Luxury coastal hotel Castelbrac in Brittany is a Belle Époque folly built as a vacation home for the aristocratic Faber family and spent a brief stint as a marine-research centre (the aquarium-turned-bar is rich in Jules Verne-esque charm). Its towers and terraces cling to a cliff face, so each retro-styled room has views of boats gently bobbing on Prieuré Bay; seafood is excellent and days end with glorious sunrises and cider-spiked mojitos on the terrace.
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A welcome drink on the Aquarium Terrace and a special gift in your room on arrival
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from $211.52 (€188), excluding tax at 20 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.50 per person per night on check-out.
Rates do not include breakfast (€24 for full English).
As a place to rest and recharge, the hotel has a small chapel (with texts for all denominations) where guests can sit and reflect at any time. Decorated with fishing net-draped icons, there’s a wishing tree set behind the pews. For views and some alone time, seek out the hidden terrace above the swimming pool, or head to the belvedere roof, where a reclaimed antique statue of Eve stands.
At the hotel
Yacht, spa and solarium, Aquarium terrace, chapel, laundry, parking, free WiFi. In rooms: Samsung flatscreen TV with a Bluetooth connection, iPod dock and radio, Nespresso coffee machine, kettle and courtesy tray, minibar, free bottled water and Thémaé bath products. DVD players are available, on request.
Our favourite rooms
Some Prestige Suites have a wraparound terrace, for heavenly sunrises, sunsets and plentiful yacht-cleaved river scenes in between; after dark, it’s just you and the bobbing boats in the moonlight. The Prestige Suite in the belvedere, makes up for its lack of terrace with waves of romance; the bed and a freestanding bath tub have panoramic views from four bay-facing windows.
The heated, narrow stone pool (best suited for lazy laps) is exclusively for guests’ use. It’s cleverly worked into the hotel’s higgledy-piggledy structure, reached by a secluded staircase, and positioned for beautiful bay views and surveying the Claire de Lune promenade. To one side, there’s a little solarium with loungers for post-swim sunbathing.
The spa is set in the hotel’s peaceful, hortensia-clad interior courtyard. There’s just one art deco-inspired treatment room, so advance bookings are essential, but it’s elegantly styled, light and spacious, with a small shower room to one side. Treatments use natural, tea-based Thémaé products for massages, body scrubs, facials, and a range of pampering packages for men, and mums- and brides-to-be. Light refreshments are offered, or chase your spa session with a dainty afternoon tea.
Pack a headscarf to stay glam and perfectly coiffed while on the hotel’s yacht, and pick up a few French phrases; staff are hired locally, and while they speak English, a little conversing en Français is a welcome courtesy.
The hotel layout is refreshingly unproblematic for wheelchair users, with two elevators and two specially adapted Superior rooms.
The hotel’s stairs and serene ambience are better suited to juniors, tweens and teens. Two rooms interconnect via a corridor to make an apartment, The chef can heat milk, tweak portions or whip up purées, and babysitting is available for €12 an hour.
Juniors, tweens and teens.
One of the Superior Rooms connects with the Prestige Suite in the belvedere to form a family apartment.
Buy buckets and spades for pottering about on the beach; older kids can learn how to sail, kayak or surf. Dinard Horse-Riding School is a 10-minute drive fom the hotel for lessons, and Club Mickey on the Plage de l’Ecluse arranges sporting activites and cinema nights for children aged 3–18. Or book a family day out on the hotel yacht.
Ask the chef for your child’s preferred dish and there’s a high chance you’ll get it. The kitchen staff are approachable and flexible and sensitive to the needs of parents. Children are allowed in the restaurant, but if you take your family meal on the terrace, the kids can get up and play between courses and any noisiness will be less of an issue.
Babysitting can be booked for €12 an hour (must be booked 24 hours in advance).
No need to pack
Bring any treasured toys: there aren’t many distractions on site. Beach towels, bags, sunhats and swimwear and any easily packed inflatables will all come in handy.
The hotel has a range of children’s DVDs if the weather turns grey.
You’ll be ferried about in sleek, whisper-quiet, electric Tesla cars (or borrow one of the hotel’s eBikes); those with eco-friendly motors can use the charging points too. Restaurant ingredients are sourced close by, and the kitchen uses environmentally sound gadgetry (an auto-recycling dishwasher, Nordaq water filter). A Lynx Energy system monitors usage in rooms, natural products are used where possible and lights and air-con turn off automatically when not in use.
The little terrace in the upstairs dining room has fewer tables than the Aquarium Terrace, and it’s a prime sunset-admiring spot; in cooler weather, you can spy them from the round table by the windows.
