Where to stay for a wonderful experience
From five-star indulgence in Paris to a night on a Pyrenean peak, our writers name their all-time favourite places to stay
I was only a little embarrassed when the man next door caught me balcony dancing.
It’s not something I’d ever done before, but then I’d never had my own, private terrace with room enough to dance on. And I’d certainly never had one directly opposite the Eiffel Tower. The majesty of the shimmering structure looming out of the Parisian skyline in front of me seemed like a good reason for a spontaneous jig of delight.
I was staying the night at the ravishing Shangri-La hotel. Set high on the Chaillot Hill in the 16th arrondissement, the limestone mansion is where Prince Roland Bonaparte – grand nephew of Emperor Napoléon – once called home. The palatial interiors are fit for royalty – from the soaring marble columns and liveried doorman of the lobby to the XIV-style salons, exquisitely decorated with neoclassical friezes, ornate panels and wallpaper printed in imperial insignia.
Then there are the rooms. Or should I say luxury apartments. Set on two floors, mine was decorated in soft blues and creams and kitted out with mahogany furnishings, billowing drapes and well-concealed mod-cons. On arrival, uncontainable excitement had me opening cupboards and wriggle-testing my exceptionally comfortable bed that look out onto the spellbinding city view. This led to the balcony scene.
Indulgence beckons beyond the bedrooms too. The vast residence counts three unique restaurants decorated in Michelin stars and serving both classic French and authentic Cantonese cuisine. Downstairs is a gleaming basement-spa with swimming pool, set amid pearly white columns, that makes you feel like your bathing in ancient Greece.
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All this is complimented by faultless service; particularly the charming concierge Tony who will readily relay the history of the hotel and make insightful recommendations to help make the best of your stay.
So while Shangri-La may be a serious splurge, it offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’ll certainly give you something to dance about.
10 Avenue d’Iéna, 75116 Paris, France
Tel: 0800 028 3337
Doubles from €679, including continental breakfast.
Un Lit au Pré, Normandy
If you associate camping with unsettling memories of leaky tents and sleepless nights then it’s time to think again. Picture instead the lightest feather-filled duvets, wonderfully soft mattresses and wood-burning stoves, all enjoyed in a spectacular rural setting overlooking one of France’s most iconic sites.
This is what you’ll experience at La Moricière, a 16-hectare farm nestling in the beautiful Normandy countryside. With its luxurious touches, owners Yves and Sylvie Guillard really do prove camping and glamour can go hand in hand.
You’ll enjoy a peaceful sleep in the ready-pitched, semi-permanent tents which have rigid structures with wooden floors and – perhaps most importantly – proper beds. While there is no electricity, the oil lanterns and candles supplied make it feel splendidly rustic.
A short walk away down pretty lanes takes you to the farmyard, where barns have been converted into shower rooms and a farm shop. Yves used to make the famous local cheese Pont-l’Évêque, but now his organic dairy farm is home to a herd of Normandy cows. Visitors can help with the milking and learn and take a tour of the farm.
The campsite’s position overlooking the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel makes it all the more special. Don’t miss the chance to accompany Sylvie on walking tours across the bay to the famous abbey.
All this contributes to a camping trip that will live long in the memory – for all the right reasons.
La Ferme de la Moricière, 50350 Sartilly
Tel: 01420 80804
A four-night midweek stay in a tent which sleeps six (maximum five adults) costs from €249. Open April to October.
Pic du Midi de Bigorre, Pyrénées
It was on the last cable car up from the ski-resort of La Mongie in the central Pyrénées that I ascended alone to the summit of the Pic du Midi (2877-metres) and it was on the second leg of the journey across the snowy void of the Coum de Pic that I saw the mountain close-up for the first time.
Encased in snow and ice for much of the year, fortified with rocky cliffs and bristling with observatory domes and satellite dishes it resembled a James Bond villain’s lair.
