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Ten of the Best Hotels in France that You Haven't Heard Of (Yet)
When attempting to narrow down a list of the best hotels in France, we’re reminded that La Belle France is a world unto itself.
So, instead of discerning the differences amongst the dozen palace hotels in Paris, trying to choose amongst storied favorites along the French Riviera, or cherry-picking the most charming countryside estates in Provence, we’re going off script. In this roundup, we’re compiling a list of some of the best hotels in France that you may not have heard of (yet, that is). In this edition of #smartflyertakemeto, we’re bringing you back to beloved wine regions like Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, plus making some stops in Marseille and Île de Ré for the ultimate maritime vibes. So, get yourself a glass of something French – we’d opt for a Chablis, but a Sancerre will do just fine – and travel with us through the lesser visited corners of this diverse country.
For the history buff, few places in France have as strong of a pull as Normandy. The region is known for its hundreds of miles of beaches, including the shores where the D-D landings took place during WWII and the ever-impressionable Mont-Saint-Michel. Normandy draws millions of visitors each year, many of whom explore the tapestry museum at Bayeux before going onwards to Omaha Beach, the site of the American D-Day landings. But northern France offers so much more beyond its coastline. For our foodies out there, remember that camembert cheese hails from the region, plus, the home to Breton butter is Normandy’s neighbor to the west in Brittany, meaning you will most certainly have to indulge in the salty goodness while visiting.
Each room has a garden view where you can admire the bucolic Normandy landscape before heading down to dinner where you will be served dishes from the on-property garden.
When it comes to where to stay in Normandy, clients have long loved Château La Chenevière, a revitalized 18th-century chateau with impressive history contained in its very own walls: before being restored in 1988, it had been occupied by the Germans during WWII and then the Americans after the D-Day landings. Today, the grounds are made up of gorgeous gardens, an apiary, an outdoor heated pool, and a tennis court. Inside, guests will be delighted to find a style that evokes an English country house with French décor; rooms are outfitted in soft pastel colors ensuring that while fresh, the accommodations evoke a period splendor. Each room has a garden view where you can admire the bucolic Normandy landscape before heading down to dinner where you will be served dishes from the on-property garden. Following your meal, relax with a digestif at their bar which boasts a speakeasy twist.
Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa
Thanks to a monk, Dom Perignon, the process of making sparkling wine dates back to the late 1600s. And while you may have had many varieties of the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes turned into the bubbly stuff, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can technically be called by the name, thanks to the 1891 Treaty of Madrid. With this history in mind, a visit to the Champagne region of France becomes all the more alluring, if not just for the delicious drinks and sought-after cellars than for its short hour-and-a-half distance from Charles de Gaulle Airport and two-hour distance from the city center of Paris. For those seeking one of the best hotels in France, The Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa beckons as your home base to explore Epernay, Reims, and Champillon.
A stay here begins by settling into your suite (we love the Royal Junior Suite or Josephine Suite for the best view) overlooking the rolling hills and vineyards. For those who prioritize relaxation while traveling, sneak away to the spa for Biologique Reserche treatments. The “Coeur de Vigne” or “Heart of Wine” treatment entails a customizable ten hours of facials, massages, and of course, champagne along the way that is sure to impress even the most discerning wellness enthusiasts. Sprinkle in visits to nearby champagne cellars booked by the Champagne Concierge, alongside activities like summer picnics prepared by Royal Champagne, e-bikes from the hotel, horseback riding, or even a hot air balloon ride. Close out your evening with a meal in Le Royal, the Michelin-starred restaurant on property which acts as a love letter to the women in Napoleon’s life with portraits and letters under a gold patinaed ceiling.
To wind through the Loire Valley – whether by car or preferably, by bicycle – is to be transformed into the main character of your very own French romance novel. If you need a rec for a book that makes this storyline manifest, we suggest checking out A Perfect Vintage by Chelsea Fagan. Here, you’ll find castles that became the model for fairytales and comics alike, including Château de Blois, Cheverny, Chenonceau, and Chambord. Positioned perfectly in between Chambord and Chenonceau and only a ten-minute bike ride from Cheverny, Les Sources de Cheverny is your emblematic French chateaux stay.
Relax and recharge at its Caudalie spa, complete with treatments that use family-owned vinotherapy products like a Merlot scrub with crushed Cabernet or a facial with premier cru anti-aging creams.
Owned by Alice and Jérôme Tourbier, the husband-and-wife duo behind the ever-popular Les Sources de Caudalie in Bordeaux, this Small Hotels of the World sister property is equally thoughtful. With just twenty-six rooms and twenty-three suites, Les Sources de Cheverny makes our list of one of the best hotels in France for its ability to bring the calm aesthetic of the outdoors, indoors. Relax and recharge at its Caudalie spa, complete with treatments that use family-owned vinotherapy products like a Merlot scrub with crushed Cabernet or a facial with premier cru anti-aging creams. End the evening with a soak in the outdoor pool extending into the forest before retiring back to the castle walls for dinner at Le Favori. This gastronomic restaurant opens onto the natural landscape as your backdrop for Chef Frédéric Calmels to serve cuisine that respects the wild lands of the Loire.
