France: one of the world’s most popular destinations, a mecca for foodies and oenophiles alike, and home to a glorious array of accommodation, ranging from charming manoirs and boutique hotels to grand châteaux. We may not be able to travel to France at the moment, but we can dream, virtually explore, and stay curious. As we take you on a journey through France, where will stick in your mind to visit when these days have passed?
First stop Lille: arrive into the north of France and make your way to Villa Gounod, a boutique property with a pretty garden and nine contemporary rooms. There’s a Metro station just a stone’s throw away, making the Art Deco mansion an ideal base.
The capital of the Hauts-de-France region has much to offer, from people watching at one of the many cafés lining the Grand Place (check out the courtyard of the impressive Old Stock Exchange and the Column of the Goddess fountain while you’re there) and ambling through the Old Town, to taking in city panoramas at the UNESCO Town Hall Belfry.
Also worth considering: strolling around the eclectic Wazemmes market, taking in fine art at Palais des Beaux Arts, or the rotating exhibits at Musée Louvre-Lens.
Being close to the border with Belgium, the food has a Franco-Flemish influence. Expect to see items such as carbonnade de boeuf (beef slow-cooked in beer), terrine-like potjevleesch, and waterzooi (a creamy soup-cum-stew made with chicken or fish and vegetables). And then there’s maroilles cheese with its pungent smell but creamy, sweet flavour – if you dare to try it. Rue des Bouchers has seen an influx of bistros open recently, and is a good choice for foodies.
A two-and-a-half ride south of Lille takes you to Paris. The options for boutique accommodation in the City of Lights are plentiful: just a moment from Place de la Madeleine you’ll find Hotel de Pourtalès, a townhouse where the privacy of guests is of utmost importance, and the vibe is both contemporary and classical; and in Quartier Latin on the Left Bank sits Hotel La Lanterne, an independent establishment and the epitome of Parisian chic.
L’Hotel is ideally located in the 6th arrondissement and boasts eye-catching, opulent rooms and a subterranean private pool and hammam; Hotel Bienvenue by hotelier Adrien Gloaguen is a modern and stylish gem nestled within in the 9th arrondissement, with a restaurant serving Franco-Japanese plates; and close to the boutiques of Rue Saint Honoré lies Hotel Lumen Paris Louvre, an elegant spot.
Hotel Panache – also by Gloaguen – is close to the Grands Boulevards and features a bistro run in partnership with entrepreneur David Lanher, and rooms decked out with bold patterns and smart furnishings.
Out and about in the French capital there are sights aplenty, from art gazing at Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, and the more intimate Musée de l’Orangerie and Musée Marmottan (home to the largest collection of Monet’s work), to wandering the landscaped Luxembourg Gardens (inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence).
There’s also glam shopping to be found at the Louis Vuitton flagship on the Champs-Élysées (do check out more up and coming neighbourhoods such as North Marais too), and visiting landmarks such as l’Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and the white-domed Sacré-Cœur should also be on your list. Whatever the weather, there’s something to see and do, making this an all-year-round city break destination.
Food-wise, there are tons of Michelin-starred restaurants to spend your hard-earned cash at, from Guy Savoy and Arpège, to Alain Ducasse and Pierre Gagnaire. And alongside those worthy but wallet-busting experiences are a host of wonderful options in-between: inventive dishes at Septime, traditional and expertly-cooked fare at Le Maquis, Italian delights at Au Nouveau Nez, and burgers at Paris-New York (Strasbourg-Saint-Denis).
Leaving the capital we head five hours southwest towards the coast – the drive could be broken up with a pit stop in Le Mans, home to the museum chronicling the history of the famous car race as well as the circuit itself, or Tours, the largest city in the Centre-Val de Loire region).
At the end of the journey check-in to Manoir de Plaisance, a magical 19th-century manor house transformed into an adult-only hideaway. Tucked away in the countryside, yet just half an hour from La Rochelle and the island beaches of Île de Ré, this romantic spot stands proudly in more than 12 acres of private parkland and boasts both a swimming pool and tennis court.
All four suites are massive, with floor-to-ceiling windows and Juliette balconies. Decorated beautifully in a soft palette of French greys, taupes, and whites, the bedrooms exude charm and style.
Enjoy seasonal table d’hôte meals of an evening courtesy of Chef Ben, and in nearby Benon, Vouhé, Surgères, and Courçon there are a number of restaurants to choose from if you fancy eating out.
You won’t want to leave, but when the time comes, hop in the car and drive south for three hours to Manoir Laurette, a gorgeous stone property located in the hamlet of Lorette on the border of the Gironde and Lot-et-Garonne wine regions.
The characterful bed and breakfast has a quartet of individually styled bohemian rooms and comes complete with scenic gardens, a spa with an eco hot tub, and a pool just waiting to be dipped in. There are pizza nights on select days too, where homemade creations are whipped up in the wood-fired oven.
Two more hours southwards takes you to Vintage Vert, and the final stop for this part of the tour. This delightful b&b sits in a renovated 18th-century mansion in Gascony, where the four rooms have been styled with love and passion by owner Christine, who sourced a selection of vintage furniture and restored many of the pieces herself.
Delicious evening meals can be feasted on at the table d’hôte menus, where fusion French and European cuisine is the order of the day, with ingredients sourced from the hotel’s own vegetable garden or nearby producers. Choose from dishes such as caramelised onion and goats cheese tartlet, roasted duck breast, or summer berry pavlova – all served with excellent local wine.
Chill time can be spent by the pool, or if you feel more active, head out on two-wheels into the rolling countryside. The Gers region is famous for Armagnac, fine food and wine, making it an interesting day trip. Catch you again with part II…
Main image: Luca Micheli on Unsplash