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 Discover A New Point of View

15 French, Boutique, Luxury Hotels with Secrets from the Past

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Biarritz- Photo by Pierre Archi 

From the sun-drenched vineyards of Provence to the regal châteaux of the Loire Valley, France offers an unparalleled immersion into history, art, gastronomy and refined living. There are a few  boutique luxury hotels, nestled in storied settings, which provide a truly remarkable opportunity to step back in time and experience the grandeur of bygone eras. Behind their elegant facades lie captivating tales – anecdotes of royals and artists who once graced their corridors, of clandestine resistance efforts that played out in hidden chambers, and of culinary legacies forged amidst world wars. More than just accommodations, these cultural marvels transcend eras, enveloping guests in an air of romance, intrigue and architectural splendor distinctly unique to France. For discerning travelers seeking to walk through the pages of history, these luxury hotels curate an intimate connection to the past while indulging modern desires for world-class hospitality.


  1. Hotel du Palais - Biarritz

The Hotel du Palais was initially constructed by Napoleon III as a summer residence for his wife, Empress Eugénie. The Hotel du Palais exemplifies the grandeur of the Second French Empire. Its architectural features include majestic facades, ornate balconies, and spacious interiors adorned with luxurious furnishings, and elegant details reminiscent of its imperial past. During World War II, the hotel became a German naval headquarters, requisitioned by the German Wehrmacht, and used as a military hospital. Officers stationed here enjoyed its luxurious amenities, which starkly contrasted with the wartime conditions elsewhere. With its regal architecture and panoramic views of the Atlantic, this palace by the sea has become a destination in itself for many; personalities such as Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway, and Coco Chanel have graced its halls, contributing to its reputation as a glamorous hotspot.  Today it continues as a cultural landmark in Biarritz.

 

Unusual Detail:

The hotel's expansive gardens were used as a training ground for German military personnel during the occupation. Today, these meticulously landscaped grounds offer a serene retreat for guests.


Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

  • Daily Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom

  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)

  • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out at 4pm, subject to availability

  • Complimentary Wi-F

 

2. Les Haute Roches, Loire (Relais & Chateaux)

Les Haute Roches is an unusual site, carved into the limestone cliffs, originally a troglodyte dwelling, and transformed into an intimate escape with stunning views along the Loire River.  Each room is a cozy cave overlooking the serene waters, providing a unique blend of history and tranquility.


Unusual Detail: The subterranean wine cellar is a standout feature, where guests can experience wine tasting in an enchanting underground setting that reflects the region's viticultural heritage

 

Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

  • Complimentary Continental or Buffet Breakfast per night and per person, based on Public or Best Available Rate (BAR) at participating Relais & Châteaux hotels (Currently, there are over 230 participating hotels)

  • VIP Welcome per room and per stay

Terms & Conditions: A minimum stay of 1 night and a maximum of 7 nights and Reservations must be made at least 72 hours prior to arrival and are subject to availability. All offers are subject to the booking and cancellation conditions of each individual property.

 

3. Fontevraud L'Hotel, Loire

 The Fontevraud hotel is situated within the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, a sprawling monastery that once housed both nuns and monks is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The abbey holds a significant connection to the Plantagenet dynasty, one of medieval Europe's most influential ruling families. Notable Plantagenet figures associated with Fontevraud include: Henry II of England who is buried at the abbey along with several of his descendants,  his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine who took the veil in 1204 and eventually passed away here  in 1204, Richard the Lionheart, known for his leadership during the Third Crusade, who was buried alongside his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Isabella of Angoulême, wife of King John of England (of Robin Hood fame), who retired to Fontevraud Abbey after her husband's death. 

 

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Quaint streets near Fontevraud - Photo by Free Nomad 

The Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud has played a surprising modern role, as well, during the mid-20th century, when it became a center for artistic experimentation and cultural gatherings. Figures such as Jean Cocteau and André Malraux frequented the abbey, contributing to its revival as a hub for avant-garde creativity. Today, it's a luxurious hotel that seamlessly blends history, spirituality, and comfort.

 

Unusual Detail: During the French Revolution, Fontevraud Abbey underwent a significant transformation when it was repurposed as a prison. The revolutionary government used the abbey to house prisoners, and its role evolved from a religious center to a symbol of political upheaval.


Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

• Upgrade to the next room category, based upon availability at check-in

• Early check-in/Late check-out

• A welcome amenity or beverage

• Daily breakfast for 2

• A food and beverage or spa credit

• Complimentary bike rental


4. Demeure de la Vignole, Loire

The Demeure de la Vignole is a 17th-century residence situated in a private troglodytic village, clinging to the slopes of the Loire River. Some of the rooms are set within the troglodytic caves themselves, and a highlight is the indoor heated swimming pool, ingeniously carved into the rock. This charming estate offers a glimpse into the region's winemaking heritage, showcasing the Champigny vineyards which produce excellent red wines made primarily from Cabernet Franc grapes.

 

Unusual Detail: The estate's preserved dovecote (a structure specifically designed to house pigeons or doves which was a symbol of status and prosperity) adds a unique touch to the property's grounds, showcasing architectural elements from a bygone era.



5. Domaine Les Crayères, Reims

 

Domaine Les Crayères is a 20th-century château located in Reims which once belonged to the Polignac family and has a rich historical background. The château's cellars, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, once served as a refuge during World War II. Today, Domaine Les Crayères remains a symbol of luxury and refinement. Guests can explore the beautifully preserved château and its stunning grounds while enjoying the legacy of champagne-making that permeates the estate.

 

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Reims Cathedral- Photo by Michelle Williams 

Unusual Detail: The cellars served as a hidden refuge and hospital for wounded soldiers while  champagne production continued discreetly amid the turmoil of WW II. The château's proximity to the front lines made it a strategic location for providing medical care to soldiers during the conflict.


 Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

  • Daily Full breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, served in the restaurant and via in-room dining

  • Tour for two at Champagne Taittinger or Pommery, including degustation of one wine.

  • Complimentary bottle of champagne, once per stay (served at Bar La Rotonde before 6pm, or served in room after 6pm or in take away as a gift)

  • Early Check-in / Late Check-out, subject to availability

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

 

 

6. Fleur de Loire, Blois (Relais & Chateaux), Loire

 In the heart of Blois, Fleur de Loire was an 18th-century nobleman’s residence. As you explore the city, consider the hotel's unique connection to the Renaissance; Blois was the residence of French kings, and Fleur de Loire reflects the elegance and grandeur of that era. Legend has it that a ghostly figure occasionally roams the corridors of the Fleur de Loire. Some guests claim to have glimpsed a shadowy figure dressed in 17th-century attire, silently gliding through the halls.

 

Unusual Details: During a renovation, workers discovered a hidden compartment behind an old wardrobe. Inside, they found a bundle of love letters written in elegant script telling the tale of a forbidden romance between a noblewoman and a stable hand. Their clandestine meetings took place within the very walls of the hotel.  And, behind the hotel lies a secluded courtyard, accessible through an unassuming door near the reception area. This hidden gem is adorned with ivy-covered walls, a bubbling fountain, and fragrant blooms. Guests who stumble upon it often feel like they’ve stepped into a secret garden.

 Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

• Complimentary Continental or Buffet Breakfast per night and per person, based on Public or Best Available Rate (BAR) at participating Relais & Châteaux hotels (Currently, there are over 230 participating hotels)

• VIP Welcome per room and per stay

Terms & Conditions: A minimum stay of 1 night and a maximum of 7 nights; Reservations must be made at least 72 hours prior to arrival and are subject to availability. All offers are subject to the booking and cancellation conditions of each individual property.

 

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View from Blois Castle- Photo by Dorian Mongel 

7. Château de Valmer (Relais & Chateaux), Loire

 Château de Valmer situated in the Loire Valley amidst lush vineyards was constructed in the 16th century. It boasts exceptional, terraced gardens, adorned with balustrades, statues, columns, and fountains, which cascade down the hillside. The gardens boast rare plant species, ornamental ponds, and terraced landscapes that offer a glimpse into the estate's horticultural heritage. The château itself showcases typical Renaissance features, such as ornate facades and symmetrical layouts, providing a glimpse into the aesthetic preferences of Renaissance France. 

 

Unusual Detail: Château de Valmer is rumored to have secret passageways and hidden chambers. These clandestine features often served as escape routes or provided refuge during times of conflict, adding an air of mystery and intrigue to the property.


Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

• Complimentary Continental or Buffet Breakfast per night and per person, based on Public or Best Available Rate (BAR) at participating Relais & Châteaux hotels (Currently, there are over 230 participating hotels)

• VIP Welcome per room and per stay

Terms & Conditions: A minimum stay of 1 night and a maximum of 7 nights; Reservations must be made at least 72 hours prior to arrival and are subject to availability. All offers are subject to the booking and cancellation conditions of each individual property.

 

8. The Château d'Audrieu, Normandy

Situated in the heart of Normandy, the Chateau d'Audrieu epitomizes French Renaissance architecture. Its regal facade and manicured gardens evoke tales of chivalry and grandeur from centuries past. The history of Château d’Audrieu is closely linked to William the Conqueror, the renowned Norman duke who became King of England in 1066. The château is surrounded by a 50-acre park and 12 acres of gardens, landscaped in 1985 by Louis Benech.

 

Unusual Detail:  It has a remarkable connection to the arts. During the German occupation of France in World War II, the château became a refuge for priceless artworks evacuated from the Louvre Museum in Paris. The château's owner, Comte Charles de Noailles, safeguarded these artworks, including the Mona Lisa, within its walls until the end of the war.

 

Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

• Complimentary Continental or Buffet Breakfast per night and per person, based on Public or Best Available Rate (BAR) at participating Relais & Châteaux hotels (Currently, there are over 230 participating hotels)

• VIP Welcome per room and per stay

Terms & Conditions: A minimum stay of 1 night and a maximum of 7 nights; Reservations must be made at least 72 hours prior to arrival and are subject to availability. All offers are subject to the booking and cancellation conditions of each individual property.

 

9. Château de la Messardière, Saint-Tropez

Built in the 19th century, this splendid château became a hotspot for the European elite and artistic intelligentsia in the early 20th century. Visitors included distinguished names like Picasso, Chagall, and Cocteau. During WWII, it was occupied by German forces and is rumored to have been visited by officers entertaining French mistresses.

 

Unusual Detail: While occupied by German forces during World War II, the château's hidden chambers reportedly sheltered resistance fighters and stored valuable art treasures smuggled from Paris.


Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

  • Daily buffet breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, served in the hotel restaurant or via in-room dining

  • $100USD equivalent in local currency Food & Beverage credit utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)

  • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

 

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Provence near Avignon- Photo by Thomas Despeyroux

10. La Mirande, Avignon

La Mirande dates back to the 16th century and was originally a cardinal's palace, serving as a prestigious lodging for noblemen traveling on official papal business.  Rich with Renaissance-era architectural details, many believe its grand halls were frequented by figures like the Marquis de Sade. Today it is an opulent hotel located in the heart of medieval Avignon.

 

Unusual Detail: As a former cardinal's palace, La Mirande played host to numerous papal dignitaries and emissaries. It is said that secret meetings and negotiations often took place within its chambers, shaping the course of historical events.

Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

  • Daily Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom

  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)

  • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

 

10. La Corniche, Pyla-sur-Mer 

This avant-garde hotel has an intriguing backstory tied to its mid-20th century design by the famous French architect Paul Maymont. Inspired by the shape of a ship's hull, its striking curved shape was conceived while Maymont was convalescing on a sea voyage.  After a period of decline, La Corniche underwent extensive renovation and was reopened in 2011 under the direction of designer Philippe Starck. The restoration preserved the hotel's original character while infusing it with contemporary flair.

 

Unusual Detail: La Corniche served as a cultural hub where artists, intellectuals, and free spirits including Picasso, Chagall, Cocteau and Maurice Chevalier gathered to exchange ideas and indulge in the pleasures of the French Riviera.



11.

 

12. Baumaniere, Les Baux de Provence

Baumanière is a renowned luxury hotel and restaurant located in Les Baux-de-Provence, a picturesque village in the Alpilles mountains of southern France. Baumaniere's history is intertwined with the legacy of Raymond Thuilier, the visionary chef who transformed it into a culinary destination. During World War II, Thuilier sheltered members of the French Resistance in the kitchens and wine cellars, using his culinary prowess to aid the cause against occupation forces. Your stay here will take you on a gastronomic journey through the flavors of southern France.  The hotel is surrounded by lush gardens, olive groves, and vineyards, which supply the hotel's kitchen with fresh herbs and produce, creating a serene backdrop for relaxation and exploration. Baumanière's cultural significance extends beyond its culinary heritage, as it has hosted renowned artists, writers, and intellectuals over the years, contributing to its reputation as a hub of creativity and inspiration in the heart of Provence. Today, Baumanière continues to uphold its legacy of excellence under the leadership of Chef Jean-André Charial, who carries forward Raymond Thuilier's culinary vision.

