By Laura Eckstein Jones By Laura Eckstein Jones | November 27, 2019 | Lifestyle
Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé was designed by architect Mathieu de Bayeux and built from 1760 to 1764
Picture a majestic estate, set on countless acres dotted with formal French gardens, a meandering white oak forest, orchards and priceless sculptures. Room after room is filled with rich layers of portraiture, antiques, handpainted custom wallpaper and period-appropriate decor. There are cavernous hallways, intimate dining rooms and thoughtful touches around every corner. And, it’s quiet: You can hear footsteps and the rustling breeze.
This may sound like a French period-drama fantasy, and, in the best possible way, it kind of is. Lucky for us, Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé is a living, breathing place that combines the nostalgia and fantasy of the French countryside with impeccable, intuitive service and the contemporary comforts of today. Located southwest of Paris in quaint Le Grand-Lucé—the town is situated just outside the château gates, rather than miles away, which is unusual for the Loire Valley—the hotel is about 30 minutes from Le Mans, its closest city.
The elegant foyer heightens the property’s symmetrical layout
When my husband and I pull up to the perfectly symmetrical neoclassical estate, our jaws drop. In a word, the château is regal, with its history affirming that description. Commissioned by Baron Jacques Pineau de Viennay and completed in 1764, the extravagant summer palace represented the most au courant designs of the time. Exact replicas of statues at Versailles—a gift from King Louis XV—dot the grounds. During the Age of Enlightenment, luminaries such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Mozart were guests. The property served as a hospital for wounded British officers during World War I, and, during World War II, it housed paintings from the Louvre—they were hidden in a secret space that still exists under the former stables (now a ballroom).
Covered in Manuel Canovas’ Jardin du Luxembourg print, the quintessentially French King Suite Village View makes a major statement: The walls, windows and furniture don the delicious blue toile pattern
Over time, the château was taken over by the French government, which restored the gardens beautifully, and was then sold to Los Angeles-based interior designer Timothy Corrigan, who masterfully renovated it for use as his private home. In 2017, Corrigan sold the 45,000-square- foot property to Marcy Holthus, founder and CEO of Pilot Hotels.
The salon chinois in the Baron Suite is named for the canvas-covered walls painted in the chinoiserie style by artist Jean-Baptiste Pillement, whose work can be found at the Louvre and Marie Antoinette’s private estate, Petit Trianon, within the gardens of the Château de Versailles
Before opening the 17-room property this past June, San Diego-based Holthus was faced with the challenge of transforming a private residence into a hotel while also bringing her unique vision to life. Over the span of two years, Holthus and her team—including Paul Allen Design—succeeded in imbuing the pomp, authenticity and attention to detail that’s expected in the manor of a nobleman, but with a refreshing twist. Think bespoke de Gournay wallpaper depicting a hunting scene behind benches covered in green mohair, or jewel-toned Pierre Frey wallpaper illustrating the first hot air balloon rides in France. Not only is the wallcovering visually stunning, it’s authentic: Hot air ballooning is—and was—a popular leisure activity in the area.
The circular pool was fashioned from a fountain
Our days at the property are peaceful. We spend time luxuriating in our large room, the oft-requested Le Grand-Lucé Suite (from $1,097 per night)—a blue-and-white Cinderella dream that overlooks the vast grounds. Bonus: The well- appointed bathroom is stocked with Buly 1803 products; Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé is one of the only hotels besides Hôtel de Crillon in Paris that carries them. Plus, we enjoy the gardens, relax by the pool and eat some incredible meals. Executive chef Maxime Thomas served exquisite multicourse menus, including a roasted duck breast with cherries and turnips dish that I still dream about. Breakfast can be anything from a plate of fresh fruit and a still-warm croissant to an omelet. And if you want a simple burger, that’s fine too.
The King Suite Garden View’s jewel-toned Pierre Frey wallcovering was inspired by the Montgolfier brothers’ first hot air balloon flights in the late-18th century
The château’s restaurant is helmed by French-born executive chef Maxime Thomas, who serves everything from omelets to exquisite coursed meals.
The staff—who wear Stan Smith sneakers and a variety of vintage Louis Vuitton Pochettes— are both French and American, and all speak English. No request is too large. While there, our clothes are laundered; a zippy Volvo is procured so we can explore the area; and little notes and treats are left in our room every night. We even get to check out the impressive Baron Suite (high season rates from $16,451 per night), a multiroom spread on the first floor that includes a library, a salon chinois (handpainted by artist Jean-Baptiste Pillement in the chinoiserie style) and a marble-clad bathroom with its own garden view. We ask too many questions about how best to discover the Loire Valley and are so delighted with the generous suggestions—visiting magical Château de Chenonceau and the fairy-tale town that is Le Mans’ old city are only a few. The whole experience feels intimate, personalized and truly exceptional. While we thought four nights might be too long, we could stay forever. Was it a dream? If so, I’m not ready to wake up. Room rates from $521 per night, buyouts upon request.
Photography by: Adam Lynk; Michael Spengler; Puxan Photography