Sometimes we just want to be one of the girls. But sometimes, a yearning sneaks in to live like a capital-‘L’ Lady—to step back into bygone days because you deserve pampering and charming manners and people to wait on you hand and foot. Here are three ways to feel like a lady in northern France.
The Manoir de St. Meleuc has Stories to Tell
The upside-down heart carved in the heavy dark wood around the door tells the romantic story of this 14th century French Chateau. Maybe the male genitals carved lower down on the door frame have some part in the story, too, but being proper ladies we won’t dwell on that. The Manoir de St. Meleuc’s history makes it a perfect stop on a Girlfriends Getaway in northern France.
The present owner of the manor, Brigitte Tschamper points out that the reversed heart means the Lord of the Manor’s wife did not live here. He built it for his mistress, here in Brittany, far from the French Court. Although Brittany is now a province of France, it was independent 700 years ago. The lord had to be in France most of the time attending on the King, and one might assume that his wife accompanied him to court.
If your group includes needlework fans and girlfriends who do artsy craftsy projects, they will enjoy talking to Brigitte about the needlepoint tapestries based on medieval designs that she stitches. She also makes the hand- monogrammed towels guests use.
When you live in a small castle, which is really what this is, you can devote some space to your hobby of sewing and crafts. Brigitte has a studio in one of the side buildings that encircle the central courtyard where she makes the collages that hang on the walls. Odds and ends of metal and wood tell stories of the history of the property, since most of the objects were found around the grounds. Antique lovers can have a field day guessing the provenance of the furniture, which also has stories–for instance the sink basin that is created from a butcher table that belonged to Brigitte’s husband’s great-great grandmother.
The bathrooms are modern, but the ceiling beams are 600 year-old originals in the huge main room. And medieval touches like a full set of armor in the entryway and meat hooks hanging from the ceiling of the dining room, combine with comfy beds and chairs, to make you just want to stay around and wait for a Knight to come riding in looking for his shining armor. Just in case the Knight gets busy, you’ll be able to check for messages with the free Wi-Fi.
Using St. Meleuc as a base, you can easily explore the ancient town of Dinard, one of the best preserved medieval towns of northern France. And of course you will not want to miss the mystical Mont St. Michel, built on a piece of land that is surrounded by the sea when the tide comes in. This UNESCO World Heritage Site deserves a full day. From the drive across the narrow isthmus with flocks of sheep crossing your path, to the climb up the winding streets to the top of the cluster of religious buildings, you’ll be snapping away with your camera at this perfectly picturesque site.
The Chateau de Locguénolé, a Ladylike Survivor
The family that owns the Chateau de Locguénolé traces its noble lineage through the maternal line to a Marquis and a Count. The present matron of the family lives next door to the 19th century manor that houses the hotel, in her 18th century manor that barely survived the French revolution and her son manages this property which is a member of Relais & Chateaux.
Entering down a tree-bordered lane, and relaxing with a cup of tea on the frayed brocade of period furniture, you get the urge to don lots of petticoats and perhaps play a tune on the piano forte. And then you retire to your room to dress for dinner. Tall ceilings, windows looking out on long stretches of lawn leading to an Atlantic inlet, the pastels of fashionable 19th century very wealthy homes, fireplaces and top grade linens. You could swear you are simply the guest of the lady of the house for one of her famous weekends in the country.
The hospitality is warm and relaxed. And I’ll wager that no 19th century manor could have served the unforgettable repast that you will be served in the fine dining restaurant with a Michelin 1-star chef on the lower floor of the chateau. After an amuse bouche that would be enough for dieters meal, I chose a crab salad: the crab–a melt-in-the-mouth piece of crab the size of my hand, a celery salad with minced crab and orange, and a crab cake flavored with whipped cheese. Then came the lamb stuffed with minced vegetables, and riced potatoes flavored with rosemary. For dessert, chocolate mousse, marscapone, candied nuts served on a circle of chocolate and caramel sauce.
But go ahead. Eat! Because you can walk miles on the paths through the property’s 250 acres of private woods and seafront. Strolling with a parasol through this picturesque property will put you in the right frame of mind for discussing hair-dos and the latest fashions from Paris.
And speaking of fashion, this coast is lined with fashionable resorts that drew ladies of the 18th century as well as the present day. Boat trips on the Morbihan Gulf, with stops at the islands are highly recommended for ladies( the benefits of sea air, you know.) Owner and manager Bruno de la Sabliere can talk knowledgeably about sailing, since he was formerly a professional sailor.
The nearby town of Pont-Aven once swarmed with Impressionist painters, and now its streets teem with art buyers at the many galleries and artist’s studios. Finally, if you want to go even further back in history, don’t miss the prehistoric megaliths lined up for an amazing 4 kilometers near the seaside resort of Carnac. If you want more vigorous activity than ladies of yore, play tennis or swim or rent a bicycle and pedal out across a causeway to Quiberon where fashionable shops carry treats like the must-have blue-striped white Brittany sweaters.
Domaine de la Bretesche, the Ultimate in Charm
Picture a turreted castle, surrounded by sweeping green lawns and a small forest—all reflected in the still waters of a pond. That is the picture that greets you when you drive down the entrance road to La Bretesche and leaves you feeling that you are Cinderella and the Prince has just knelt before you with a slipper.
Alas, like Cinderella, you will not be lodging inside that turreted castle at La Bretesche, another Relais & Chateaux property—which despite its ancient castle-shape was constructed in the 19th century, when fairy-tale castles were all the rage in Europe. But do not despair, a solid rectangular building with views of the castle, the pond and the woods now houses guests in a splendor that Cinderella probably never quite achieved in her drafty castle. The building was auxiliary to the castle/main dwelling but with its high fashion design, you’d never know that it was built for servants.
No two rooms have the same décor, so be sure you and your girlfriends check out each other’s rooms and try to guess what famous fashion designer may be responsible for the fabrics (The names include Rubelli, Kenzo, Manuel Canovas, Pierre Frey). And you certainly would not suspect that horses once occupied the brick-floored, oak lined ground floor bar—until you look closely and realize those cozy seating corners once were stalls.
If your idea of vacation includes swinging a stick at a little ball, you’ll be in heaven here. The award winning golf course wraps around the property, through the wild-looking, but actually carefully planned woods and gardens. For those who cannot bear to be too far from the game, the Manor rents apartments right beside the clubhouse. Newly renovated, these two-story apartments offer housekeeping arrangements.
The friendly staff will be happy to help you plan tours throughout the countryside and visits to the fashionable boutiques of La Baule and some serious beach time on the beautiful Cote d’Amor. And while there are nice little restaurants all around, you’ll want to indulge at least once at the Michelin 1-star Montaigu right here on the property. You know how special the property is when the friendly headwaiter joins you in the bar before dinner and reviews the menu with you so that the chef can get a head start on your meal. The restaurant here goes out of its way to feature native products grown locally in Brittany. And take home your new love of French cuisine by signing up for a cooking class with the Montaigu chef.
Rejuvenate with some treatments at the Cour Carrée, La Bretesche’ spa located in one of the steep-roofed stone buildings that surround a charming courtyard in the back of the main building.
Domaine de la Bretesche will charm and pamper you and make you feel like a Lady.
Vera Marie Badertscher travels when she can and when she is not traveling, she is reading and writing about travel, mostly at A Traveler’s Library. Her recent travels include promotion tours for a book she co-authored, Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist.