Château de Saint Paterne is a luxe and lived-in family castle in the gastronomic greenlands on the Normandy border. With fairytale looks, original stone walls and cosily classic interiors, this boutique hotel offers a chic stay with a huge history – King Henri IV once slept in these very rooms.
Noon, but flexible according to availability. Earliest check-in, 2.30pm.
Double rooms from £125.53 (€150), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates exclude breakfast (€15 a person).
In-room massages can be arranged on request, and there are bicycles to borrow.
From 18 December, 2017 to 4 March, 2018.
At the hotel
Tennis courts, gardens with playground and trampoline, CD, DVD and book libraries, in-room massage, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD/CD, iPod dock, Casanera products.
Our favourite rooms
L’Orangerie is set apart from the château, a huge, self-contained suite with an open bathroom, vast wooden bed and one wall made from a 19th-century backdrop found in a Barcelona theatre. The château’s most modern room is the Chambre des Mystères, romantically secluded up two narrow flights of winding stairs. It’s chocolate-coloured, with bold red accents. For a stay that’s steeped in history, go for the Chambre d’Henri IV, where France’s first Bourbon king kipped.
There's a heated outdoor pool in the grounds, open May to September.
Riding boots and hats, and a hearty appetite for cider and cheese.
Take your pick from the drawing room or dining room, out on the terrace if the sun is shining, or in the Moroccan-inspired games room, which can be decorated romantically if you’re planning to propose.
Bohemian and chic, to match owners Ségolène and Charles-Henry.
Owner Charles-Henry de Valbray is a self-taught chef who prepares a terrific set dinner, served around 8pm each evening. Typical dishes include beetroot and caper gazpacho with cucumber sorbet, veal tagine with dried fruits, and apricot puffs with rosemary ice-cream.
There’s an honesty bar in the salon, a grand space in which to nurse a nightcap and pretend you own the château, to the sounds of jazz, lounge and classical.
Breakfast is available from 8.30am until 11am. Dinner is served at 8pm.
Nestled between Normandy and the Pays de la Loire, Château de Saint Paterne is in the outskirts of the historic town of Alençon.
Easyjet (www.easyjet.co.uk) flies from London to Tours, an hour’s drive away. You can also fly to Paris, which is a two-hour drive from the hotel.
Alençon station is a five-minute drive from Château de Saint Paterne. The station serves Paris via Le Mans
From Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, take the A1 towards Paris, then follow the 'Paris Ouest' signs to Porte de la Chapelle. Once you're on the 'périphérique ouest', head for the A11 to Chartres. Go towards Le Mans, then change on to the A28 towards Rouen Alençon. Take exit 19 to south Alençon, and follow the signs for the centre of Saint Paterne. The hotel will be immediately to your right. The drive takes two hours and 30 minutes. From Tours, the A28 goes directly to Alençon (about an hour and a half). Hire a car at either of the airports, or at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord.
There’s space for three helicopters to land (during the day only) at the château; let the hotel know two days before your arrival so they can make arrangements.
Worth getting out of bed for
Green fields, apple orchards, mottled horses and endless supplies of Camembert… Château de Saint Paterne sits near the border between Normandy and the Pays de la Loire, a stone's throw from the lively town of Alençon. The hotel has nooks and crannies to explore, a grand living room and pretty little garden to read or reflect (or meet for a pre-dinner apéritif) in and 10 hectares of parkland beyond. Take a swim in the outdoor pool, or stay awhile in the Jacuzzi, followed by a spell in the sauna. Pass the time with games of badminton, biking through the grounds and bouncing on the trampoline (yes, really), or borrow a deck of cards and some board games – massages can be arranged on request, too.
In town you’ll find flea markets, attractive cobbled streets, mediaeval quarters and a flamboyant Gothic basilica as exquisite as the precious lace they’ve been making here since the 17th century. But it’s the glorious countryside – all heavy blossoms, verdant rolling hills and placid waters – that seduces. A 20-minute drive from Saint Paterne, the Ecurie des As-Taquins riding school on the Rue de Bretagne in Alençon offers lessons for beginners to pros, and there's golf, kayaking, zip-lining and light-aircraft flying for the intrepid, too.
The château’s owners have a gastronomic side project: Rive Droite, a collection of dining rooms set in the town’s 18th-century former lace museum on Rue du Pont Neuf in Alençon, where you can enjoy seasonal food either indoors or on a pretty riverside terrace. Saint-Céneri le Gérei is often voted as one of France’s most beautiful villages, and its other boast is painters’ school turned rustic bistro L’Auberge des Peintres (+33 (0)2 33 26 49 18), where dishes such as seafood cassoulet and a very good black pudding exemplify simple French food done well. In La Perrière, La Maison d’Horbée on the Grande Place is a tearoom, gallery and antique shop in one, for browsing brocante with your coffee and brioche. In Neufchâtel-en-Saosnois,Le Relais des Etangs de Guibert, overlooking a woodland-fringed lake, serves specialities such as carpaccio of foie gras and lobster.
