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Luxury reclaimed

Luxury reclaimed

15 Oct 2013 BY Tim Wells

If you find yourself travelling back from one of Dominique’s villas in Provence, or on the Côte d’Azur, or maybe from one of our grander properties in the southeast, and are passing by Lyon, and simply MUST have a bit more luxury, then you could do absolutely no better than to spend a night or two at the Château de Bagnols, regarded by many as the “finest vineyard château hotel in the world”, and five-star accommodation by anyone’s standards.

The château represents one of the world’s most ambitious and detailed renovation projects. Originally built between 1217 and 1221 by Guichard d’Oingt, and converted from a war fortress to a more welcoming private residence by Geoffroy de Balzac, chamberlain to Charles VIII, in the late 15th century, the Château de Bagnols was rediscovered in 1987 by Lady Helen Hamlyn, the wife of publishing tycoon Paul Hamlyn. It was in a lamentable state, totally derelict and crumbling: parts had even been dynamited by a previous owner looking for Nazi loot! Lady Hamlyn fell in love with the place and saw its potential to reclaim its former grandeur. The restoration took four years, at a cost of £10 million. Four hundred specialist builders and artisans were employed; most of them were veterans with years of experience restoring churches for the national Monuments Historiques. Their established and time-proven skills were called upon to the utmost at the château; beautiful original Renaissance murals and ceiling paintings had to be excavated from underneath wood panelling and 19th century wallpaper. There was red tape as well to be hacked through: the Monuments Historiques tried to halt the restoration, not believing the inner layers of artwork existed. But Lady Hamlyn’s vision prevailed, and the murals finally came into view once more, their original vivid colours faded into beautiful muted tones by the sunlight of past centuries.

With restored leaded-glass windows offering views from the Middle Ages, antique fabrics used where the original had long perished, and sublime antique furnishings from Lady Hamlyn’s own private collection, the Château de Bagnols finally opened as a luxury hotel in 1992, with Lady Hamlyn as proprietress, having meanwhile been made into a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. Its 21 rooms and suites are all eloquent with history and individually furnished with the highest quality antiques: four-poster beds, marble baths, authentic draperies, silver water tumblers at bedside. Some of the suites have salons set high in the château’s turrets, offering lovely views over the peaceful Beaujolais countryside. A walk around the grounds is a delight: with the towers, the moat with its dramatic drawbridge, the formal gardens, and the walls built in radiant golden stone – pierre dorée.

Of course the facilities for guests offered at the Château are also de luxe. The gastronomic restaurant Salle des Gardes, which boasts one of the France’s largest Gothic fireplaces, built to honour a visit of Charles VIII in 1490, offers a delightful menu including spit-roasted game and meats, as well as modern specialities. The wine list runs to 29 pages, and of course features the regional Beaujolais Grands Crus, including fine Fleurie, Morgon, and Brouilly vintages. The library offers internet access; luxury chauffered cars are available to hire for touring or transfers. Golf, an outdoor heated pool, mountain bikes, quad bikes, horse riding, fishing, sailing, waterskiing, canoeing, carriage tours, wine tasting and cellar visits, cookery courses – there is something here for everyone. Smoking is even allowed – “on request”. So even if you are not among the Château’s A-list clientèle – which includes the world’s highest-paid, if not the tallest, film actor, and a current very high-level US politician and her ex-President husband, you can splash out and get a good taste of how the other half lives, and has lived for centuries.

www.chateaudebagnols.co.uk

The Château de Bagnols are kindly offering our readers complimentary room upgrade (upon availability on arrival) for any stay of two nights or more spent at the hotel. If you are interested in the offer please email us.

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