The welcome however was a warm one that included a glass of champagne. I had arrived just in time to explore the visitor centre and take in the view over the snow-capped Pyrénées as the sun was setting.
In addition to the great thrill of spending a night at almost 3000-metres, I would have access to the 450mm telescope, an astronomer on hand to assist and hopefully an unrivalled view of the night sky.
Before dark I enjoyed a meal of local specialities but not too much wine. Afterwards I was given a tour of the observatories that had assisted with the first moon landing and then it was off to bed. I was free to get up at any point to view the night sky.
In my small simply furnished double room I looked out through the triple glazed windows at the blizzard buffeting the peak. There would be no night sky for me but in the high mountain weather I felt as intrepid as a polar explorer and I would emerge the next morning to several more centimetres of crisp snow.
Rue Lamy de la Chapelle, 65200 La Mongie
Single from €299. Double from €399 including cable car, dinner, bed and breakfast, guide, access to a telescope and a glass of champagne. Talks and tours in French - some literature in English.
Camping de la Plage, Algajola, Corsica
Both in length, and for the spellbinding beauty of its beaches, Corsica’s coastline rivals the Balearics. Yet the Mediterranean’s fourth-largest island receives just a fifth of the visitors. Thank your lucky stars.
Honey-hued Algajola Plage, a 20-minute direct train ride east of Calvi, is a case in point. This three-mile stretch of sand is studded with a handful of inexpensive beach bars, ideal for sipping a chilled Pietra chestnut beer at sunset. Two minutes’ stroll to the south sits the aptly named Camping de la Plage. Pitch a tent under the campsite’s lofty pines and fragrant eucalyptus trees. Then spend the cash you saved on a rôtisserie chicken from the camp shop, or order up a pizza from the restaurant’s wood-fired oven. Bungalows and family-sized chalets are also available too.
Camping de la Plage
Algajola, Northern Corsica
Tel: 04 95 60 71 76, www.camping-de-la-plage-en-balagne.com
Camping from €3.60 per tent, €6.90 per adult.
Bungalows from €47/night, chalets from €51/night.
Hôtel Normandy Barrière, Deauville
Film stars stay at the Hôtel Normandy in Deauville. It is probably because of the hotel that the annual American film festival is so successful in attracting big names. Inside, there’s a whole wall devoted to mug shots of the famous folk who have stayed here and for a night at least you too can live like a film star and, if you are lucky, rub shoulders with them.
Built in 1913 it is a belle-époque marvel that had to wait for the roaring twenties before it entered its heyday and since then film stars, magnates and fashion icons have flocked to it.
It is no surprise then that the hotel embraces fantasy. From the outside it is a bucolic half-timbered Norman farmhouse on a palatial scale. The roofs are steep and sweeping and there are dormer windows, wooden balconies, logia and stain glass windows. The chequerboard walls and pale green timbers have the same childish appeal as a colourful book of fairy tales.
Inside, a timeless formality says that this is primarily a world for grown-ups. Chandeliers light the double-height and wood-panelled reception hall and despite its size it has the intimate atmosphere of an exclusive members’ club. The prized seat is by the log fire by the American bar.
Gliding out of the corners to hold open doors, carry bags and fetch drinks is a cadre of uniformed staff.
Of course a hotel of this quality has a pool, gym and spa but you’d really have to sweat to compensate for the banquet breakfast or the weekend champagne brunch held in the grand belle-époque restaurant.
Grand stairways and long silent corridors lead to distant bedrooms. The bedrooms are spacious, the furniture classic, the wall coverings linen and the bathrooms in marble.
It is so perfect it could be itself a film set where for one night only you have a starring role.
38 Rue Jean Mermoz
Tel: (Fr) 2 31 98 66 22
Doubles from €221 includes spa access. Buffet breakfast €33, champagne brunch €80 (including drinks).
La Ferme du Mont Lassois, Vix
Only chance could bring you to the door of the Ferme du Mont Lassois in the ancient hamlet of Vix in Burgundy. Right by the youthful Seine and surrounded by rolling hills clad in vines it is far from the beaten track.
