A Swishy Escape In France's Champagne Region
I was in need of some serious R&R after my recent geographical cure.
It had been a fairly hectic road trip through northeast France. My travel partner and I had blitzed through Lille, Amiens, Arras, Laon, Reims, Chateau de Coucy, and Troyes in a quest to see the medieval highlights of northeast France. The authentic medieval village of Laon was a particular favorite.
After a lovely drive through the French countryside with a few wrong turns, we arrived as if on cue at our sought after sanctuary. The 5 star Château de Fère Hôtel & Spa is tucked away in the Champagne region of France and is the perfect trifecta of history, luxury and idyllic surroundings. You feel as if you're in the middle of nowhere, despite being only an hour from Paris, and you are.
We were met with a glass of champagne on our arrival.
Fairytale Castles and All That ...
One would be hard pressed to find a more romantic retreat than the très chic chateau. Reminiscent of Chenonceaux, the chateau hotel sits adjacent to the evocative ruins of a 13th century fortified castle that fell into ruin in the 17th century. Formerly a wing of the old castle, the chateau hotel was restored in 1863 and now nestles amidst flourishing woodland and manicured gardens.
The Chateau Ruins
Accessed by an ancient bridge that spans the moat, the ruins are the remains of a summer house used by the royals, including Francois I. Erected between 1206 and 1260 by the grandchild of Louis IV, Robert de Dreux, it is more than 800 years old today. Unfortunately, there is only a handful of remaining buildings and walls left of the once splendid castle, but it still adds a certain mystique and charm to the property.
You can see the ruins of the castle for free and they look spectacular lit up at night. We visited them several times in our stay.
The Champagne Nook Vista
In the enviable quest to consume as much champagne as possible, our favorite spot was the fabulous elevated (and happily deserted) nook overlooking the ruins. I was traveling with a childhood friend, and we chatted for hours while imbibing a lovely bottle from the Moët et Chandon champagne cellar in nearby Epernay, a short 30 minute drive.
The Château Hotel
The Château de Fère has an atmosphere of understated elegance and character with exposed beams, rich wood paneling, and gleaming hardwood floors. Many of the rooms overlook the Château's garden or ruins of the medieval castle. Rooms are decorated with works of art and antique furniture. There is no generic modern gloss to detract from the atmospherics of a ruin-filled rural France.
We had a lovely terrace just outside our room and left with comfy souvenir slippers from our visit. I had read some niggling complaints about whether the rooms where up to snuff on TripAdvisor.
I don't really agree. I can only think the hard-to-please reviewers were valuing modernity over character and efficiency over history, in a disappointingly shallow way. For me, when it comes to the so called "good life," the ancient regime still rules in France.
The Lowdown on the Food
If gastronomy is what you seek, the hotel dining room may not quite fit the bill. Anchored with a large elaborately carved fireplace, the high ceiling beamed dining room itself is lovely and filled with paintings representing the fables of Jean de la Fontaine. We had a window seat near our favorite period detail, the frog.
But the food, from a former Michelin starred restaurant, was unexpectedly quasi mediocre -- especially for the sticker shock price tag. I loved my foie gras starter and the locally sourced lamb was quite tender. The "vegetable" side, on the other hand, was decidedly mushy and somewhat inedible. The service was somewhat inattentive, but we were in no hurry, anesthetized by our tranquil milieu and oblivious to the long wait. Plus, we had a lot to chat about after our medieval tour.
In stark contrast to dinner, the breakfast buffet was lavish with both hot and cold offerings. We feasted.
Detours From Paradise
If you tire of the bucolic setting, there are enticing detours. You can venture to the nearby champagne houses in Epernay (30 minutes) or Reims (45 minutes). Or you can drive to the Château de Pierrefonds, a Disney style chateau, which Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte renovated in the 19th century to function as a royal residence. It bears the characteristic style of its gothic revivalist architect, Viollet-le-Duc.
Just so you really know you're in rural France, here is the requisite photo of sheep and cattle. If this is not a relaxing pastoral escape, I'm not sure what is. I feel calm and more relaxed just looking at the picture below.
If you are traveling in northeast France or need an escape from the hectic urban-ness of Paris, the Chateau de Fere may be your antidote.
If you'd like to visit Chateau de Fere, pin it!