‘Imagine How It Feels To Stay In A Real Middle Ages Castle’
Is it very grown up to talk about fairy tales and fantasy movies? I suppose it’s probably not, but then don’t they say ‘don’t grow up, it’s a trap’?! Perhaps one of the reasons we love to travel is to find the adult answer to fairy tales and fantasy movies.
Here I have a confession to make, my trip to the Beaujolais region of France was largely inspired by my fond childhood memories of fairy tales. Rapunzel in her tall tower, Sleeping Beauty in her castle, and by movies like ‘Ladyhawke’ – the most fascinating Dark-Age fantasy film if you ask me. And on a lighter side, the laughter I shared with my Parisian homestay family from watching a 12th-century Gallic knight and his manservant been mistakenly transported to 1993 due to a wizard’s spell gone wrong… Remember ‘Les Visiteurs’?
The final inspiration took hold while reading Great Escapes – Europe which introduces the best holiday hideaways. Country retreats, magnificent castles; the most stylish hotels… Page after page of beautiful resorts but there was one that especially stood out for me, a 13th-century French castle, the Château de Bagnols. A little voice started in my head, ‘imagine how it feels to stay in a real Middle Ages castle’! The seed of an idea, a dream finally blossomed, I took action and booked that flight to make my very own medieval fantasy a reality.
So let me introduce you to the Château…
1217, The Founding Of Château De Bagnols
Built from the famous local Pierre Dorée (Golden Stones), replete with drawbridge and moat; the honey-coloured Château de Bagnols stands on a high vantage point in the picturesque Beaujolais countryside. Constructed between 1217 and 1221 by Guichard d’Oingt, a powerful Lord of the region; the Château has since its founding been remodelled and improved by subsequent owners who, included Geoffroy de Balzac, chamberlain to the French King Charles VIII.
In 2017, Château de Bagnols celebrated its 800 years of history. It is classified as one of the Historic Monuments of France.
From A 13th-Century Château To A 21st-Century Finest Castle Hotel
However, the past eight centuries took their toll, and it was not all roses for the Château…
After the Second World War, the condition of the main building was critical. The castle was abandoned and slowly decaying. The owner then was a large aristocratic family, the Bouchoux-Chavannes, who only occupying the rooms on the ground floor in the West wing during the summer. The property changed hands in 1980. Mr. Roche bought the Château, and seven years later he sold it to British publisher and philanthropists Lord Paul and Lady Helen Hamlyn.
This Lord and in particular his Lady were to be the Château’s saving graces…
When Lady Hamlyn first took over, she described the Château as being ‘in the most appalling condition’ with collapsing roofs, cracking walls; rainwater cascading inside the building and ‘the moat was a muddy ditch’… With a passion for restoring historical properties and a love of the Beaujolais region, Lady Hamlyn’s ambitious and detailed restoration project astonishingly took only 4 years. It required 400 specialist builders and craftsmen who worked day and night to return the Château to its golden glory. Then in 1992, Château de Bagnols was opened as a private hotel with Lady Hamlyn at the helm. ‘We’d always intended it to be a hotel. We didn’t want another home for us.’ And it has been on the Best Hotels in the World list ever since it opened.
There is a marvellously unpretentious photo album in the reception room, original pictures documenting the restoration. Kent and I saw page after page, photographic evidence of the refurbishment and the huge amount of work done to save this historic beauty. What Lady Hamlyn has achieved is truly extraordinary!
The current owner of the Château is Lyon’s very own entrepreneur, hotelier Jean-Claude Lavorel. It is he who improved the inner courtyard by installing a modern glazed roof. This maintains the light and the openness of the space, making it available in all weather conditions. Since Mr. Lavorel took over in 2012, he has also added 6 new contemporary suites, a luxury spa including an indoor pool and gym in the equally historic outer buildings; making Château de Bagnols a 5-star Relais & Châteaux castle hotel and spa.
Fulfilling A Medieval Fantasy And Experiencing Rural Escape
Kent and I travelled all the way from down under to the Southeast of France, to follow my fairy tale fantasy. Has Château de Bagnols fulfilled my medieval dream? Yes! The answer was firmly and clearly confirmed the moment we crossed a drawbridge over a grassy moat. ‘You can’t get more medieval than this!’ I thought. Not to mention the fortified towers and those cruciform arrowslits and loopholes.
Inside this large ancient castle, we saw stunning Renaissance murals, Gothic fireplaces; exposed wooden beams, and curiously, in the bathrooms, cunningly hidden throne toilets boxes. Lady Hamlyn managed to maintain the architectural integrity of the castle, thanks to her vision ‘to take the building back as far as we could.’