At the heart of this working farm is Madame Thuret’s cheerful kitchen where she warmly welcomes all her guests with a cup of coffee and chat. Farmhouse charm and all round cheerfulness extends to the three bedrooms. The largest room overlooks the garden, the Seine and the farmyard is more than big enough to accommodate a family.
2 Allées des Romains
21400 VIX Châtillonnais en Bourgogne
Tel: (Fr) 3 80 81 99 14
Double with breakfast from €65.
Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux
The Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux sits on the city’s Place de la Comedie opposite the opera house. Outwardly it has a neo-classical façade, a voiturier and a doorman. It impresses, intimidates and piques curiosity in equal measure; you’d stay here if you were in town to buy a vineyard and wanted to be taken seriously. You’d stay here if you really wanted to make a visit to Bordeaux really special.
For me, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had always skulked past desperate for a look inside. It is seriously posh and one thing I did know was not to hang onto my suitcase as I might in Blackpool guest house and I placed myself in their capable hands.
The receptionist, in the grand colonnaded entrance hall that leads to the stain glass roofed orangerie, was full of finely judged bonhomie, and the concierge was full of advice for my stay. I was in danger of getting a crick in my neck gawping at the opulent surroundings.
The bedroom designer had a royal palace in mind. The furniture was most probably inspired by one of the king Louis’ and the bed was swelling with bolsters, blankets and pillows. The television was huge and the art work in keeping. I felt that in some secret suite a very important guest just had to be lurking.
Staying here gave me access. I was shown to the roof garden for the incredible view of Bordeaux’s leaden rooftops and spires. I got to wallow in the Roman styled pool, which surrounded by columns in red and black feels faintly naughty.
In the Orangerie I sat in the luxurious green chairs and supped on a ludicrously expensive cocktail among the satin and the sashes knowing that I could not be thrown out.
Hopefully it was only at breakfast that I was conspicuous for every habit is catered for and I adopted every habit. From crêpes to smoked fish and the full English I would have to have stayed another night to do it justice.
Place de la Comédie, 33000 Bordeaux
Tel: (Fr) 5 57 30 44 44
Doubles from €248, buffet breakfast €38 per person.
Villa Cheminée, Loire-Atlantique
Is the Villa Cheminee the most unusual place to stay in all France? A little house with pale blue shutters on top of red and white chimney and right next door to a coal fired power station on the banks of the Loire between Nantes and Saint Nazaire it certainly is unique. And it is one of the most sought after nights in France.
When Tatzu Nishi, a Japanese artist first conceived of the Villa Cheminée as part of the Estuaire arts festival he set out to create a visual shock but ultimately one with a sense of humour.
Entering though the big steel door in its base it all feels very industrial. Within the concrete space ringing with every footstep on the steel stairway it is a very eerie ascent.
Eventually you emerge into the open once again onto a panoramic walkway 15-metres from the ground and following all the way round reveals a views across the extensive reed beds teeming with bird life and downstream towards Saint Nazaire and the mouth of the Loire. Upstream is the power station with its three red and white chimneys and then the realisation hits that these were Nishi’s inspiration.
It is then one more flight. This is the kind of house that a Beatrix Potter character would live in. Small but perfectly formed it has its own little garden of artificial grass, an old world street lamp, a birch tree and garden furniture for two. Binoculars are on hand for bird watching and monitoring river traffic.
Inside the chimney top cottage is cosy. The small kitchen is very well equipped and perfect for preparing a romantic dinner and there is a wood stove to help create that special romantic fug. There is also a small shower room and the simply furnished bedroom is upstairs.
It might be a hard to sell a romantic night on top of a chimney next to a power station but it is worth the gamble. The Villa Cheminée is so unusual it makes everyone smile.
Le Grand Quartier
Tel: (Fr) 8 92 46 40 44
From 95€ per night including breakfast.