La Maison d’Estournel
World-famous for its wines, Bordeaux needs no introduction. But what does it look like to actually plan a hotel stay in the region? Besides the obvious and nearly-obligatory daily wine tastings, a stint in Western France can mean a whole lot of R&R. Imagine golf, fishing, bicycle excursions through vineyards, and picnics amongst the vines with provisions pouring out of a wicker basket provided by your hotel. When it comes to where to stay to fully immerse yourself in the region, we love getting a bit out of the city center for a laid-back country retreat. For fans of La Réserve Hotel & Spa’s outposts in Paris, Ramatuelle, Zurich, or Geneva prepare to fall in love with yet another Michel Reybier – the discreet owner behind numerous hotels we adore, including hotels in London and Zermatt – Hospitality project.
Much like La Réserve, you can expect to feel like you’re in a private residence thanks to the property’s library, vegetable garden, and kitchen pantry where guests are encouraged to graze.
Once the private residence of Louis-Gaspard d’Estournel, an 18th-century vinter, La Maison d’Estournel is located a few short minutes’ drive from the world-famous Chateau Lafite Rothschild. There are an exclusive fourteen guestrooms spread across two floors, each offering views of the five-acre estate. Much like La Réserve, you can expect to feel like you’re in a private residence thanks to the property’s library, vegetable garden, and kitchen pantry where guests are encouraged to graze. This summer, the unveiling of a pool and fitness makes the property even more sought-after. For guests seeking something even more private, Michel Reybier’s private family home, Cos d’Estournel, is available on a buyout basis; boasting eight bedrooms, high-touch service, and direct access to the winery, La Chartreuse de Cos d’Estournel, it makes for a truly exclusive, and for many, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa
While there’s certainly no shortage of spirits across France, few cities are as dedicated as Cognac. Located about an hour and a half from Bordeaux between Angouleme and Saintes, a trip to this region of France offers both visits to traditional Cognac distilleries as well as the discovery of the city’s historical center. For fans of brandy, meander to Martell, Courvoisier, or Hennessy for a tour diving into the production process and of course, a tasting. We particularly love a visit to Maison Martell so that you can wind up on its rooftop for views of the entire city, positioned along the idyllic Charente River.
When it comes to where to stay in Cognac if your criteria is one of the best hotels in France, Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa beckons. Conceived as a reimagined industrial site, “chais” (which means warehouse in French) is a nod to the ancestral cellars on which the property was built. The five-acre estate shows off a contemporary design by architect Didier Poignant who worked to infuse the property into a haven where guests never need to leave. Whether you’re recovering from an influx of Cognac tasted at one of the two bars on-site, or just need to relax, there is a spa with an indoor-outdoor pool, sauna, steam room, gym, and extensive spa. For a refined dinner, Les Foudres offers guests innovative cuisine set against a backdrop of ancient Cognac barrels.
Domaine des Etang
For the discerning traveler who wants to immerse themselves into the depths of the French countryside, head one hour east of Cognac into the Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Nestled deep in the Charente countryside lies the tiny commune of Massignac. Haven’t heard of it? That’s kind of the point. Your destination is less so the town (because we’ll be honest, there’s not a ton going on here) but instead, one of the best hotels in France – backed by its numerous Condé Nast Traveler awards. Only the most keyed-in know about Domaine des Etang, and now, you’re one of them. Winding up to its entrance, you’ll come to understand why being clued in on this secret spot feels like access to a members-only club.
This restored 13th-century château is complete with contemporary art, six farmhouse cottages, Gallo-Roman baths, two swimming pools, a floating tennis court, and a stellar restaurant.
Brought into the Auberge Resorts Collection family in 2023, fresh life is being breathed into Domaine des Etang after its long reign as a haven for privacy and family fun. This restored 13th-century château is complete with contemporary art, six farmhouse cottages, Gallo-Roman baths, two swimming pools, a floating tennis court, and a stellar restaurant. But that’s not to say you’ll be confined to the grounds of the hotel alone; families who appreciate the great outdoors are sure to relish the chance to fish, boat, hike, bike, zipline, and, picnic by a lily-pad-filled pond. Wellness junkies can look forward to practicing outdoor yoga or booking a spa treatment in the converted old mill. For dinner, enjoy cuisine from the hyper locally-sourced menu of Dyades.
Les Bords de Mer
In the interest of efficiency, we couldn’t recommend a hotel in Marseille without addressing that this seaside town has gotten a bad rap. In terms of the glitzy Côte d’Azur, with star-studded Cannes and the influencer haven that is St. Tropez, Marseille is sort of like that hipster friend who beats to their own drum. But we aren’t the first to declare that this city is having a Rennaissance of its own Meditteranean right; from French Vogue to Travel + Leisure, the buzz is that this gritty city is having a comeback.
