Domaine de Primard, a country-retreating spot a short drive from Paris, was once the estate of cinematic icon Catherine Deneuve, who filled the captivating 18th-century château with YSL and an insouciant assemblage of antiques. Now, the owners of the Domaines de Fontenille group have given the Directoire-style main house a more à la moderne makeover with licks of sage, navy and mint paints, pensive artworks and rolltop bath tubs. While the Jack Wirtz-manicured grounds (who’s previously pruned the Tuileries’ Jardin du Carrousel) – fit to an Ancien Régime template – remain as timelessly vie-en-rose as ever, encompassing an arboretum, kitchen garden, orchard, some resident highland cows and a garden with more than 250 types of roses. Plus a guinguette where champagne flows freely. And, the roll call of famed names continues, with a standalone Susanne Kaufmann spa and trio of elegant eateries with menus conceived by Michelin-star-spangled chef Éric Fréchon.
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A bottle of Domaine de Fontenille wine. And book a 60-minute spa treatment; it’ll be upgraded to a 90-minute treatment (must be booked in advance)
12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 1pm.
Double rooms from £219.85 (€256), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional room tax of €2.20 per person per night on check-out.
Rates don’t usually include the Continental breakfast (€25 a person).
For those who crave some wilder encounters, a herd of shy deer also roam Primard’s meadows and there are plans to add more farmyard animals. And, it really is worth taking the time to stop and smell the flowers here – Jacques Wirtz wasn’t just concerned with aesthetics: each rose, perennial, peony and flowering tree was chosen for its harmonious scent.
At the hotel
Susanne Kaufman spa with four treatment rooms, hammam and sauna, gym, extensive grounds with a small farm, guinguette bar, arboretum, vegetable gardens, orchard, plug adaptors to borrow, free WiFi. In rooms: minibar, tea- and coffee-making kit, bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
Reimagined in Rococo hues yet retaining their charmant original features (wood beams, Juliet balconies, parquet flooring), all Primard’s rooms are restful and refined. They’re spread out over the manor house (Maison sur L’Eure) and the estate’s former farmhouse. As the name suggests, the rooms and suites in the former have eye-catching views of the grounds’ bodies of water, while some in the latter have painstakingly tended private gardens.
The heated 18-metre pool – open from April to October – is set in a pretty and peaceful part of the grounds, sheltered by trim topiary, by the right wing of the main house.
The hotel holds the distinction of having the first Susanne Kaufmann spa in France, and they heed to her philosophy of complementing treatments with regional plants and herbs. Spread over 450sq m in a two-storey wooden chalet on the estate, serious pampering takes place here. The ground floor holds the sauna, hammam and hot and cold Jacuzzis. And on the upper level lie four treatment rooms (one for couples) and a gym, with top-grade WaterRower equipment. Plus there are secluded meditation decks set on the banks of the Eure and around the pond.
A large portion of your stay will be spent lounging in the grounds or by the pool, so bring some suitably Gallic tomes to pass the time.
All ages welcome; the hotel has two cane strollers to borrow and the grounds are generally safe for little ones to play in, but they must be supervised near the river and pond. Baby cots or extra beds (free for under-12s) can be added to some rooms.
The hotel’s vegetable garden runs on the principles of permaculture, and any other products are sourced locally, plus they recycle responsibly.
Come summer, pick a terrace to enjoy the grounds in full flower. Otherwise, the intimate nature of the Château’s Kitchen makes it all the more romantic.
Something Miss Deneuve would deem suitable for Églantine.
There are three eateries, each masterminded by lauded chef Éric Fréchon and overseen by chef Yann Meinsel. Mirror-lined Églantine in the Maison du Verger overlooks the rose garden and orchard. Cuisine is steeped in nature – with many ingredients coming from the potager – and is informed by the Île-de-France and Normandy regions the hotel’s domain straddles. Expect wild-ride degustation menus and playful platings (with the odd touch of edible trompe-l'œil), where blue lobster comes with Versailles honey, cherry, almond and verbena; smoked-eel spaghetti and lemon cream is topped with Sologne caviar; or spiced sautéed sweetbreads are paired with candied lemon and gingerbread. Octave bistro is set in the orchard and has a terrace overhung with apple and cherry trees. It’s Anglo-Norman in style with wood panelling and exposed brick, and dining is a more casual, simpler affair here, but no less elegant. Try mackerel in white wine with horseradish and white asparagus with mint, or flame-grilled spiced duck breast, rotisserie chicken, steaks or giant prawns. And, the Château’s Kitchen is an antique dining space in Maison sur l'Eure, where tables are set around a period fireplace and the chef works at a huge Cornue stove. This is a more intimate experience for two to 12 guests, where you’ll have a personalised menu and can watch the chefs fire up each dish. The Continental breakfast spread is laid out here too and pancakes or eggs are cooked to order.
On the ground floor of the Maison sur L’Eure, there’s a cosy duck-egg-blue bar with velvet-upholstered seats and a wooden counter, plus terrace seating overlooking the river. Here barkeeps will mix you a chic cocktail or you can try wine from the hotel’s Domaine de Fontenille vineyard and different vintages of Veuve Clicquot. Those abstaining can enjoy a fresh fruit juice or fragrant tea with floral views in the roseraie’s greenhouse, and there’s more of the sparkling stuff served at a guinguette on a wooden deck over the river – a prime spot for sundowners with live music.