Outside it’s raining hard, and all we can see of northern France are autoroute reflectors glowing green under the glare of our headlights as we speed towards Le Mans. We’re tired, crotchety, cursing this country’s passion for rail strikes, and fantasising wildly about the bread, cheese and carafe of wine we’ve been promised on arrival. I’m confident it won’t consist of a plastic-wrapped slice of supermarket cheddar. ‘Do you think there’ll be Pont L’Eveque?’ I ask Mr Smith. ‘And gooey Camembert?’ he counters. ‘And something radioactively whiffy, with proper French bread to squash it on...’
By the time we reach the village of Saint-Paterne in the Perche region, we’re almost delirious with hunger. We pass the church and peer into inky blackness through sprays of water to make out the bulk of a small turreted cha?teau dating back to the 15th century, and take a sharp right turn into its rewardingly crunchy gravel driveway.
It’s 10.30pm and we haven’t so much as packed up the SatNav when the front door swings open and proprietor Ségolène de Valbray appears to greet us. She shows us into a series of communal salons furnished with parquet floors, faded rugs and antiques, promising us not just cheese, but a tray in our room with a plate of something warm. ‘We haven’t really put away dinner yet,’ she says.
This is the beauty of Château de Saint Paterne. There are 10 rooms and suites, each spacious and with its own distinctive character. Yet, though guests’ privacy is never compromised, this maison d’hôte retains the sense of being a grand family home (which it is: the de Valbrays have lived here for centuries) to which you’re invited for a long weekend of sumptuous meals and good hosting.
A reassuring smell of wood smoke emanates from the open fire in the drawing-room grate, and we’re tempted to curl up in a salon – perhaps the one with velvety, wine-coloured walls, comfortable armchairs and bold display of tall church candles. But Ségolène is already throwing open a back door and marching us outside, over more gravel, past a wet lawn, towards a high-ceilinged garden building whose high windows are illuminated by the warm light glowing inside.
This is the Orangerie, an airy space that must be suffused with sunshine in summer yet is still, at the less sympathetic end of October, surprisingly cosy. It feels like an extension of the outdoors: a painted garden picture hangs like wallpaper along one entire, long wall; the enormous bed is built out of great big hunks and chunks of naked wood; and the semi-open-plan bathroom is painted a sprightly lime green. Even the chandelier seems to be made of branches. My ragged senses are still being soothed by decadent details – a pair of champagne flutes beside the bath, the oversized sink piled with L’Occitane toiletries, terracotta tiles with underfloor heating – when there’s a knock at the door.
The tray – no, two trays – arrive, crammed with dishes. This is a four-course feast, not a supper. We feel regally pampered. Spiced mussel soup might not have been my first choice so late (it’s now 11pm) but it’s so good I finish it. Next comes a meltingly tender lamb tagine studded with medjool dates, made by the Moroccan housekeeper. I’m too tired to tackle the plump, glistening strawberry tart, or make a hole in the cheese, which comes on a plate of dressed lettuce leaves – and I start to wonder how much this might all be costing. (€30 each, it turns out, which is extraordinary considering the quality.) No fan of clever-clever foams wrung out of a daringly unappetising set of ingredients, or over-worked edible sculptures on ridiculously shaped plates, I’m relieved to find the food at Château de Saint Paterne is pitched at the level of home cooking, if you could actually cook that well.
As we discover the following night, the way dinner usually goes is that guests gather for a convivial fireside aperitif at 8pm (in my case, an unholily strong G&T). Then, at about 8.30pm, everyone moves on to the dining room to eat a set menu by candelight at their own tables. In the kitchen in his pinny most evenings is Charles-Henry de Valbray himself. Where did he learn such skills, I ask, sighing over a beautifully light asparagus mousseline, and magret de canard cooked with honey and crispy little potatoes. Charles-Henry shrugs. ‘Just at home, in the family kitchen.’
The wine list is short, just a handful of reds and whites. Like the British aristocracy, it takes refuge in well-bred clarets. It’d be nice to see a few more exciting bottles, though what’s here is good. I love that it’s sold by the bottle, but when we ask for a glass of Pouilly-Fumé each, Ségolène says that’s fine – she will drink the rest herself.
