Occupying a stunning villa overlooking a sailboat-dotted bay, Venetia van Kuffeler delights in charming boutique hotel, Castelbrac
Sometimes last-minute trips turn out to be my favourite. Minimal planning and few expectations make for a low maintenance few days. With just a few days’ notice, we had jumped on a plane at Stansted and taken a short flight to Brittany. A ten-minute drive (in the hotel’s Tesla, no less) from the Dinard-Plertui-Saint Malo Airport, we were off to stay at Castelbrac, a luxurious boutique hotel settled in a nineteenth-century villa in Dinard. Set on the cliff tops of the dramatic Brittany coastline, the hotel promised panoramic views of the bays of Vicomté, Solidor and the ramparts of Saint Malo.
Rich in history, Castelbrac was built by the aristocratic founders of Dinard, the English Faber family, and was later home to hero of the Crimean War, Robert William Hamilton. In the 1930s, it was the site of a marine research station and aquarium, under the patronage of French commander turned Arctic explorer, Jean-Baptiste Charcot.
The building’s eclectic history is as interesting as the town itself. Found on the Côte d’Émeraude of Brittany, American and British aristocrats built magnificent villas on the cliff tops during the French Belle Époque. International guests came to its shores to live and holiday in what had become one of the most popular seaside resorts in Europe. The list was long – King Edward VII came in 1903 on his royal yacht, George V, German Emperor William II and King Leopold of Belgium. Claude Debussy composed La Mer while in Dinard and Pablo Picasso worked on 19 paintings during several holidays there between 1922 and 1928. Winston Churchill enjoyed holidaying in the area, and Hitchcock reportedly based the house used in his famous film Psycho on a villa standing over the Plage de l’Écluse. Today, Dinard is considered one of the most British of sea resorts in France, however it has retained plenty of French charm.
Run under the eye of charismatic Director General Dominick Adrian, Castelbrac opened its doors as a beautiful boutique hotel in the summer of 2015, with 25 seaview rooms and suites. Privately owned, the hotel has the appearance of an English castle with a certain bric-à-brac charm, from where it derives its name. Parisian interior designers have blended the hotel’s historic elements with a modern eclecticism, giving the rooms an art deco look inspired by the sea, with charming results.
Its proximity to the sea has not only influenced the hotel’s design, but also its restaurant Le Pourquoi Pas, which offers a wide selection of seafood. Housed in a room overlooking the bay where Commander Charcot paced dreaming of future expeditions on his boat Pourquoi-pas?, chef Julien Hennote’s menus change weekly. His ingredients are sourced locally within a 25km radius of the hotel, working with the top producers in the region. Our meal was excellent, and the restaurant was fully booked both nights that we were there.
As the name suggests, the charming Aquarium Bar is the former aquarium museum, open to the public between 1934 and 1992. The lighting recreates the twilight of the old aquarium glow, columns have been sheathed in green, black and gold mosaic, reminiscent of fish scales and colours of the ocean, and porthole windows look out at the ocean. The terrace bar is a dreamy spot for some lobster and a glass of Chablis in the sunshine, while watching the world pass by on the Clare de Lune promenade. For further relaxation, the Spa Suite by Thémaé offers a selection of well-being treatments, and a pretty lap pool overlooks the stunning bay below.
Days are spent gazing at the views and passing boats. The magnitude between low and high tides – one of the largest in Europe – reinvents the landscape at every tide. During spring and summer, guests can explore Dinard and the nearby Channel Islands with Castelbrac’s motorboat Fou de Bassan, fully built in Brittany. Elegant and powerful, the 13-metre wooden boat in Italian Vaporetto style was built entirely by hand.
With only 48 hours in France, we were content to simply explore Dinard on foot, but within 45 minutes’ drive of Castelbrac, one can discover many famous historic sites including: UNESCO World Heritage Site Le Mont-Saint-Michel; the city of Saint-Malo and its ramparts; Castle Combourg where Chateaubriand was born and lived; and the port of Cancale, famous for its oysters and bisquines boats. Along with this lovely hotel, there are certainly plenty of reasons to go back.
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