6 exciting nature-based experiences at France’s palace-hotels

Tucked away in the heart of nature or nestled amid sights that will literally take your breath away, France’s rural palace-hotels can easily rival their counterparts in France’s cities and mountains for elegance and refinement. These bucolic retreats and tranquil havens of greenery provide the perfect backdrop to regale the senses and recharge your batteries. To make the most of the last few days of autumn, celebrate the return of spring, or enjoy the full beauty of summer, here is our selection of experiences to enjoy in six of the country’s rural palace-hotels: in Provence, on the French Riviera, in the foothills of the Alps, and close to the Arcachon basin, in the Bordeaux region.

Enjoy a picnic looking out towards Mont-Blanc at the Hôtel Royal Evian, in the French Alps

Situated in the heart of pristine and verdant nature alongside Lake Geneva and looking out across the Alps, the Hôtel Royal Evian is the perfect setting for relaxed contemplation or for experiencing this natural playground to the full. To get off on the right foot, start by exploring the hotel’s grounds featuring 600 trees, a rose garden, orchard, kitchen garden and a belvedere boasting a panoramic view of the lake, before heading out (with expert local advice from this rural palace-hotel’s dedicated Sports & Culture staff) on its surrounding mid-mountain hiking trails. Whatever your level of fitness, every guest can enjoy the region’s extraordinary UNESCO-listed Alpine heritage, including its famous Abondance cheese, with Mont-Blanc or Lake Geneva as a stunning backdrop.

Stay at the Hôtel Royal Evian (External link)

Awaken your senses through land art at Les Sources de Caudalie, near Bordeaux

Experience a close-up encounter with land art in the heart of nature, amid a landscape of vineyards and forests just 20 minutes from Bordeaux! In the midst of the Château Smith Haut Laffite, a grand cru classé estate, Les Sources de Caudalie invites guests to awaken all the senses as they explore its “fôret éveillée”– eight hectares of woodland that have become the perfect canvas for young contemporary artists, mainly from the Bordeaux area. Exposed to the elements and standing in complete harmony with nature, their works can be discovered along a marked path amid the forest’s light-dappled and shaded landscapes. Winding its way between trees, flowers, streams and vines, and providing an opportunity to listen to, touch, feel and taste its surrounding nature, this land art itinerary reserved exclusively for Les Sources de Caudalie’s guests contributes to the sense of wellbeing and energy instilled by this stunning rural palace-hotel.

Stay at Les Sources de Caudalie (External link)
(annual closure from 2 to 25 January 2023)

Learn how to paint… with red wine at the Villa La Coste, in Provence

Just a short drive from both Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, Château La Coste’s officially certified organic wines are produced in complete harmony with nature, in keeping with the elegant Villa La Coste, a rural palace-hotel nestled in the heart of the estate. Either before or after a visit to its wine cellar or a stroll along its art and architecture walk, what would you say to a somewhat unusual introduction to its silky and robust red wines? Rather than tasting them (in moderation, of course!), it is via a brush and watercolours that you will breath in their aromas to allow free rein to your artistic inspiration. An expert artist will guide you through this two-hour-long experience, by the end of which you will have learnt some basic painting techniques, before heading home with your very own grand cru work of art!

Stay at the Villa La Coste (External link)

Create herbal teas at Les Prés d’Eugénie, Maison Guérard, near the Basque Country

Nestled amid a valley in Gascony’s Les Landes region near the Basque Country, Les Prés d’Eugénie, Maison Guérard is a palace-hotel in a welcoming rural setting in the heart of nature. Amid a landscape of fairytale gardens (vegetable, rose, water and box), historic dwellings and buildings, and gastronomic restaurants, the hotel cultivates the art of simply being happy. To enjoy this quintessential experience of getting back to nature, there’s nothing like a botanical detox featuring vegetarian cuisine, classes in Chinese medicine, meditation, and guided tours of the hotel’s gardens. A chance to learn about the world of herbal medicine and how to make therapeutic herbal teas as part of workshops that also involve picking herbs and special tastings. Can you detect the gentle scent of lemon verbena, Les Prés d’Eugénie’s favourite aromatic plant?

Stay at the Hôtel Les Prés d’Eugénie, Maison Guérard (External link)
(annual closure from 2 January to 2 March 2023)

Gaze at the stars and Provence’s night sky at Les Airelles Gordes, La Bastide

Imagine an 18C property built in pure Provençal style overlooking the village of Gordes from its clifftop setting. Les Airelles Gordes, La Bastide is a palace-hotel unlike any other in the heart of nature, perched between the earth and the sky. From this extraordinary promontory, the landscapes of the Luberon reveal themselves in all their splendour during daylight and at night, when the stars seem almost within your grasp. Every summer, from July to September, the Jardins de la Bastide play host to an astronomer and telescope in order to observe the stars and planets in the night sky. And once you’re seated comfortably, your eyes will be treated to a scene of stunning astral beauty. These wonderful memories will then be immortalised thanks to the photos of the Provençal sky that will be taken specially for you as part of this extraordinary star-gazing experience!

Stay at Les Airelles Gordes, La Bastide (External link)
(Annual closure from 30 October 2022 to 27 April 2023)

Climb up to a balcony overlooking the Côte d’Azur with the Château Saint-Martin & Spa’s Michelin-starred chef

What a view! Perhaps the finest along the French Riviera. Standing proudly in the countryside inland from Nice, amid the hills of Vence and Saint-Paul de Vence, the former Templars’ castle converted into a rural palace-hotel boasts an XXL view extending from Saint-Tropez to Menton. But if your eyes are able to absorb even greater beauty why not head out with the Michelin-starred chef at the Château Saint Martin & Spa? An avid sports enthusiast, Jean-Luc Lefrançois will accompany keen hikers to the Baous des Blancs, at an altitude of 673m. What better way to start the day than a gentle ascent to this balcony overlooking the Côte d’Azu, with some of its most beautiful villages at your feet, along with an array of local flora and grandiose landscapes. In the spring, when cistus is in full bloom, you can also savour an energising breakfast at the summit. With the scents of the garrique and views of the Mediterranean as the perfect backdrop, you’ll be in seventh heaven!

Stay at the Château Saint-Martin & Spa (External link)
(Closed for the winter on 16 October 2022)