Much of our time is spent dreaming of whiling away a few days here in warmer weather; the outdoor pool is open until the end of September, and we’d have the run of the 25-acre grounds. The lawn is dotted with chairs and tables begging for you to sit with a book, sipping a local drop. As for its Smith credentials, there’s a fairy-tale quality, and it’s romantic, too. King Henry IV apparently stole away here for trysts with his lovers. More prosaically, the motoring museum at nearby Le Mans is said to be excellent. I am drawn to the glittering Loire, about an hour and a half’s drive away, where there are wine producers galore, so you can drop in for a tasting without making an appointment.
Our greatest temptation? To keep coming back, staying in a different room each time: we love Chambre Henri IV, whose antique wardrobe is carved with faces that Charles-Henry admits terrified him as a child; and Chambre du Parc with its attic bathroom. A secret door in a room downstairs opens onto a stone spiral staircase that takes you to another suite, the more modern Mystères. Consider them all earmarked.
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 Château de Saint Paterne’s Guestbook below.
The amazing setting, dinners and wonderful staff.
A wild night.
Stayed on 2 Sep 2019
We loved the relaxed but luxurious atmosphere. The hosts were fantastic and the dinners exquisite. We also loved the beautifully decorated rooms.
There were some children around, so don't expect total peace and quiet.
Stayed on 7 Aug 2019
The dinner hosted by the owners of the chateau and the apple liqueur in our room.
Absolute silence – the internal walls are on the thin side, chateau style!
Stayed on 31 Jul 2019
A gorgeous château in stunning grounds, with lovely owners and delicious food.
Not to chat to other guests, as pre-dinner drinks are with all guests and owners.
Stayed on 29 Jul 2019
The Datcha room we stayed in. It was secluded in the grounds but not too far from the main hotel. Unfortunately we were not able to take full advantage of all the amenities in the Datcha as the day we arrived it was 41 degrees – not a time to get in a hot tub! It was very comfortable though.
The room was not very large; I would definitely say it is only for two (we had our two small dogs too).
Stayed on 29 Jun 2019
The room, which had a very small connecting room for our two daughters.
Stayed on 25 Mar 2019
The size of the room, the bathtub, the dinners cooked by the host, the post-dinner chats by the fireside, the cute villages around the castle (especially St Ceneri and La Perrière)
Noise and parties
Stayed on 8 Mar 2019
Everything. A very stylish chateau run beautifully well by the owner and her team.
Stayed on 7 Dec 2018
The Chateau was beautiful, warm and historic. and the host was so welcoming. She explained the family history of the Chateau from the 16th century. We stayed in the room of Henry III with a balcony overlooking the georgeous grounds and beautiful painted ceiling. We loved the walking trails. In the evening we chose to have dinner at the chateau which was the right choice with pre-dinner drinks and light conversation on the patio before entering the beautiful candle-lit dining room for a romantic, gourmet meal.
Stayed on 27 Sep 2018
Firstly it is great for a stop off when driving through France as it is a 10-minute drive from the A28. The design and decor are superb. We chose to eat in the hotel with the children (aged 8 and 10). The whole thing was perfect. The children were served a beautiful tray of food while we had our starter and main, they then sat in the room next door (we could see them!) while we had cheese and pudding. Would highly recommend this experience rather than a pizza in Alencon.
A reserved welcome, quite the opposite, we were all made to feel very welcome and as though we were guests staying at a friend's house.
Stayed on 30 Aug 2018
The beautiful chateau and grounds, with heaps of space for the children to run around after a long journey. The excellent cooking and the elegant dining room. The warm and friendly service, creating a sense of being part of a house party.
Formal impersonality or high tech (thankfully!).
Stayed on 13 Aug 2018
There is a truly relaxed vibe here. We spent our mini-moon in the orangerie and loved it! It's very private and quiet. We ate in the dining room both nights as it was so delicious! The aperos on the terrace with everyone were lovely – a friendly atmosphere but still your own candlelit table at dinner for privacy. There are lots of lovely things to keep you occupied – the pool, sauna, hot tub, boules, nice walks – and we loved the honesty bar in the beautiful drawing room.
Stayed on 13 Aug 2018
Beautiful home opened up to guests in an amazing setting. The food was simple yet flavoursome.
A lively party scene.
Stayed on 10 Aug 2018
Our room with mezzanine bathroom. Stayed here the previous week en route to Ile de Re, this was the return journey overnight stop.
Stayed on 5 Jun 2018
Staying in a family run Chateau. Gorgeous lounge with honesty bar. Room was very French.
Stayed on 31 May 2018
The Chateau is a real character building, the rooms are nicely decorated and have very comfortable beds. The location is peaceful set in its own grounds. The food is excellent and the owners very friendly.