Is there a better way of enjoying a slice of the beautiful Bretagne region of western France than sitting outside on a whicker lounge-chair on a private, stonewalled terrace adjoining a suite at Domaine de Rochevilaine gazing out over a rocky inlet lined with oyster beds?
Known as the ‘Cloister of the Golden Mine’ due to discovery of the precious metal across from it along the estuary near the coastal village of Vilaine, 35 kilometers from Vannes, the suite is a perfect place from which to admire the raw, wild beauty that characterizes one of France’s most intriguing regions.
Elements of the suite gives a hint of the luxurious delights awaiting guests at this superbly located four-star Relais & Chateaux property on the south-eastern border of the region, reflecting decades of experience in hospitality by owner, Bertrand Jaquet, assisted by his daughter, Cécile, who runs the restaurant. Jaquet bought the property 18 years ago after managing it for four years previously.
Step outside the back door, through the sliding doors of the bedroom-cum-living room on to a wooden deck and there’s a wonderful hot tub that overlooks the estuary. On the other side, past the front door, is a private garden featuring an array of flowers and ornamental bushes, beside which is a lovely little pool with a table and chairs set around it. Inside the suite is the largest walk-in closet I’ve ever had the pleasure of using and beyond it an impressive, marine-blue tiled bathroom with an extra-sized bathtub in its center.
But it’s not just the rooms that make Domaine de Rochevilaine such a delightful place to stay. The whole layout and ambiance of the property is appealing. Reached at the end of a meandering road that caresses the sea, it consists of a series of formidable, interlinked sandstone buildings dating back several centuries, with plentiful gardens filled with shrubs, trees and flowering plants. Along a sheltered cinder path and down some stone steps is an outdoor, saltwater swimming pool and a double terrace with magnificent views.
Separate cozy sitting rooms either side of the property’s restaurant offer magnificent views over the jagged rocks below and the coastline across the Vilaine estuary in the Morbihan. Lined with historical artifacts, one room boasts a gleaming brass canon on wood wheels, three large shelves of books, old black and white photographs depicting nautical as well as seaside scenes and a most imposing stone-faced, open fireplace. The other, hexagonal in shape, boasts an even larger, open fireplace, with a stone sculpture of two lions lying between a medieval helmet with a dragon either side.
A wood carving of St. Andre hangs near the door with a seal staring curiously across from him. The emblem of two lions permeates the property, with staff saying it is of English origin, not French, perhaps linked to the Templars. Attention to detail is obvious, with each sitting room having a very distinctive character. In terms of seating, for example, one has sleek rounded leather armchairs while the other is straight-backed chairs, made from a combination of wood and softer material. Tip: ask for a table either in the corner room at the end or window side. From there, the sunsets are simply gorgeous. The dining-room is impressive, spacious with an oaken floor, diverse 600-year old wood carvings adorning its walls – of a troll-like figure, a bag-piper, two peasants carrying a pine nut and various animal heads; large, framed paintings of medieval ships at sea; hanging lamps; a big, open fireplace; and soft armchair-like seating.
Aside from the pleasing ambiance, the utter comfort and the sense of being cossetted from the onward march of time, a key ingredient of any stay at Domaine de Rochevilaine is the superb food and drinks. Having had the pleasure of dining there on several occasions and choosing different menu items each time, I feel qualified to say it is both diverse and delectable. Staff are extremely attentive, combining a dry sense of wit and conversational repartee with non-intruding efficiency. Also, Jean-Marc Boitaud, a sommelier from the Cognac region, with 24 years experience, is among the best we have ever enjoyed, well-versed in knowledge of the grape, as well as being warm, friendly and patient in his explanations. Bespectacled, long-time waiter, Laurent Salle, and barman, Jean Yves Bonnicmon, couldn’t be more helpful, even when it came to locating a particular Brittany-made Pastis – Kenavo Pastis Breton – outside of their stock that my wife requested.
The comprehensive menu, which changes seasonally, runs the entire gamut of epicurean culinary delight, from amuse-bouches such as fresh tuna tartare, fois gras and chicken, spinach and cheese pies; main dishes including fish and seafood (including lobster and the freshest sole, deboned tableside, I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating, so big it was enough for two people); frogs’ legs, escargot; pigeon; lamb; and duck; not to mention desserts that ranged from rolled crepes with pears sorbet, caramel and cider to dacquoise au cacao (layered cake with almond and hazelnut meringue), ivory ganache and chocolate filling.
Domaine de Rochevilaine also boasts an ornate ‘Spa Aqua Phénicia’ – in memory of the Phoenicians who settled on the site – which provides the health benefits imbued in the ancient principle of hydrotherapy. Spa aficionados benefit from the dynamic effects of flowing fresh water, and the revitalizing properties of seaweed and sea salts. Jaquet has even patented ‘la table Phénicienne’ (the Phoenician table) for massages. Facilities include fitness equipment, a hammam, solarium, Jacuzzi, swimming pool and sauna as well as fango and boue (types of mud) applications. Cosmetics used are by Maria Galland.
Located in rolling countryside on the coast, various activities are on offer within a distance of a few miles of the property, including horse riding, tennis, sailing and fishing, which can all be promptly arranged by the concierge. The historical city of Vannes being within a half-hour’s drive and Nantes around 90 kilometers away, both Brittany and the Pay de la Loire regions are close enough for day trip explorations.
For historical location, tranquility, fine food, friendly service and easy access to some of the most beautiful scenery in France, Domaine de Rochevilaine scores extremely high marks.