Le Relais de Chambord: The hotel in the shadow of a masterpiece

A new hotel opens on the grounds of the Châteax de Chambord, allowing visitors to bask in the glory of the French Renaissance castle. John Goodall reports.

It would be invidious to claim one particular building as the greatest of the Loire chateaux, but Chambord must be in the running for the title. This year a new hotel has opened in the shadow of this extraordinary building: Le Relais de Chambord. It’s part of a collaboration between the French government, the hotel group Marugal and the entrepreneur Frédéric Jousset. The intention has been to create something comfortable and attractive at a reasonable price in an historically important setting, a French equivalent to Spain’s Paradors.

The new hotel has been designed by the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and incorporates the remains of what were once the kennels of the adjacent palace. The building had previously been the home of a two-star hotel that closed in 2015. The bedrooms are small but comfortable and stylishly designed with large-scale photographs of the chateau incorporated in the bed-heads. The bathrooms have black and white tile patterns that evoke the remarkable slate decoration laid within the stonework of the building. There is a spa and a restaurant but the hotel also enjoys the amenities of the chateau. During my visit this included a market and a huge antiques fair.

Food and Drink

The restaurant in the hotel faces towards the castle across a terrace (where a marquee, which takes advantage of the view, has been erected). My visit fell the day before a public holiday and all the tables were full until 9.30pm, which suggests interest and enthusiasm for the new restaurant. There was a good selection of French cooking with a la carte and set menus. The food was good and without pretension and there was a selection of wines to match, including, of course, those from the Loire region. 

Recommended videos for you

Things to do

The chief attraction of Chambord must be the chateau. Built by Francis I as a hunting lodge, it’s a vast creation that derives architectural drama from an extraordinary roofscape of turrets, chimneys and a central spire. Internally, the floors are connected by a centrally placed double-helix stair of huge proportions that is (wishfully) attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. It carries visitors to the roof with superb views over the gardens and the demesne. There are displays and exhibitions in the chateau itself.

Parts of the demesne are run as a nature reserve and there are now many public paths through and around it. As well as walking, it’s possible to hire bicycles and electric buggies to explore the demesne. There is also boat hire if you fancy the opportunity to travel along the canalised river.

The area is extraordinarily rich in things to visit. Of particular fame, of course, are the chateaux of the region, many of them open to the public in the visitor season. Some host special events, such as the Festival of Gardens at Chaumont sur Loire. There are also delightful towns such as Blois with another chateau and the fine former monastic church of St Nicholas.

Stays at Le Relais de Chambord from 165€ per room, per night based on two sharing a Standard Double, on a B&B basis. http://relaisdechambord.com/; +33 (0)2 54 81 01 01

Plumpton Rocks, Harrogate: Heaven on earth

Recent restoration work has helped re-create a celebrated landscape garden crafted in the late 18th century around a dramatic gritstone