Staying in a hotel that was built in the year 1217 is destined to be a singular experience. But nothing prepares you for the striking visit to the remarkable Château de Bagnols.
Set among Beaujolais vineyards in the hills above Lyon, the impressive stone façade of Château de Bagnols is more gracious than imposing. When you arrive, you feel a sense of history, but also one of vitality, and you quickly know it’s a place you want to be. In fact, it’s hard to believe your luck and, like many people, I was happy to arrive and reluctant to leave.
This a setting with grandeur, but one touched with warmth and inviting hospitality. The central courtyard of the castle has been sheltered by a glass roof, turning it into an immense conservatory filled with natural light. This is where you enjoy breakfast or lunch. The far wall has been converted into a long window onto the kitchen. This makes for wonderful theater and connects you with the people who are going to feed you very well during your stay. That would be the Michelin-starred restaurant, Le 1217. Dinner is served in a more formal dining room with a fireplace so large you could lie down in it. I had one terrific meal that felt classic and modern, elegant and not at all heavy. It began with a pair of delicate langoustine tails. It moved on to a perfectly seared duck. And it finished with a delightful rum soufflé. These recalled what is wonderful about French cuisine, yet felt new. The next night, I was going to head to town, but couldn’t break away from Le 1217 and returned again for fabulous filets of sea bream. That’s the effect it has on you.
The chateau’s suites and those in the garden buildings are regally proportioned and full of soft-colored stone. There are tapestries, period furniture, and secret passageways—you feel the pull of what an historic building can be. I opened my doors right onto a patio and the garden and could see the hillside in the distance. That garden, full of pathways and fruit trees and gracefully trimmed topiary, is the perfect place to stroll after a meal (and possibly enjoy an illicit cigar).
Historic hotels have a specific appeal—they simply are built with a grander sense of what’s possible. They would not make rooms that size or walls that high today. What we’ve gained in efficiency we’ve lost in magic and the capacity to overwhelm our senses. That understanding is what makes Chateau de Bagnols so magical. But it’s not as if they’ve forgotten pleasures of the modern age: There’s a wonderful spa and a saltwater pool, as well as a large outdoor pool for the summer months.
The property regained its impressive historical reputation with a four-year restoration process in the 1990s. What had been a nearly abandoned property is once again a showcase. That hard work is our gain. With the TGV to Lyon, this area is more accessible than ever. This is the perfect short trip from Paris. For those who love the French countryside and the gallantry of an historic chateau, you’ve found your destination.