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Experience the French countryside with a twist

Nikki Ekstein | Bloomberg

It’s usually a sense of old-world tradition that draws visitors to the French countryside: châteaux with impeccably preserved stucco and stone exteriors, lavender farms tended by families for generations, or Champagne houses in operation since the reign of Henry IV.

This summer, all those charms are being married to exciting new developments — namely, exquisite hotel openings scattered through the country’s most alluring towns. Here are exclusive local experiences that will create an unforgettable escape.

Fragrant flowers in Provence

The place to stay: St Tropez, the unofficial yacht capital of the world has just gotten a massive accommodations upgrade. Résidence de la Pinède, a 36-room seaside retreat, was taken over in 2016 by LVMH and given a two-year-long refresh, unveiled this month. The result is a minimalist oasis, with all-marble bathrooms and geometric furnishings, courtesy of legendary French architect and designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte.

The can’t-miss experience: Just 50 miles up the coast from St Tropez, the tiny town of Grasse is known for growing the finest flowers for many of the world’s top perfumers. Visit with the gardener whose jasmine, rose and tuberose are grown exclusively for Dior—her flowers bloom from May through mid-October—and learn about a family that’s been hand-picking the world’s most sought-after petals for generations. Then visit a local perfumer to create your own farm-to-bottle scent.

Palace-peeping in Chambord

The place to stay: Many Francophiles would argue that the Unesco-protected, 13,443-acre Château de Chambord is even more extraordinary than Versailles. And while the latter is rumored to be getting a luxury hotel later this year, Château de Chambord has beaten it to the punch: Relais de Chambord opened in May with 55 rooms in a historic farmhouse, each with oversized architectural photographs and monochromatic color schemes. Guests have 24-hour access to the château’s grounds, including boat rides down its scenic waterways and 12.5 miles of newly landscaped walking paths.

The can’t-miss experience: Seeing the region’s many castles from a helicopter is the best way to take in their magnitude, but watching these grand estates float in and out of view from a sailboat is more laid-back and romantic. Plan a private Loire River cruise during the day or do it in the evening for the drama and romance of countryside sunsets.

Fine art in Avignon

The place to stay: When French interior designer Gilles Jauffret bought a historic estate in the idyllic town of Avignon in 2009, the home was in total disrepair. Fast forward to 2018, and it’s been reborn as La Divine Comedie, an intimate, five-suite hotel with Avignon’s largest private garden—filled with 100 different types of trees and plants.

The can’t-miss experience: Avignon has excellent proximity to truffle farms and lavender fields, both reasons to visit. It’s also a stone’s throw from the one time homes of Van Gogh and Cezanne. Spend a day touring the Van Gogh Foundation in Arles and seeing the surrounding town through the artist’s eyes. Then head to Aix-en-Provence, where Cezanne spent the last few years of his life.

Secret libraries and fast cars in Burgundy

The place to stay: To celebrate its 400th anniversary, the legendary Sauturnes producer Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey is opening its doors as a five-star boutique hotel, created in conjunction with luxury glassmaker Maison Lalique. The 13 rooms and suites have art deco accents and Lalique crystal chandeliers; the on-site fine-dining restaurant, set in a 17th century building restyled with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the vineyards, has access to the château’s four wine cellars. Altogether, they hold a collection of 350,000 bottles, with some dating as far back as 1893.

The can’t-miss experience: Bibliophiles and architecture lovers alike will swoon over the public library in nearby Dijon, where locals still go to check out their weekly reads. Set in an old Jesuit cathedral, it’s a true literary temple. Hire a guide to let you into the library’s closed-to-the-public archives, where you’ll see the second-largest globe in the world and an expansive collection of vintage menus and wine lists. Or, if you prefer something a little less subdued, head to the local Formula 1 track, where 1889 Travel France can arrange rides with Pierre Gasly or Jacques Laffite, both professional drivers.

Winery hopping in Champagne

The place to stay: Incredibly, Champagne has never claimed its own world-class hotel—until now. On July 15, the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa, a sibling to the excellent Le Barthélemy resort on St Barths, will debut with 49 contemporary rooms and suites. The resort will specialise in all things wellness: Its 16,000-square-foot spa, run in partnership with Biologique Recherche, will have its own yoga studio, sauna, hammam, and a set of indoor and outdoor pools. Consider it all the more reason to indulge in the fizzy stuff, whether in the surrounding vineyards or at the ambitious, on-site restaurant, run by a chef who hails from the two-Michelin-starred Le Chantecler in Nice.

The can’t-miss experience: In this region, you’d be crazy not to focus on the bubbles. Make a bee-line for Ruinart, which has recently debuted a series of avant garde Champagne-paired dinners, where an all-white dining room serves as a projection screen for thematic videos. Watch as the region’s culinary history plays itself out on your plate through cinematic animations that dance around the table and walls and, of course, with the food itself.

(HT Media)


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