I recently took a trip to Lens in northern France where I visited the absolutely wonderful new Louvre and followed a part of the World War I memorial route – I also stayed in a chateau!
I arrived at the 4* La Chartreuse in Gosnay, a charming village near Bruay-en-Artois, on a Saturday evening. The hotel is on the main Paris-Calais road and we drove through the beautiful big wrought iron gates and up to the grand doors of this centuries old chateau.
La Chartreuse du Val Saint Esprit was built in 1320 to provide accommodation for monks. Countess Marguerite of Flanders, Isabelle, wife of Philippe of Burgundy, Philippe le Bon and Charles le Téméraire and many other luminaries stayed here and the monks prospered until the 18th Century. The French Revolution was a time of hardship for the monks and parts of the chateau and adjoining buildings suffered and in 1791 the monastery was abandoned and sold as a national property.
It is now a magnificent hotel and as I booked in, the sound of soft music came from close by and the receptionist told me there was a wedding in the grounds. The sun was shining softly and I couldn’t resist going to have a peak…
The picturesque gardens were awash with early evening summer sunlight – very mellow, the air was pleasantly warm. The sound of laughter and gentle conversation filtered through the wonderful ancient windows and doors, candles flickered as the light started to fall and immaculately dressed servers flitted in and out with champagne bottles. The bride was absolutely radiant.
It looked like the most perfect wedding…
I went up to my room and actually drew a deep breath because it was just like the dream of a chateau bedroom and was exquisite. Richly patterned wall paper, a beautiful bed, plush, soft carpet, muted colours, antique furnishings – and the views were splendid. My latticed windows overlooked the bee hives of the chateau – when I got up the next morning I saw the honey being collected to be served at breakfast!
The hotel has three restaurants attached and I can’t tell you how hard it is to choose between them. In the end we went for Le Robert II inside the hotel – fantastic choice. I can honestly say that I have never had a meal quite like it. The restaurant is in a formal dining room, and it is quite simply magnificent – mirrors, chandeliers, grand fireplaces, gorgeous furnishings.
We sat in the bar and had an aperitif before dinner and the server suggested we might like our amuse bouche – a little taster – while we relaxed. It’s that sort of place – beautiful, genteel, chic and charming – but not stuffy.
We went into the dining room, lit by superb chandeliers and a further six courses followed the amuse bouche – amazing food, amazing service and amazing ambience.
I just used the word amazing three times in one sentence I know! I think it is justified though, here’s a little taster from the menu:
Parfait of duck liver with heart of mango, peanut lollipop, mango smoothie and grué biscuit ( or I could have had Remoulade of “King Crab” with small vegetables from the garden, cystallized lemon, cumbava cream, Pyrénées Caviar)
Followed by “Slab of rump steak Wagyu” with summer truffles, potatoes & fresh vegetables from the La Chartreuse garden (I was tempted by the saddle of young rabbit suffed with piquillos and chorizo, legs crystallised with amaretto and quinoa tabbouleh with spices)
There followed an exquisite choice of pastries, hand made chocolates and macarons with coffee but my favourite course was the cheese – what a selection, including some of the famous local cheese and I just loved the domed trolley that made its stately way through the dining room!
After everyone went to bed, I didn’t want the night to end so I went for a midnight wander. The wedding party was coming to an end, the music was very low, groups of wedding guests sat around talking and one group asked me to join them for a chat and a drink. They told me that in one of the restaurants next door there was a karaoke and they were off to have a sing along and invited me to go with them. So off I went… they sang “Rising Sun” and tried to persuade me to join in but I didn’t want to put a damper on their performance with my growly voice so I just watched and laughed and clapped and felt like a bit of magic had descended on this balmy summer night in France amongst these friendly people of the north.
For a few hours at La Chartreuse – I felt like royalty, totally and utterly spoiled and thoroughly chilled…
La Chartreuse: The Domaine de la Chartreuse consists of a 4* hotel, La Chartreuse du Val Saint Esprit, 3* Best Western hotel La Metairie as well as a business centre. Three restaurants – Robert II, a gourmet restaurant ; The Distillery – a Brewery French cuisine; Vasco – modern brasserie cuisine. There is also a vegetable garden of over 15,000 m2 with flowers, vegetables and fruit to supply the kitchens of the three restaurants. Cost from €149 including dinner and entrance to the Louvre Lens close by.