The hotel owner’s worked with Ducasse and Gagnaire, so standards are high; however, cosy conviviality is valued over shooting for Michelin stardom. In winter the Pourquoi Pas restaurant opens (named after Arctic explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot’s ship), decked out in sea blues, greens and first-light yellows. Ingredients are sourced within 25km of the hotel, and the chef’s on first-name terms with local fisherman, farmers and bakers. Tasting and lobster menus give a glimpse of Brittany’s delicacies, and desserts are sweetly inventive. In summer light seafood and salad dishes are served on the Aquarium Terrace, one floor below.
The dress circle of booths in the Aquarium Bar once housed glass tanks filled with specimens from Dinard Bay and beyond. Portholes – and the ornate ironwork doors – remain, but the fish have swum away. The signature Breizh Mojito has both of Brittany’s famed libations – calvados and cider – muddled with mint, lime and cane sugar. The champagne concoctions are fizzily fun too.
Breakfast is 7am to 11am, lunch from noon to 2pm, and dinner from 7.30pm to 9pm. Meals are served on the terrace from noon to 6pm, and the tide of drinks ebbs around 11.30pm.
In-room dining is available around the clock – the night menu is a little reduced, but staff are happy to oblige if you have specific needs.
Castelbrac’s Belle Époque rooms and suites cascade down a cliff face in petite, très jolie seaside town Dinard, overlooking sailboat-scattered bays near the Emerald Coast.
Arrive at Dinard Airport within an hour from the UK; Ryanair flies direct from Stansted, Aurigny from Gatwick or London City. The airport is a 15-minute drive from the hotel, and for a €30 one-way trip, staff will zip you to the hotel in a Tesla. There are no direct flights from the US or major destinations in Asia and Australia, so the best option is to stopover in London.
There are direct trains to the SNCF Station in Saint-Malo from Paris Gare de Lyon or Montparnasse (around a three-hour trip); if arriving direct from St Pancras International on the Eurostar, the trip is just over six hours. From there, you can request a Tesla transfer along the scenic route (€30 for a 20-minute, one-way trip), or add a dash of Venetian-style drama to your trip and zoom across the bay on the hotel’s yacht.
The drive from London, via the ferry over the Channel, is a feasible seven-and-a-half hours; however, it’s easier to hire a car at the airport. Dinard is easily explored on foot, but a set of wheels allows you to see more of the coast. Valet parking is €24 a day.
Brittany Ferries run a daily sleeper-ferry service from Portsmouth to Saint-Malo; the journey takes up to 12 hours.
Worth getting out of bed for
Brittany is cooler than France’s sultry south, so sunbathing hours can be limited, but the Emerald Coast’s beauty is still striking on overcast days. Pack your beach bags for plage d’Ecluse (painted by Picasso in Baigneuses sur la Plage) and shelter in the smattering of traditional blue-and-white-striped tents on the shore, if there’s a sudden chill. The large municipal pool, set on a platform above the sands, has impressive coastal views. To the west, Saint-Enogat Beach is sheltered and secluded, dotted with the palms that thrive in Brittany’s microclimate. Dinard – once home to Lawrence of Arabia, and Winston Churchill’s favourite holiday spot – is dinky but filled with surprises; its grand, Belle Époque villas with turrets and high-vaulted roofs look like a Harry Potter set; a cache of galleries, casinos and souvenir shops line its hortensia-adorned streets and a gloriously Gallic market is held four days a week, along Rue Paul-Valéry with stalls selling cheeses, meats, calvados and antique maritime tomes, all set to accordion music. Director Alfred Hitchcock allegedly modelled the iconic Psycho house on one of Dinard’s villas (the resemblance is striking); his bird-swarmed statue stands in a square by the beach, and the annual Dinard British Film Festival is held in his honour, through September and October. Book an excursion on the hotel’s beautiful hand-built yacht to drop anchor by some of the wartime-occupied Channel Islands – the remarkably peaceful fishing areas were once the site of World War II’s most vicious bombardments; for a historic day trip, Omaha Beach and the D-Day landing points are a two-hour drive north. Back at the hotel, there’s little to do but swim, book a spa treatment or sit and sip a cocktail on the terrace, but loved-up twosomes can link arms and take a twilight stroll along the Clair de Lune promenade. In winter, the belvedere roof becomes an ice rink, and mulled wine and warm pastries are sold.
Waterfront Hotel Printania, just a five-minute walk from Castelbrac, has a grand dining room with original Chinoiserie wood panelling and a terrace overlooking the estuary. The seafood is especially satisfying. L'Escale à Corto, is an unassuming nautical-themed spot with seaside tchotchkes, and freshly flambéed langoustines. L’Abri de Flots is clean and modern, with industrial lighting and a tempting wall of chilled wines. However, its high-quality fare; just-caught lobsters, ballotines, perfectly pink slices of duck breast, is classic and simply chic.
Dinard is renowned for its galettes (savoury crêpes), washed down with a glass of local cider. Modern crêperie Le Hautecloque and traditional Crêperie du Roy are considered among the town’s best.
