This review is taken from our guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: France.
Saturday morning has never been so peaceful. Though a blazing sun is doing its best to bore its way through the window-masking muslin, our vast bedchamber is cool, calm and airy. All around us is white. The walls and lofty ceiling, decorated with frescoes of frolicking fauna, are the colour of milk; and everything, from the huge bed in which we are lying, to the curtains that ripple gently in the breeze of a Montpellier morning, is Arctic-pale. I feel as though I’m in John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ video. All we’re missing is a white baby grand.
My Yoko is just starting to stir. Mrs Smith extricates herself from the soft cotton sheets in which she’s spent the night, and begins her journey across several feet of cool flagstones towards the bathroom. I turn over and allow myself to fall back into the sort of blissful half-sleep you can only achieve when you know you’ve got nothing remotely pressing to do.
As Mrs Smith takes full advantage of the luxurious toiletries in the ensuite, where antique charm meets contemporary cool, I look around the room through barely open eyes. Peacock-feather lamps stand next to a vase of lilies on a sinuous darkwood table, several small white circular rugs dot the floor, and a pair of scarlet Scandinavian-style chairs add a striking splash of colour to one end of the chamber. Such here-and-now touches somehow don’t diffuse the way-back-when feel; it’s like being able to step into the past, but without surrendering any modern-day sybaritic requirements. It’s amazing how laid-back and utterly at home I feel. If that loud rendition of a Belinda Carlisle song I can hear over the pitter-patter of the shower is anything to go by, I’d say Mrs Smith feels the same way.
‘Did last night really happen?’ she asks, emerging from the salle de bain draped in a huge, white fluffy towel. It seems unbelievable, now we’re ensconced in such tranquil surroundings but, yes, alas, last night did happen. Somewhere between checking ourselves into this beautiful 18th-century townhouse in Montpellier’s ancient centre, and returning to our chambre d’hôte around midnight, we’d ended up in a slanging match with a furious chef out in the Place du Marché aux Fleurs. On paper, our choice of restaurant was perfect – alfresco tables, a supposedly new take on French cuisine, a quasi-celebrity chef – but an unsolicited side order of aggression left a none-too- sweet taste in our mouths.
Thank goodness, then, for Baudon de Mauny, just a short walk away from the Place du Marché aux Fleurs. Just to walk through its heavy, centuries-old wooden front door into the silent cobbled courtyard that leads to its grand stone staircase is – if you’ll permit me another Lennon moment – an instant calmer. And by the time we’d reclined awhile on the antique scarlet sofa in the first-floor salon, glasses of velvety Faugères red in hand, our anger had completely disappeared.
The next morning, after a late breakfast of pastries, fresh bread and fruit, we leave the hotel behind and head once more into the beautiful streets of the old town. Bathed in sunlight, its elegantly crumbling mediaeval buildings glow nobly, while its corkscrew alleyways provide all the shade a freckle-cheeked closet ginger such as me requires. Although Mrs Smith, with enough Italian genes in her lineage to withstand the Mediterranean glare, is all for joining the locals and stretching out in the Jardin du Champ de Mars, I manage to lure her into the excellent – and air-conditioned – Musée Fabre to see an exhibition of surprisingly gynaecological 19th-century paintings.
By dusk, we’re drinking champagne cocktails outside a parkside bar off Rue Foch, watching leather-faced old men smoke on benches while their wives drag four-legged pompoms up and down the paths. Then we wander into the cobblestoned heart of the old town and secure an outside table at Le Grillardin where, on first inspection at least, no one seems to be demanding their money back or threatening to inflict GBH on the chef. Our meal – which includes a wonderfully sticky and salty salad of pig’s trotters, and garlicky, herb-infused cuttlefish – is superb. And, despite the presence of a roaming band of reggae-murdering trustafarians in the Place de la Chapelle Neuve, the experience is 100 times finer than the disaster of 24 hours ago.
Back in our soothing, all-white chamber at Baudon de Mauny, I lounge on the bed and flick through an hilariously translated local-history book – ‘Saint Roch of Montpellier went alone in a wood and could have died if a dog had not brought him bread every day with a friend hand’ – while Mrs Smith takes full advantage of the free WiFi to email a picture or two of this fair city to her friends. There are guests in Baudon de Mauny’s other four rooms – it’s just that, thanks to the hotel’s laid-back ambience, we never see them. Everyone’s getting up when they want, lounging in the salon when the mood takes them and generally being as relaxed about everything as we are. Like John and Yoko, we only have to imagine all the people.