Les Deux Abbesses is a five-star hotel experience and one of the most original, quirky and seductive hotels in the world, occupying much of an ancient village perche, built mainly of black basalt and containing a modest chateau, adjoining church and several houses which have been converted into rooms. There are 'real people' living here as well who, about 15 years ago, decided to sanction the construction of the hotel to revive their semi-abandoned village. Enter Laurence Perceval-Hermet, a woman without a hotel background but possessing flair and passion in huge quantities. She is involved every second of every day, deciding which sort of bath gel you get (invariably Moulton Brown) and what you eat for dinner. She is the quintessential hands-on owner-manager, with that elusive 'international' accent and character that you can't quite put a finger on but which could be called money and breeding. There are lapses of taste, and over-design, but they are bearable and part of the hotel's quirkiness.
We stayed three nights in a garden cottage called Le Terroir du Lapin. Inevitably, there were rabbit toys, pictures and bric-a-brac all over the room and, indeed, the hotel is a bunny place - they are everywhere except on the menu. While some may find the decor fussy and cluttered in today's age of minimalism, this room had tremendous character - nooks, crannies, beams, creaks and even an upstairs hideaway. There were two bathrooms, both a little unusual. The shower room had a cobbled floor and the shower tray was a huge copper dish originally used for jam-making. It wobbled a bit but as a shower it worked. The bathroom was an all-wood affair which Madame Laurence said was Japanese, which might account for its extreme discomfort. The bath was wooden, the basin was wooden, the plumbing the most beautifully sculpted stainless steel. It looked utterly amazing but as a bathroom it was a complete failure. Room servicing was immaculate and invisible. And a nice, witty touch: Madame Laurence provides a checklist of things you can take home and things that you cannot!
As a veteran of many of the best hotels in France - the George V, La Reserve at Beaulieu, the Ch de Bagnols - I have to say that the breakfast served on the utterly divine terrace of Les Deux Abbesses was the best ever, an incredible selection of breads, pastries, homemade jams, pungent coffee, the works. Lunch can be served with due notice, though we did get a delicious impromptu plate of cheese, fruit and wine on the day we had the place entirely to ourselves.
Dinner is a five-course, no-choice affair, served in the magnificently restored and homely dining room to which Madame Laurence has added some bold modern lighting. Normally I resist and resent set menus - to me, they merely save money for the caterer while denying choice to the consumer - but in this case the formula seemed appropriate. The cooking here is not Auvergne or cuisine du terroir; it is designer food that you might get in London or New York, though possibly not Paris. While you cannot choose your food you can choose from ridiculously long menus which water and coffee you have, which seems to me merely fadishness. Cooking was generally up to the mark and enjoyable, light and easily digestible, served by Madame Laurence and svelte young girls at a brisk pace so you generally finished by 9pm, allowing time for late evening strolls through the village.
The surrounding Auvergne countryside is lovely and perfect for longish walks or scenic drives. Madame Laurence provides detailed maps and has plenty of local knowledge. It is expensive and awkward to reach but it's worth every Euro and every mile off the well-trodden tourist route.
We have returned to the U.K today from 3 nights at this hotel. I cannot praise highly enough the beauty, atmosphere and service of this hotel. For those of you looking for tranquility, quiet and the best possible surroundings this is the place to stay.
Our room was so comfortable and tastefully decorated. The attention to detail was astounding. There was no sign of horrid little plastic sachets of cheap toiletries, only the best quality full sized bottles and packages of everthing you could need or want. The bed, the bath, the shower and everthing else in our room had been carefully chosen for maximum comfort. Beautiful reading matter and C.D's with player were also readily available for maximum relaxation.
Our accommodation overlooked the most wonderful views of the countryside, and we were able to enjoy this in real comfort from our own private little garden and terrace with chairs and table from which to relax.
As for the rest of the hotel.... what a joy. From the dining room to the lounge, to the garden, everthing has been put together by people who obviously care about what they are doing, and not just to make money at the expense of the comfort and pleasure of the guests. Clearly those running and working at the hotel care greatly about this wonderful place, and want others to enjoy it too.
The staff at all levels were friendly, eager to please, unobtrusive and very efficient. This is really a very special place.
If you are visiting the Auvergne you must make a visit to this hotel (even if its just for a meal, the food is exquisite). If you are not planning to go to the Auvergne, change your arrangements now and take a detour...its well worth the effort. Les deux abbesses, a jewel in the Auvergnes crown.
The subject of an ongoing renovation, the Deux Abbesses is an ambitious project in its 7th year. Basically the owner bought most of a small village and each house is a bedroom.
It really is in the middle of nowhere and if you are looking for peace and tranquility then this is it. I am not sure if our bedroom was a "one off" but it had to be the sexiest bedroom we had ever stayed in. The bathroom contained a 2 person granite stone bath, chaise longue, pebble floor, concealed lighting and a crazy chandelier. Upstairs was a double bed, more chandeliers and a glass see thro floor looking down into the bath.
The restaurant and the accompanying food and winelist was a pleasure to experience with good attentive service ( maybe a little rushed at times ) throughout.
The two downsides for us was the distance from the Spain / France motorway ( around 50 minutes drive ), and the cursed church bell ringing from 7 am every 30 minutes.
Would we stay there again - probably yes although maybe a little too expensive for whats on offer with bed, breakfast and evening meal / wine coming to almost 550 euro