The 9th edition of Sawday’s Special Places to Stay: French Châteaux & Hotels hits bookshelves this week. Here’s a sneak peek of Alastair’s foreword.
Nobody can take the Frenchness out of France. Other countries may have been overwhelmed by outside interference, but France sticks to her guns.
Our publishing began with Alastair Sawday’s Guide to French Bed & Breakfast, displaying the sheer vitality of French culture, ways and style. We focused on farmhouses and rural areas, and I still think that rural France is a European treasure. Every visitor helps to keep people in their villages. The same is true of its hotels, many of them oases of economic dynamism.
It is fun to see France adapting to, and part-defining, this century. The bicycle is known in France, affectionately and perceptively, as La Petite Reine, and she is benignly running amok. You can now cycle the length of the Loire, all the way to the Atlantic. This is wonderful, and adds new perspectives for visitors. Paris was bike-friendly before most other cities, and you can pootle about everywhere on hired bikes. These things make a difference.
The food scene is as alive as ever, despite criticisms – often valid – that fast food is intruding dangerously. Look for the symbol ‘Maître Restaurateur’ at the door of a restaurant, awarded to restaurants that make everything from scratch. If we all avoid fast food it will surely wither.
An interesting new seduction is the glut of antiques for sale in flea-markets and auction houses. The weak euro is also good for most other things, such as these hotels themselves. Have a look at L’Hôtel, once the Paris home of Oscar Wilde, and the Hotel de la Paix in Montparnasse. We have châteaux galore, in many of which I would happily spend my last days. There is a heated pool carved into the rock at Demeure de Vignole – utterly bizarre, and irresistible.
These hotels need us, for they are being throttled by the big booking companies; and we need them, for we, too, are being throttled by the internet, the media and the frenzy of life. Leaf through these pages and then dive in; there is everything to gain.
Plan your next trip across the channel with our French Châteaux & Hotels collection.