24-Hour Room Service: Château La Chenevière Normandy
Saturday 22 March 2008
Heading up the tree-lined gravel driveway to La Chenevière, my first impression is of a very elegant and very formal French chateau hotel. But while this four-star property falls into both categories with poise, it certainly isn't formal to the point of being stuffy.
It could so easily feel that way, given the grandeur of the 18th-century building – all honey-hued façades, shuttered windows and immaculate lawns – but the staff are so friendly and eager to please, it would be hard not to relax and feel at home.
Any guest hoping to practise their French here will be disappointed, since most of the staff speak good English. This is largely because the hotel is popular with Americans visiting Omaha Beach, where the US forces landed on D-Day. The beach, and the American cemetery, are two minutes' drive away.
La Chenevière was originally a manor house and farm, owned by the Gosset family from the early-18th century, through both world wars, until 1988 when it was sold to the Dickers, who turned it into a hotel. It remains under the same ownership to this day and is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
La Chenevière, Commes, Port-en-Bessin, France (00 33 2 31 51 25 25; www.lacheneviere.com). The hotel is set in several acres of grounds just outside the pretty fishing town of Port-en-Bessin, and is only 10 minutes' drive from historic Bayeux, of tapestry fame. It's extremely easy to find – we drove door-to-door from the ferry at Cherbourg to the hotel, after dark, in under an hour.
Time from nearest ferry port/international airport: Caen is 27 miles away, a 45-minute drive from either the ferry port (with a link from Portsmouth) or the airport, which has flights from Shoreham in West Sussex.
There are 15 bedrooms in the main manor house, and 14 more in the converted stables and outbuildings surrounding a courtyard to the side of the chateau. In either type, you can expect a high level of comfort. Our courtyard room was contemporary in design, with vibrant, modern fabrics in contrasting textures and colours, and it had wooden flooring, mini-bar and flat-screen TV. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi bath with a dinner-plate-sized showerhead.
Meals are served in the elegant restaurant on the ground floor; the picture windows overlook five acres of parkland, full of mature evergreen trees and beds overflowing with flowers in summer. Dinner here is an experience not to be missed, with bookings strongly advised at weekends. The restaurant is lively, but not obtrusively so, with soft lighting and an open fire for cold winter evenings.
Looking around the room, it seemed that most of our fellow diners were either enjoying a romantic break or meeting up with family, and this helped to create a cheerful ambience.
With starters at €15-€38 (£11.50-£29.20) and mains around €45 (£34.60), the à la carte menu is expensive, but the seven-course Anemone menu at €50 (£37) is extremely good value. Normandy produce features heavily, as in roasted half pigeon with quince confit.
There are two bars for pre- or post-prandial drinks, the more unusual being the Zanzibar in the basement, decked out in safari colours and African wood carvings.
After a night or two of indulgence, you may want to work off the calories in the heated outdoor pool (May to October only), or on the tennis court.
Freebies: L'Occitane toiletries in the bathrooms.
Keeping in touch: Telephones and TVs in bedrooms, free Wi-Fi on the ground floor of the chateau, plus free internet access on a PC in the main lounge.
Standard double rooms start from €240 (£185), including breakfast.
I'm not paying that: Château de Bellefontaine (00 33 2 31 22 00 10; http//www.hotel-bellefontaine.com), just outside Bayeux, has double rooms starting at €90 (£69), room only.
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