It took a few days to get used to our ‘Château life’. Looking out from the window of the Grand Salon, the gorgeous landscaped gardens and further, the breathtaking rolling green hills of Beaujolais. A view virtually unchanged in hundreds of years! Stepping out of the Château, (one steps into Bagnols, literally) a tiny charming village, and as with other nearby 15th-century villages such as Oingt and Le Bois-d’Oingt; built from the region’s well-known golden stones. It really is like going back in time! During our daily walks in Bagnols, Kent and I did not see any 7-Eleven, McDonald’s nor even a souvenir store. What we did find, a church, lovely old buildings; vineyards, a donkey and several geese in a paddock… This is a real rural escape.
Modern Comfort In Majestic Grandeur
The four splendid Suite Château Superior suites we stayed in, all have unique names – Aux Bouquets, Madame de Sévigné; Dame Charrier de la Roche and Gaspard Dugué, each is lavish in its own way. The walls and ceilings reveal beyond-beautiful frescoes dating from the 15th to 18th-century – keep those much earlier makeovers in mind. In Suite Aux Bouquets, there’s a gorgeous four-poster canopy bed draped with antique golden yellow damask – very regal! Our mattresses were ultra comfortable and the sheets of finest linen.
The living rooms in Suite Château Superior are truly generous in size. So large (the suite is up to 75 m2) that you hardly even notice the existence of a flat-panel TV, minibar or the pod coffee machine. When I asked Kent what was his most impressive Château experience, his answer: ‘The spaciousness of the rooms and its openness!’ Indeed this is true luxury, especially for those of us who are used to living in small apartments in big cities. The Gothic fireplaces work, but as we were there in June we made do using one as our photoshoot backdrop. Wi-Fi is available, both indoor and outdoor, but not as fast as we had experienced at some of the hotels in Paris.
For relaxation, head to the spa which is located in one of the large original outbuildings. This modern-meets-ancient spa has four dedicated massage rooms, an indoor pool; a gym, a wet and a dry sauna and a tea bar right next to yet another giant fireplace. Or alternatively, stroll through the orchard to the sunken round pool surrounded by mulberry trees and lounges. This secluded place is both tranquil and luxurious, reminding me of Helmut Newton’s exotic high fashion photos! It was one of my favourite outdoor spots at the Château.
Speaking of favourites. One of my very favourite kinds of pampering is taking a long hot bath, and hotel rooms with good bathtubs make a strong impression on me. Our Château Superior suites did not disappoint having big, deep marble bathtubs. It takes a little longer for the marble to warm up but once it heats up, it holds the heat very well. Matching the grandness of a marble bathroom, Hermès toiletries, the wooden commode which we christened the throne toilet (a bit blocky, surprisingly comfortable once you get used to it) and royal logo embellished bathrobes which I adored.
Michelin-Starred Gastronomic Restaurant – Le 1217
At the time we were staying; one of the jewels of Château de Bagnols, its one-Michelin-star gourmet restaurant, the 1217. That’s right, you heard this number earlier, it is the founding year of the Château and from where the restaurant takes its name.
There are three dining areas: the most formal with an ornately carved 15th-century walk-in fireplace filling one entire wall; Salle des Gardes is no doubt the most sumptuous choice. And there’s the covered inner courtyard, open mainly for breakfast, lunch and functions. Whereas Kent and I preferred dining on the terrace, well because it was summer, outdoor dining seems so enchanting, plus we loved watching nature’s theatre, the clouds the sunset and stars…
The 1217 proudly serves regional cuisine – contemporary style. If you love French cooking, this is heaven for you. Besides our daily breakfast, we enjoyed several dinners there. Frog Legs and Snails (with a Michelin-starred twist), Roasted Foie Gras; Pikeperch Fish Filet and Soufflé… Just to name a few of my most-enjoyed. The wine list is equally impressive, after all, ‘we are in the French wine region’! Kent and I asked for local wines and if you need advice regarding wine paring, the knowledgeable sommeliers are happy to help.
Chef Jean-Alexandre Ouaratta has been the starred chef behind the success of this gastronomic destination. As long stay guests, we often saw him preparing food through the arched glass-walled kitchen in the inner courtyard. We had brief chats with Chef Jean-Alexandre on several occasions; well if only our French was better… I remember the night when we had Kent’s birthday celebration dinner, at the end of our meal, Chef came out of the kitchen to greet the dinners, we all acknowledged his arrival in the dining area with applause.
True Gem In Every Level
This is my introduction to Château de Bagnols, first in a series detailing the suites, food; our experience of the surroundings, the spa and nearby villages. Travel tips and stories that I’m eager to share. When creating White Caviar Life I had in mind hotels that are a destination in their own right; I believe that I have found one in Château de Bagnols. It is a magnificent gem on every level. While I may have left the Château, the 12 amazing days, like a heaven on earth will stay with me always.
Where Is Château De Bagnols And How To Get There
Château de Bagnols is situated 36km north of Lyon. By car it takes about 40 minutes from Lyon city. In our case, Kent and I travelled from Lyon Airport (LYS), it is 64.8km away and it takes about an hour drive to get there. We had pre-organised a pick up arranged by the Château, the cost was €145 one way then. There are also some public transport options available.