Steeped in neoclassical splendour and girdled by 80-acre grounds, Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé is the next best thing to spending the night at Versailles. Lording over a placid commune in the Loire Valley, this noble seat was built in 1764 for Baron Jacques Pineau de Viennay, an enlightenment thinker and close confidant of King Louis XV (who gifted the statues of Roman and Greek gods that are dotted around the grounds). 300 years’ worth of art and artefacts are strewn throughout the 12 bedrooms, which are finished with reverently-restored antiques and hand-painted wallpaper by de Gournay and Pierre Frey. It’s hard to overstate the grandeur: interiors of this calibre are usually roped off and watched over by eagle-eyed attendants, but perhaps the hotel’s greatest triumph is that it inspires joie de vivre at every turn – no mean feat when half your furnishings are worthy of a museum.
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French straw market tote filled with local wine and products
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £420.64 (€475), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.65 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include à la carte breakfast – with Continental, American and hot options to choose from – and afternoon wine and nibbles.
The baron’s daughter, Mademoiselle Pineau de Viennay, was just as taken by enlightenment thought as he was, throwing open the doors to some of the movement’s greatest stars. Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, Mozart and Grimm all stayed at the château at one time or another.
At the hotel
Eighty-acre grounds that include manicured French gardens, a lake and white-oak woodland; grand salon; ballroom; fitness room; electric bikes; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: decorative fireplace, free bottled water and Buly 1803 bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Each and every room is a marvel – white-oak floors in point de Hongrie parquet, archival wallpaper and restored antiques are de rigueur here. If you like to hedge your bets, history favours the Corner King Room with a Garden View, a favourite for as long as anyone can remember. The room’s popularity almost certainly has something to do with the views: one window overlooks an inch-perfect boxhedge and sundial; from the other, your eye sweeps over the parterre towards a statue of Ceres. Then there’s the Baron’s Suite, a sumptuous four-room apartment with 17-foot ceilings and a light-flooded living room known as the Salon Chinois, one of only two rooms in the world with hand-painted walls by 18th-century artist Jean-Baptiste Pillement. And the other one? It’s at Versailles, of course.
The hotel’s circular pool is a striking departure from the norm, and like almost everything at this hotel, there’s a story behind it. Strict rules apply to modifying the grounds of historic châteaux, so the designers set their sights on the existing stone-rimmed reflection pool, subtly converting it into one that’s suitable for sun-soaked dips. Sunloungers are artfully arranged around the pool's edge, protected from any breezes by a wall of greenery-swathed stone.
A full spa is currently in the works; in the meantime, massages and beauty treatments are available in the converted stable block. There’s also a fitness room with Technogym equipment.
Bring your camera and plenty of film – photo opportunities like this don’t come around often.
All of the common areas are wheelchair accessible, and the King Suite with a Garden View is wheelchair-adapted.
On balmy evenings, ask for a table on the terrace, where you might be able to catch the scent of rose gardens in full bloom. If you’d rather eat on the grounds, the chefs can prepare a picnic lunch.
The house might be grand but the restaurant is inherently laid-back – something from Isabel Marant will hit the mark.
The dining room of restaurant Le Lucé is reached via a corridor wrapped in bespoke de Gournay wallpaper. Inside, the ceiling is crossed with white-oak beams, the walls feature an Aubusson tapestry and age-speckled mirrors catch the light streaming in from the garden. Otherwise, the furnishings are more pared back than most rooms in the house – the tomette clay floor, square marble tables and green velvet banquettes chime well with chef Maxime Thomas’ modern take on traditional French cuisine. Thomas’ dishes are artful but very much rooted in the area; his biggest source of inspiration is the château’s potager garden and orchards, which produce an impressive bounty of vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers. In terms of atmosphere, there isn’t the slightest whiff of stuffiness – the staff are relaxed, friendly and dressed in garb that leans more towards Ivy League preppiness than starched bib fronts.
The bar is adjacent to the restaurant, and echoes its more modern look. Brass shelves loaded with bottles stand before a wall of speckled mirrors; out front, the solid wooden counter is paired off with leather barstools in racing green.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 11am. Lunch is from noon to 2.30pm. Dinner is served from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.
Cold dishes like charcuterie boards and salmon wraps should tide you over between meals.
The château takes its name from the village behind it, Le Grand-Lucé, a quiet commune in the Loire Valley.
The closest airport is Tours, which can be reached directly from London Stansted. It takes around an hour to drive from the airport; the hotel can arrange transfers for €100 each way.
