Less than an hour from Paris, country retreat Le Barn is the stuff of urbanites’ dreams, bringing considered design to the Rambouillet forest. The sprawling estate borrows the generous proportions and unpretentious atmosphere of a Midwestern ranch, and its inch-perfect interiors – the work of Parisian design studio Be-Poles – have more than a touch of the Shakers about them. The food, on the other hand, is every inch a French affair. Dishes in restaurant La Serre are a masterclass in Gallic country cuisine, served in a sun-soaked greenhouse. Beyond the glass, the oak- and elm-studded grounds are covetable for their looks alone, but they’re also home to first-rate stables, a Scandinavian spa, biking trails, a lake and more. Dabble in a little or come for the lot; this is the countryside at its most accommodating.
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A regional speciality, such as locally made jam or paté
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £143.14 (€157), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.65 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include a buffet breakfast of pastries, rustic bread, farm-fresh eggs, just-squeezed juices and more.
Next to the bar and restaurant you'll find l’Atelier, where cooking and cocktail-making classes are held. You can also accompany the chef as he collects the day’s produce at the farm, picking your own fruit and vegetables.
At the hotel
Vast grounds with walking trails, stables, a pond and a volleyball court; spa with a hammam, sauna and nordic hot tubs; projection room; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV; minibar stocked with local products; tea- and coffee-making kit; and eucalyptus-based bath products made specially for the hotel.
Our favourite rooms
It might be the most expensive of the lot, but the 55sq m Le Barn Suite is well worth its price tag. Beautifully furnished by Parisian design studio Be-Poles, it has a large living room, a kitchen, a cosy bedroom and a spacious private terrace with a barbecue.
There’s no pool, but you can take a dip in the wood-fired Nordic hot tubs instead: they’re outside, surrounded by decking and separated by neatly planted borders.
Le Barn has a sauna, hammam, Scandi-style hot tubs and a treatment room staffed by an ayurvedic masseur (who’s there every day) and an osteopath (who comes twice a week). Between them, they’re able to provide everything from muscle-soothing sessions to a tailored program for chronic aches and pains. Yoga classes are run seasonally and on request.
It really depends on how much you plan to do. Some come to kick back and enjoy the fresh air from the comfort of the Scandinavian hot tubs, others go all out with horse riding, biking, running and fishing. If you’re into golf, don’t forget your clubs – there’s an excellent course nearby.
All public areas are wheelchair accessible, and there are several specially adapted rooms.
Le Barn is perfect for families: children will love the vast grounds, games areas and the wealth of activities on offer. Some rooms can be connected and turned into kids' dorms; others can fit a cot or extra bed. Babysitting is available, too.
Children of all ages will love Le Barn, but those over six will get the most out of the expansive grounds and wealth of activities on offer.
Superior Rooms and larger can fit a child up to 12 on a sofa bed. Certain Deluxe Rooms can be connected and turned into a kids' dorm with up to six beds, making the hotel perfect for large families or those travelling in groups.
Outside, you’ve got acres of grounds with an outdoor play area and areas for football, badminton, croquet, baseball and beach volleyball. The stables offers children's horse-riding lessons, and little Smiths can also try their luck fishing in the lake. Inside, there are board games, art materials, games consoles and a projection room for films.
There’s no children's menu, but the restaurants are very family friendly and have high chairs for the youngest Smiths. The staff are more than happy to heat up milk, too.
Yes. The hotel recycles waste and water, and composts anything organic from the kitchens. The ingredients used in the restaurant are either grown on their own farm or sourced from local producers and markets.
We’re keen on the tables in the greenhouse, but the terrace can’t be beaten on a balmy evening.
Get back to nature with olive greens and earthy tones.
La Serre (meaning greenhouse) is Le Barn’s gourmet restaurant. The space is split in two, with the main room leading to a second space encased entirely in glass, bathing every corner with daylight. Simple wooden furnishings lend an organic edge, and potted plants are scattered across the floor, shelves and window sills, echoing the verdant landscape outside. The look is entirely fitting, as chef Marc Pagel is devoted to the land, doing all his cooking with produce that’s either grown onsite or sourced from nearby farms and markets. The menus are seasonal and ever changing as a result, but you can expect rustic staples like chicken casseroles, Gravlax salmon and veal blanquette. Thin-base pizzas are fired in the restaurant's wood-burning oven, which was made bespoke.
The bar stays in the organic vein with plenty of wood, potted plants and a vast Indochinese-style painting depicting a leafy and exotic vista. Comfy armchairs and sofas are arranged around the edge of the room, leaving space for the centrepiece: a tall, custom-made stove clad in cream tiles. The bar’s part of the lobby, so you couldn't hope for a warmer welcome when checking in on a cold winter’s morning.
Breakfast is served until 10am (10.30am on weekends), lunch is from noon to 2pm, and dinner's from 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
You can ask for breakfast to be served on your private terrace, where you’ll be able to hear the birds as you sip your morning coffee.
Le Barn is in the commune of Bonnelles, about 45km south of Paris.
Paris Orly is the closest of the capital’s airports, just 35 minutes’ drive away. You can fly directly from London Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham airports. If you’re coming from elsewhere, you’ll probably touch down at Paris Charles de Gaulles; from there, it’s around an hour’s drive to the hotel.
Catch the Eurostar from St Pancras International to Paris Gare Du Nord, then hop onto Metro line 4 (the blue one) to Montparnasse-Bienvenue, where you can take regional services to Rambouillet. From there, it’s a short cab ride to the hotel.
If you don’t mind driving yourself, a car will come in handy:there’s plenty to see in the surrounding countryside and public transport’s thin on the ground. The Smith24 team can arrange your hire, and there’s free valet parking at the hotel, too.
