The weekend: Two hours south of Paris is a lush, green stretch of France studded with over three hundred chateaux, home to kings, queens, and noble families of various factions. Think Westeros, but with better food. Machiavellian figures such as Louis XIV and Catherine de Medici hung out in some of the magnificent structures that still stand here, showcasing every type of architecture from medieval, to gothic, renaissance and classical. Around forty are open to the public, and you can tick several off in one right royal weekend. Just hop on the Eurostar to Paris, then hire a car.
Where: Relais de Chambord is almost literally a stone’s throw from the biggest castle in the Loire, on a 13,000 acre estate encompassing the village of Chambord. The striking Chateau de Chambord was built by the 16th century French king, Francis I; the Relais used to be the royal kennels. These spacious digs for dogs evolved into a lodge for visiting huntsmen (you can still shoot deer and boar in the surrounding forest every season, with a permit), then a modest hotel. Two years ago, Spanish management group, Marugal, oversaw its transformation into a slick, stylish 55-room property, designed by Parisian starchitect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. An attractive stone building semi-clad in black slate, it’s hung throughout with architectural drawings and vintage photographs from the chateau, and features modern lighting and furniture by a range of contemporary European designers.
The food: Hotel restaurant, Le Grand St Michel, serves up classic, local French dishes; the seasonally-changing menu could see you tucking into river trout with Comte cheese cream, or beef fillet with truffled celeriac puree, while the thoughtfully considered wine list features regional grapes such as Romorantin, Sauvignon blanc and Gamay.
Ask about: A guided tour of Chateau Chambord, to see its impressive double helix staircase, and climb the tall Lantern Tower for amazing views, then explore the grounds and formal gardens by hotel bike or electric buggy (you can also hire a motorboat to navigate the river, or do stand up paddle boarding). The hotel has a small spa, with a steam room and sauna.
And after that: Nearby Chateau Cheverny is still occupied by the family that has owned it for over 700 years. Its classic lines were the inspiration for Captain Haddock’s Marlinspike mansion in Tintin. Every morning you can witness its pack of well-trained hunting dogs being fed; they’re not allowed to start scoffing until their master has given them the signal. Further afield, after visiting the stately chateau at Blois, head to nearby Assa, a Michelin-starred restaurant on the banks of the river. It combines fine French cooking with a Japanese aesthetic, for food which tastes just as good as it looks.
Need to know: A classic double room at the Relais de Chambord starts from £145, including breakfast; Chambord- view rooms start from €240. Book via relaisdechambord.com. Eurostar operates up to 19 daily services from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare Du Nord starting from £29. Book via eurostar.com.