Églantine opens Thursday to Sunday, from 12.30pm–2.30pm and 7.30pm–10.30pm; Octave opens daily and keeps the same hours. The Château’s Kitchen is open every day for dinner, but must be booked 24 hours in advance.
Domaine de Primard is in leafy bijou commune Guainville in the riverine Eure-et-Loir department, just a 90-minute drive from Paris.
The easiest way to reach the hotel is via Paris; fly into Charles de Gaulle and the hotel is a 90-minute drive away. Alternatively, Orly Airport is just over an hour’s ride away. The hotel can arrange transfers on request.
The closest train station to the hotel is at Bréval, just a 10-minute drive away. It’s easily reached from Paris, arriving direct in 50 minutes from Saint-Lazare.
If you plan to simply wander amid Guainville’s greener bits and dinky villages then you may be able to get away with not having a car. But, being this far outside the capital, some wheels may come in handy for excursions to the Loire’s historic landmarks. To reach the hotel from Paris, follow the A13.
Worth getting out of bed for
Feel the soft grass underfoot, sit cross legged on a peaceful deck to meditate to the placid babblings of the River Eure, breathe in the intoxicating honeyed perfume of linden trees and 250 kinds of roses: Domaine de Primard is a place where urbanites can come up for air in the countryside. Star gardener Jacques Wirtz’s groomed topiary, parterre and flowering beds are all set for leisurely afternoons of laps in the pool, afternoon tea in the roseraie’s decorous conservatory, or gentle nature walks to see the resident animals (highland cows, Ouessant black sheep, horses and a pony) and diverse birdlife (white-fronted geese, teals, mallards, pintails, tufted ducks and more). The hotel can help with bike hire or arrange canoes for a paddle along the Eure, or they can help with fishing equipment and horse rides through the verdant surroundings. Guillaine is a picturesque yet peaceful spot which lends itself well to getting away from it all. Its biggest claim to fame is the ruins of an old château, but the Eure-et-Loir department is steeped in history, so there are impressive monuments to make a day trip out of: say, Chartres Cathedral, parts of which date back to the 12th century, where can you follow the meandering labyrinth pattern on the floor followed by pilgrims. Or the grand 16th-century Château d'Anet, just a 15-minute drive south, where King Henry II housed his mistress; intricately carved Évreux Cathedral; Vernon’s half-timbered houses; and, depending on how far you want to drive – and your tolerance for historic houses – the Loire Valley’s gamut of more than 300 châteaux. A 40-minute drive to the east, Giverny’s Monet-inspiring gardens will likely make an impression on you, and there’s a museum dedicated to the art movement he brought to many a wall. A 10-minute drive away, the Robert Hersant Golf Park has 18 holes set in lavishly landscaped grounds, and Rambouillet Forest is an hour’s drive away for those who simply want to wander – this was once the hunting grounds for King Louis XVI and it’s still magnificently green with, yes, another château at its heart.
With a holy trinity of must-try restaurants at the hotel, with menus that beg repeat visits – and most local restaurants actually not too local – you’ll probably want to stay put. But, if your curiosity for French country dining gets the better of you, you could try Le Manoir d’Anet, just a 15-minute drive south, which has two very reasonably priced tables d'hôte menus with the likes of tarragon-oil-drizzled sea bream, sautéed duck breast in a blueberry sauce and bourbon-vanilla crème brûlée. Or book a table at Le Georges in Chartres (22 Place des Épars), where their signature dishes are locally caught brill or catfish from the Loire basin and a boozy Grand Marnier soufflé.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this stop-and-smell-the-roses château a short drive from Paris and unpacked their posies and shown off their Susanne Kaufmann glow, a full account of their fragrant country escape will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Domaine de Primard in France’s leafy Eure-et-Loire department…
Trust one of France’s most elegant and fashion-forward actresses – screen icon Catherine Deneuve – to find a country home so gracious as Domaine de Primard. But, luckily for those eager for an effortless jaunt to the château-studded French countryside (the hotel is an easy 90-minute drive from Paris), she recently put the vast estate on the market, with its expansive grounds by the banks of the Eure River, farm, orchards, potager and moated 18th-century Directoire-style manor, with its periwinkle shutters and four storeys of serene rooms. Even more fortunate, it was snapped up by the Domaine de Fontenille hotel group – behind such Smith favourites as Les Bords de Mer, Les Hortensias du Lac, Santa Ponsa, Torre Vella and their namesake South of France hideaway. They’ve made some cosmetic changes, eschewing Deneuve’s lived-in look for walls in deep blues and greens or Pierre Bonnard-esque pastels, hung with sophisticated pieces of modern art, refitting a barn into a serious two-storey Susanne Kaufmann spa, and installing three restaurants, each overseen by the noted chef Éric Fréchon. While hammam lazing and treatments using local flora, rooms with riverine views and heart-stealing original features, and meals with delightfully curious concoctions (egg with peas, chorizo and nasturtium foam; gingerbread-spiced veal sweetbreads; blue lobster with cherries, almonds and verbena), excite, the hotel’s grounds are what nudges it into the upper echelons of rural retreats. Designed by Jacques Wirtz (who was responsible for the Tuileries’ Jardin du Carrousel), following the original Ancien Régime layout, neat topiary divides up a sunk-into-the-lawn pool; a roseraie with more than 250 varieties of rose and a conservatory for afternoon tea; a farm with highland cattle, horses and Ouessant black sheep; apple and pear orchard; peaceful pond; and a potager from which the kitchen gathers most of its ingredients.