Worth getting out of bed for
Le Barn’s location is its trump card – under an hour from the centre of Paris, yet worlds apart in character. On the hotel’s leafy grounds, you can play pétanque, badminton and croquet. Put the spring back into your step with a limbering yoga class, or swing into the saddle of one the hotel’s trusty steeds. The surrounding forest is criss-crossed with walking, running and biking trails, and the valley is traversed by the scenic cycle route that runs from the centre of Paris all the way to Mont St Michel on the coast. Then again, the hotel’s just as suited to doing very little at all: weary city dwellers looking to slow things down will relish soaking in the open-air hot tubs, boating on the pond and wandering in the woods. If you’re serious about improving your riding, arrange a session at Haras de la Cense, the natural horsemanship centre that backs onto the estate. Founder and entrepreneur William Kriegel (who’s also one of the partners behind Le Barn) developed his own technique, the La Cense Method, which focuses on nurturing the bond between horse and rider. The hotel’s other neighbour is the Château de Rochefort golf course, an 18-hole wooded course that’s open all year-round. If you’ve never seen the Sun King’s palace, now’s as good a chance as any – Versailles is only 45 minutes away by car.
There’s not a huge amount in the immediate area, but if you do want to have lunch out, try Le Bistrot de la Cave in the medieval town of Dourdan. The owner of this local bistro and wine bar does most of the cooking, taking the difficulty out of choosing what to order – it’s really down to what he can do on the day. The dishes are rustic and hearty and there’s a fine selection of wines in the cellar. It’s right outside the castle walls, too, so grab a table outside if the weather’s pleasant.
Rustic boutique stay Le Barn Hotel is the ideal escape for Parisian weekenders, a breath of fresh air and a chance to refresh just an hour’s drive from the city. There are also two trains you can take from Paris to Bonnelles (the nearest town to Le Barn), both take around 40 to 60 minutes and the stations they arrive into are just a 15- or 25-minute taxi ride from the hotel. We rode the train from Austerlitz to Dourdan, a direct €8 journey, which was both easy and pleasant. While whizzing through the French countryside we called the hotel who were happy to book us a taxi for a fixed €25 fee.
When we arrived, at 9pm on a Saturday night, we seemed to be the last to check-in for the weekend, all the other guests had already settled in. We pulled up to a rural lane and drove in to discover a huddle of barns, lit by fairy lights. The reception and check-in took place in the main barn, where we also found the restaurant and common spaces for relaxing in and cosy spots for hanging out by the fire. Stacks of logs, warm lighting and plenty of soft furnishings gave the space a welcoming feel and we were excited to have it as our home for the next couple of days.
The rooms are spread out over several renovated former barns, tucked away in the picturesque Rambouillet forest. We stayed in a Scandi-style Deluxe Room, which was spacious and simply designed. The room felt sympathetic to its surroundings – think pale wooden walls and bursts of natural colour – with nature-inspired artwork and functional but stylish light fittings. A small utility area housed tea and coffee facilities, a basic minibar and instructions about the property. With large windows and a small balcony, our room got lots of natural light in the daytime but felt snug and homey in the evenings. The double bed provided a very comfortable night’s sleep, and in the peace and quiet of the surroundings we slept in longer than usual and felt well rested all weekend.
Our bathroom was small but adequate, and I was pleased to discover a bath tub. The room was kitted out in floor-to-ceiling cream tiling and had small artworks which gave character and charm. The toiletries were by Studio Be-Poles, a brand I had encountered once before in the South of France – all-natural Eucalyptus-based products that smelt delicious.
Breakfast was a simple affair, a basic continental buffet laid out in the two photogenic conservatories (part of the main building). On a sunny day it was a glorious place to sit and sip my coffee. Unfortunately, we took a seat on our first morning and got completely ignored, with no explanation. Eventually we found a few members of staff but struggled to communicate, as few spoke much English. When we asked if we were allowed to order anything we were directed towards a man making drinks at a coffee machine in the entrance hall. It was all a bit confusing, but at last I got the coffee I was craving. The croissants and fruit we picked from the buffet were nice but I had hoped for better in a luxurious French hotel.
With a whole day at our leisure we set about exploring the property and its surroundings. Yoga classes are widely advertised and guests can also go horse-riding, play golf and archery or use the pétanque and croquet sets. The spa was our first stop, found in a building next to the main reception. It was quiet, despite the hotel being full with weekend visitors, and we took full advantage by trying out the sauna, hammam and outdoor Nordic hot tubs. The facilities were clean and nicely designed, but I felt they could have made more of this little haven. Refreshed and relaxed, we went for a walk in the beautiful forest and came back to snack on the free homemade cakes the hotel leaves out for guests each afternoon.
We dined at Le Barn’s restaurant (La Serre) on the Sunday night of our stay. The large conservatory dining room was almost empty and it felt a bit like we were being personally serenaded by Ed Sheeran, who was playing on the background soundtrack. The menu featured classic and seasonal French dishes, and we opted for the cheese fritters, artichoke in vinaigrette, steak frites and miso-marinated aubergine. Sadly most of the desserts weren’t available for dinner, I imagine this was because it was a quiet Sunday night. As a gourmand, mad about French food, I was a little disappointed by the lacklustre flavours, but the meal was satisfying enough. We did enjoy the delicious French (and very reasonably priced) wines that we chose to accompany our dinner.
Le Barn is a very relaxed retreat which you can flee to for some greenery and a quieter pace of life after a break in Paris. Here, you’re left to your own devices to explore as you wish and enjoy the great outdoors. We could have done with a little more inspiration for what to do nearby, as we may have missed some intriguing experiences, but the sense of total freedom in such beautiful surroundings felt brilliant.