Dinard’s late-night scene revolves around its waterside restaurants, but there are places to stop for a nightcap. La Fonda (+33 (0)2 99 46 10 23) is cosy and convivial, with red-brick walls and wooden beams.
Paris, the Dordogne, the vineyards of Burgundy, the catch-all ‘South of France’ – these are the places British holidays are taken; the places where Gallic romances are believed to be found. Instead, Brittany – a word whose connection to Britain could not be more intimate – is perhaps considered, quite literally, too close to home.
But ask this: Where in the world can giant saline oysters, prehistoric-looking spider crabs, moules-frites, cider, or a steady session of Picon bieres be enjoyed without interference?
Brittany is a region with as many gastronomic calling cards as Bordeaux, Lyon or Toulouse. And although it can feel too obvious to say that stuff tastes better when eaten in its place of origin, in Brittany, whether to do with the mineral air or the temperate climate, their cultural relevance is unmistakable and razor-sharp.
Castelbrac is a monument in this quiet town. The 25-room hotel occupies the site of 19th-century villa, Bric à Brac, which in 1934 became a marine research station and aquarium. Initially built by the English Faber family who are said to have founded the town of Dinard, the hotel is the latest chapter in a storied history for the great building.
Service at Castelbrac is sensitive, sympathetic, and unobtrusive. There is no overexertion on behalf of the staff to disingenuously ensure you ‘have the best time of your life’. Instead, they are relaxed – in no way nearing a dereliction of duty, but offering everything only when it is requested or required. Too often luxury is synonymous with an overbearing approach to service and an exaggerated sense of care, more than the anticipation of guest’s needs. Not here.
Cheese omelettes for breakfast were enjoyed overlooking the bay, on a terrace above a walkway that winds its way around base of the hotel’s sea-facing side. In truth, in uncharacteristically chilly conditions for early spring, it was probably a little too cold to sit outside. And yet, given the intensity of the sun’s shine and the freshness of that sea air, braving the more hostile elements was a price worth paying. ‘Just get a jumper, mon frère!’ Exactly. It was the perfect start to the day.
While we couldn’t muster the courage to brave a dip in the sea, we did have a go in the pool. Built into the fortress, surrounded on two sides by manicured rockery, swimming in it is a charming experience – for a moment, at least, we might have been playing a bit part in a Luca Guadagnino film.
If doing lengths in a pool on holiday isn’t really your thing, you might opt to maintain the en vacances pace by booking in for a facial or massage at Castelbrac’s treatment room. Both come enthusiastically recommended from this particular Mr and Mrs.
Inside, our long narrow suite overlooked the bay, on whose gentle sea a postcard picture is permanently framed – small boats bob and, on the hour, a passenger ferry leaves from beneath the hotel to Saint Malo, a 20-minute journey worth making (itself an altogether more touristy, Gothic town with no shortage of shops to stock up on classic Breton striped clothing.)
In the rooms guests will find an understated, nautical brand of cool luxury. Many of the building’s original portholes have been preserved. Where they aren’t, enormous glass windows exhibit the view of the bay – with its almost surreal stillness of life – as a piece of art, whose complexion changes only as the the hazy morning sun moves through high noon to dusk.
To take a step back from the location and hotel’s particular serenity, a specific note on the room… A rare Japanese ‘spray wash’ (yes, one of those) Toto toilet in the bathroom will remain, not unromantically, one of the hotel’s most memorable features. That brand’s mission statement is for ‘first-class cleanliness’ – a neat demonstration of the hotel’s starry credentials.
Dinard, the town itself, is a little unremarkable. For this reason it is perfect. Its streets and weekend market – exhibiting many wonderful local (food) suppliers – are enjoyed less by tourists than by locals, who wander with their pets to the many bakeries, antique jewellery shops, and pharmacies. The advice is: join in and live like a local.
We were told by the hotel staff to visit a small bakery in the centre of town – Maison Moreau – for the best kouign amann: a butter-rich, condensed croissant-like lacquered cake dripping with salted caramel. Then there are local bars, where my recommendation would either be the aforementioned Picon biere (basically a Breton shandy), or a local cloudy artisanal cider, which is a speciality.
Castelbrac, though, is the real reason to visit Dinard. An excuse that those in search of the perfect weekend away didn’t know they needed.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Castelbrac’s Guestbook below.
The hotel is in a beautiful spot in the cliffs and the view is amazing. Very convenient for wandering into town or getting the boat over to St Malo! Our room was nice and we loved the large windows. The food in the restaurant was incredible – would 100 per cent recommend the tasting menu on the terrace overlooking the sea. They kindly squeezed us in even though they were fully booked (make sure you reserve in advance!). The pool area is lovely when it's not busy. We were on our mini-moon and were given two glasses of champagne and some flowers in our room.
A cheap stay – the hotel was pricey. Even though paying a room rate over €300 a night we were still charged €24 parking a day. We skipped the hotel breakfast as it was €22 each and we ended up going out for drinks due to the bar prices.