth generation of winemakers and still anchoring a working estate, its five bedrooms blend 1950s design furniture with 19th-century portraiture and grand family heirlooms. It’s flamboyant and full of character. The gourmet restaurant serves regional fare. Book through Chateaux Hotels Collection, part of Les Collectionneurs.
Getting there: Reims’ train station is less than 10km east, and you’re only slightly more than 112km east of Paris.
5. Château les Oliviers de Salettes, La Drôme
Further east, purple lavender fields and medieval towns characterise often-overlooked La Drôme. Turreted at either end, 16th-century Château les Oliviers de Salettes commands views of the surrounding hills and to the Alps beyond. Accessed via a tree-lined drive, the cream-walled house also gazes over parkland containing an infinity pool and boules pitch. There’s an excellent restaurant serving rich, gamey regional plates with plenty of Côtes du Rhône wine, while all 18 restored, lofty bedrooms have grand beams and time-gained grandeur. Hosts Robin and Dominique can organise cookery classes, wine tastings, electric bike rentals or bamboo massages.
Getting there: Valence Airport is 32km away, but closer still is the train station at Montélimar and its direct services to Paris.
How about staying at ‘the village in the sky’? That’s the common nickname for charming Tourtour, situated on a hilltop in the Var département of Provence, and a place of boutiques and galleries. Just outside are holm oak and myrtle forests, plus La Bastide de Tourtour Hotel & Spa and its woodland domain where truffles are unearthed in autumn. Glorious views are offered from all 23 cosy rooms, and from the on-site Orangeraie restaurant. Hike the nearby Gorges du Verdon, often called ‘Grand Canyon of Europe’. Winery tours are another local option, and you can motor to the Côte d’Azur in 90 minutes. The hotel can be slow to respond, so book via the operator French Expressions.
Getting there: Both Marseille and Nice’s airports are a 90-minute drive away.
7. Château de Bagnols, Rhône
On a hillside amid vines and century-old lime orchards in eastern France, Château de Bagnols is as romantic as French fortresses come. Converted into a 16-room hotel, it overlooks the Sapins lake; further afield are Beaujolais vineyards and golden-stone villages. Dating to 1217, the Château itself is a snoozy timewarp of Renaissance paintings and imposing gothic fireplaces, although its wine cellar has recently been given a Scandi-style, wood-accented makeover. You’ll feel fabulously spoilt throughout your stay, and never more so than while over-indulging in chef Jean-Alexandre Ouaratta’s delicate cooking.
Getting there: The hotel can receive helicopters; otherwise it’s a 45-minute drive from Lyon Saint-Exupéry airport.
– TEXT BY RICHARD MELLOR
PHOTOS: YOAN CHEVOJON (LES PRES D’EUGENIE), CELINE CLANET (LES PRES D’EUGENIE), RENO GUNTIL (VILLA RENE LALIQUE), CHATEAU DE BAGNOLS, CHATEAU LES OLIVIERS DE SALETTES, CHATEAU DE LA COTE, LES COLLECTIONNEURS (LE CLOS DES TERRES SOUDEES), FRENCH EXPRESSIONS (BASTIDE DE TOURTOUR HOTEL & SPA)
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.