Les Bords de Mer translates to mean “the seaside,” and it’s this simplicity that is at the heart of this nineteen-room boutique hotel from Les Domaines de Fontenille collection. With an extraordinary panoramic sea view, the hotel is just a five-minute walk from Vieux-Port, and you’ll be perfectly positioned to soak up the best of Southern France’s charms. Despite its location, Les Bords de Mer doesn’t feel like a city hotel, but instead a real experience thanks to its Susanne Kaufmann Spa, heated rooftop swimming pool, rooftop bar, and restaurant open on the sea. The style here is light and breezy; those who have contemporary taste will appreciate the design. Don’t miss out on a boat trip to the famouscalanquesfor the ultimate seaside immersion.
Île de Ré has been deemed the “French island par excellence where the Parisians go on holiday” thanks to its easy connectivity to the capital city.
Akin to Martha’s Vineyard for its salt marshes, dunes, and natural beaches flanked by pine trees, Île de Ré exudes an undeniable allure. While it’s an island long beloved by Brits and bien sûr the French, Île de Ré remains relatively untapped by the American market. So, if you’re the type of traveler who enjoys destinations frequented by Europeans, look no further than this laid-back island. Located just beyond the charming town of La Rochelle, Île de Ré has been deemed the “French island par excellence where the Parisians go on holiday” thanks to its easy connectivity to the capital city. For those coming from Paris, enjoy a scenic two-and-a-half hour TGV train followed by a forty-minute drive over the bridge connecting the island to the mainland.
Upon arrival to the main village, check into one of the best hotels in France (in our humble opinion) for those seeking an unpretentious boutique option, Villa Clarisse & Spa. Much like the island itself, the hotel lets its history shine as elements of the restored 18th-century mansion peek through more modern elements, like its former cloister opening onto a garden complete with a pool. Villa Clarisse is smartly outfitted with just nine accommodations, five of which are suites, each with a shower and tub. While your days on the island are sure to be full of bike rides, beach hangs, and long, lingering lunches in the middle of the bustling harbor, don’t miss a spa treatment at the property’s freshly opened wellness facility.
La Villa Calvi
Keeping with our boutique island hotel theme, we’re taking it all the way south to the French island of Corsica. Due to its close proximity to Italy (and having been ruled by the Republic of Genoa for half a millennium), the island of Corsica is a different breed of French seaside; it remains one of the Mediterranean’s best-kept secrets, attracting a much lower key crowd than St. Tropez or the neighboring island of Sardinia. The infusion of Italian culture into this French island ensures that your meals here will be a healthy balance of hearty and seafood-forward. Beyond its foodie offerings, the mountainous terrain, lush olive groves, and white sand beaches, Corsica ensures it lives up to its moniker: L’Île de Beauté, the Isle of Beauty.
When it comes to selecting your hotel, La Villa Calvi will call to those seeking a minimalist, sophisticated aesthetic. With only fifty-one guest rooms and four pools, each with a dedicated purpose – one for laps, one for swimming with kids, one infinity pool to enjoy the view, and another just to float about – you’ll have no shortage of space for R&R. Wellness enthusiasts will also relish in the spa with a Turkish bath, complemented by access to a private beach. As a Relais & Chateaux property, foodies can rest assured that their Michelin-starred outlet has you covered.
FRENCH RIVER CRUISING
Coquelicot, A Belmond Boat
On the off chance you haven’t been able to find enough bubbly in France, we have just the thing: a privatized barge experience guiding you from Champagne house to the next. And while it’s not a hotel in a traditional sense, Belmond’s newest river cruising vessel makes our list because it has all the amenities you’d expect – as well as some you wouldn’t – while allowing you to pass between different regions without ever having to unpack. Coquelicot is your key to seeing this world-famous region from a new perspective in a completely tailored format, from the stops you make to culinary customization. Your journey will cover Épernay, Mareuil-Sur-Aÿ, Châlons-En-Champagne, Condé-Sur-Marne, and Vaudemage before ending in Sillery. Cruising along the canals ensures a slow-motion journey into the very soul of the region complete with unique vantage points at each turn.
During your privileged access to cellars not open to the public, you’ll accompany your guide for a tour of the vineyard before indulging in a five-course lunch created by Ruinard’s private chef paired with specially selected vintages.
In addition to the Veuve Cliquot cellars, get ready for an exclusive day with Ruinart, the world’s oldest champagne house dating back to 1729. During your privileged access to cellars not open to the public, you’ll accompany your guide for a tour of the vineyard before indulging in a five-course lunch created by Ruinard’s private chef paired with specially selected vintages. After your adventures unfold in the vineyards and corresponding champagne cellars, each evening, you’ll return back to Coquelicot where you can truly unwind. While we could dedicate an entire diatribe to the design of Coquelicot’s three elegant cabins – each with marble ensuite facilities – the common spaces beckon you to share memories with your loved ones. Transition from the indoor salon and champagne bar to the top deck comprised of two seating areas, an open kitchen, and a shaded dining area where your chef will cook for you each evening based on your preferences.
Ready to work on planning your escape to la belle vie? Contact a SmartFlyer travel advisor to begin creating your custom itinerary.