The closest station is Le Mans, a 40-minute drive from the château. From London, take the Eurostar from St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord, then hop onto the Metro, riding line 4 to Gare Montparnasse. Once there, you’ll be able to catch a TGV service to Le Mans; the fastest take under an hour. With advance warning, the hotel can send a car to collect you from Le Mans station.
You won’t need a car if you’re planning on sticking to the grounds and nearby village, which is easily seen on foot. If you plan to visit nearby towns, wineries and châteaux, it'll make a lot of sense to hire one at the airport.
Worth getting out of bed for
The château’s interiors might be second to none, but it’s the 80-acre grounds that make the hotel feel like a royal kingdom. The neoclassical gardens are a triumph of order, studded with cloud-like topiary, manicured rose bushes and immaculate lawns that have been sliced into symmetrical strips. Walled in to protect it from the breeze, the jardin exotique is the best place to catch the afternoon sun, and is where you’ll find the circular pool, fragrant orangerie and wall-hugging greenhouses (keep an eye out for chef Maxime Thomas as he fills his basket with ripe produce). Once you get past the lake – complete with two-seater rowing boat – things start to get wilder. Meadows and woodland wrap the estate, and the paths within are perfect for head-clearing strolls or a tour on one of the hotel’s electric bikes. On your return, swing by the spa or head straight to the terrasse for a glass of rosé.
If you are inclined to leave, consider a trip to La Chartre-sur-le-Loir. It’s a charming town in its own right, but is best known for its overflowing antique shops and markets, drawing bargain hunters and design devotees from far and wide. If you’re keen to visit local wineries, try the Domaine de Bellivière, a relatively young but well-respected winery with vineyards in Jasnières, one of the Loire’s lesser-known regions. Wilder land can be found in the Bercé Forest, occupying the swathe of green between Tours and Le Mans. A former royal forest that once provided wood for the French navy, this stretch of white-oak woodland is crossed by streams and dotted with ponds, ensuring an abundance of wildlife. These days, you’re unlikely to come across a party of mounted nobles, but the trails do still make for excellent riding, cycling and hiking.
If you’re in the mood for a bit more bustle, head north to Le Mans. The name usually conjures up images of roaring race cars, but the old part of town – Le Cité Plantagenét – is a world away in character. Girdled by fortified walls, this medieval settlement is made up of narrow cobbled streets lined with half-timbered houses, all overlooked by a cathedral with flying buttresses.
There’s not much in the local area that will rival the hotel restaurant. Le Grand-Lucé has a boulangerie and a small bar, but other than that you’ll need to hop in the car if you want to eat out. The best options are in Le Mans, a 35-minute drive to the north, and Tours, around an hour’s drive to the south. In Le Mans, try fine-dining restaurant Le Grenier á Sel, housed in a converted salt loft on the edge of Le Cité Plantagenét. Classic countryside ingredients are teamed with modern cooking and an open mind, making this one of the town’s standout spots. There aren’t many tables, so book ahead in season. In Tours, try L' Embellie, where refined Gallic dishes are served in a dining room with a wood-beamed ceiling and rustic stone walls. If you’re after ingredients for a picnic, make a beeline for Halles de Tours, a cavernous market hall with 38 deli counters selling charcuterie, cheese and everything in between.
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 neoclassical château in the Loire Valley and unpacked their case of the local Jasnières wine, a full account of their Loire Valley break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Château du Grand-Lucé in the Loire Valley…
Even if you had never seen a picture of Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé, its history should be enough to have you packing your bags and flitting onto the next Eurostar. To start with, the original owner was a close confidant of King Louis XV, whose housewarming gift was the set of ten statues dotted around the grounds and woodland. Former guests include kings, counts and enlightenment royalty – Mozart, Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot are among those who have laid their heads beneath the chateau’s perfectly proportioned roof. Even when the house passed out of family hands and into a spell of institutional glumness, it still attracted rarified guests. In World War Two, a cache of fine art from the Louvre was stashed beneath the floor in the old stable block. No one’s sure exactly which paintings were hidden there, but there’s a good chance they were the work of masters.
On the other hand, looks are important, and we're lucky enough to have seen what lies behind the monumental front gate. The gilded salon and chinoiserie-style Baron’s Suite would likely please the Sun King himself, as would the perfectly symmetrical gardens, restored by the French government on account of their being an important example of neoclassical landscaping. But the best part about staying at Château du Grand-Lucé is that it inspires joie de vivre at every turn – which is exactly what Baron Jacques Pineau de Viennay would have wanted.