 

Unusual Detail:

The kitchen still showcases vintage cooking utensils and recipes from the 1940s, preserving a culinary heritage that resonates with the wartime spirit of resilience and resourcefulness.

Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

  • Upgrade at time of arrival, subject to availability

  • Daily breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom

  • Complimentary lunch for two guests per room at the Restaurant of La Cabro d’ O, once during stay, excluding alcohol, taxes and gratuities (minimum 3-courses & value of $100USD)

  • Early check-in / Late check-out, subject to availability

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

 

 

13. Hotel Les Bories and Spa, Provence

Originally a farm dating back to the 17th century Hotel Les Bories is located in the heart of Provence, near the picturesque village of Gordes, set amidst sprawling gardens and surrounded by lavender fields and vineyards. It served as a covert meeting point for Resistance members during World War II. The hotel's serene surroundings and discreet layout provided a safe haven for clandestine activities, hidden from the prying eyes of occupying forces.

 

Unusual Detail:

A preserved section of the hotel's original stone walls reveals graffiti left by Resistance fighters, offering a poignant reminder of the courage and sacrifice of those who fought against tyranny.


Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

  • 10% on standard room types

  • A credit worth $50-$100 (USD) per room, per stay to be spent only on extras such as F&B or Spa, only on property and during the stay

  • Daily Continental breakfast for two people

  • Room upgrade to next room category, subject to availability at the time of check-in

  • Early check-in, subject to availability at the time of check-in

  • Late check-out, subject to availability

  • Complimentary WIFI

 

 

14. Hotel de Pavie, Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence, known for its art and culture, is home to Hotel de Pavie, a charming 18th-century residence turned boutique hotel. The hotel's interiors showcase a curated collection of contemporary art, creating a harmonious blend of old-world charm and modern aesthetics.

 

Unusual Detail: Hotel de Pavie was once frequented by the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart stayed here during his concert tours of France, composing part of his renowned Symphony No. 31 ("Paris") in the city, inspired by the artistic ambiance of the region. The hotel's music-themed décor pays homage to Mozart's visit, with period instruments and scores displayed throughout the premises, creating a harmonious blend of history and musical appreciation.

 

15. Chateau de la Chevre d'Or, Eze

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View from Eze- Photo by Lidija Jakovljevic 

Perched on the cliffs of Eze overlooking the French Riviera., the Chateau de la Chevre d'Or is now a hotel with a history dating back to the 14th century.  During the medieval period, the Chateau de la Chevre d'Or served as a strategic stronghold against marauding pirates and invaders along the Mediterranean coast. Its elevated position provided an ideal vantage point for monitoring maritime activities, and its thick stone walls bore witness to numerous sieges and skirmishes. It boasts a panoramic view that is nothing short of enchanting.  Today, the hotel is renowned for its culinary excellence, boasting multiple gourmet restaurants that showcase the finest Provencal cuisine, and has beautiful gardens adorned with sculptures and artworks. It hosts occasional art exhibitions and cultural events, adding to the ambiance of this unique destination.

 

Unusual Detail: Within the chateau, there are remnants of ancient defensive structures, including hidden passages and lookout points, which once played a crucial role in safeguarding the coastline.

 

Perks available when booking through Viewfinder Travel:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

  • Daily Buffet breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, served in the restaurant

  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay (not applicable in La Chèvre d’Or Gourmet Restaurant, not combinable, no cash value if not redeemed in full)

  • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi



Viewfinder Travel company is a boutique travel agency that designs unique, life enhancing experiences, and provides exceptional service.  Whether you are in search of cultural sustenance, a relaxing island unwind, a gourmet escape, a picturesque countryside or the invigoration of a city, Viewfinder Travel will find your recipe for travel magic.  We are reliable, detail-oriented, and have a flare for finding the beautiful, off the beaten path, “boutique” experiences so you can put your efforts into finding the fun and not into the logistics. 

 

Our trips are curated with love, as if they were our own.  Let our experience inform your discovery! 


Copyright 2024 Viewfinder Travel

 

 


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