I have a thing for castles. They’re majestic, picturesque and a little bit mysterious. I imagine plenty of stories which happened behind the high walls, romantic or cruel, but always passionating. Kings and queens, chevaliers and beautiful ladies, buffoons and minstrels… The castles make me dreaming, and I love visiting them, let alone spending a night there! So when Younan Collection, a hotel group specialized in the luxurious properties, invited me to discover some of their castle hotels, I was more than enthusiastic.
Younan Collection was founded by an American investor Zaya S. Younan. After more than eighteen years of experience in the hotel business in US, he launched a new project in Europe, starting by France and Portugal. In France Mr Younan selected and acquired seven castles, most of them in disastrous condition, fell into ruin and abandoned. After several years of hard work together with his team Zaya S. Younan totally renovated and opened five of seven properties making of them luxury 4- and 5-star hotels. This result is even more impressive if you keep in mind that the castles in France are classified as protected historical monuments, which means lots of restrictions concerning the renovation or (especially!) changes of the initial configuration of the castle, starting by the choice of the architect and finishing by the form of the windows. Since converting a castle into a hotel requires multiple improvements of the construction in order to assure high quality service and infrastructure, we can imagine how challenging and ambitious the project of Mr Younan is. I really admire his contribution to the restoration of the French cultural heritage!
Together with Julien we left Paris on Friday and took the direction of the Loire Valley. Three Younan Collection castles are located in this beautiful area which is famous for its rich history and picturesque landscapes. Our first stop was at the hotel Le Prieuré, a medieval 12th century castle situated a few kilometers away from the city Saumur, one of the Loire Valley tourist attractions.
Before becoming a part of Younan Collection, Le Prieuré has been closed for several years. After the large-scale renovation this castle was re-opened in all its splendor. The elegant silhouette of Le Prieuré rises on the coast of the Loire valley surrounded by the old park. It looks like a castle from a Disney movie featuring multiple towers, almost white walls and tile roof.
Our room was truly a royal one: incredibly high ceiling, enormous fire place, canopy bed and even a throne! The room has access to the huge private terrace (shared just with one another room) offering a breathtaking view over the Loire River. Every decoration element in the room is on its place, corresponding the epoch and style. It’s really impressive and we had a feeling of complete immersion in Louis XIV era!
We were lucky to attend the monthly music event at Le Prieuré, an open-air live concert and dinner à la plancha. It was an exceptional experience: on the multi-level terrace over the Loire River a trio of musicians was playing French and American retro songs while the guests were sipping champagne and admiring the sunset. The sky was slowly getting pinky and the music was flowing over the Loire Valley putting us into a waking dream… It was such a magical evening!
In the morning we had breakfast at the same beautiful terrace – and believe me we didn’t mind enjoying the same gorgeous view one more time! We had eggs, smoked salmon, homemade ham (extremely delicious!), goat cheese, croissants, yogurt and muesli, fruits and homemade jams… Long lazy breakfast with a view was the best start of the day we could imagine. All the products were super fresh and tasty, so I should say after that breakfast we decided to skip the lunch:))
The service was very friendly and efficient. A special mention should be made of the major-dome Dominique who has been working at Le Prieuré for years, even before this castle was acquired by Younan Collection, and very attached to this property. He told us a lot about the history of the castle and the concept of the hotel and gave us advice about things to do in the area. For any establishment I find it essential having a “history keeper” of the place, passionate about his work and experienced in anticipating the guests’ needs.
The Loire Valley is one of my favorite travel destinations in France. I visited this region many times and always find something new to discover. If you know riding a bicycle, it will be an agreeable way to visit the rural area (you can borrow a bicycle at Le Prieuré). Otherwise make a tour by car, making stops in the picturesque villages. Saumur, a medieval city with a gorgeous historical castle, is definitely a must-see and merits a whole day if you’re not short in time. I’d also suggest you to make a wine tasting at one of the multiple vineyards in the area.
Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to explore the region (and it will be a reason to go back) since we had to continue our trip to our next destination, Alexandra Palace, another beautiful property of Younan Collection. I will make a review of this 5-star hotel in my next article and now I invite you to admire some photos from the castle Le Prieuré.