Le Castel

near Coutances, Normandy, France Book from

Revel in relaxed splendour at a 19th-century Normandy chateau, offering great kids facilities, spacious suites and vast grounds
‘Family-friendly’ and ‘chateau’ aren’t words that always go together, but at Le Castel they’re effortlessly fused. English owner Jon, who gave up a London flat and a high-flying Fleet Street career to move here, is the perfect host, running the Napoleon III chateau like one long, laid-back house party.

The mansion, set in 4 acres of parkland, started life as a hideaway for the mistress of a Parisian socialite and, as you twist your way here along country lanes, you can see why. But once you find it, the fun begins. The family holidays include plenty of treats for little ones, from Easter egg hunts to games in a woodland den; come summer, a toy-filled marquee and a splash pool appear on the lawn, and activities abound (finger-painting, cake-baking...). There’s plenty to please parents, too - aperitifs served on leather sofas by a roaring fire, candlelit suppers beside the piano, and BBQs outside on the terrace. Choose either an antique-furnished suite or a self-catering cottage as your relaxing retreat at the end of the day, and the only sound likely to disturb your slumber is the gentle hooting of the owls outside. There are generally plenty of other guests to fraternise with, but if not you’ll enjoy Jon's easy company and the beautiful surroundings.

Highs

  • An idyllic location in rolling countryside, near the cathedral city of Coutances, Mont St Michel, Bayeux and the sandy D-Day Beaches
  • Lashings of space, whether in the four suites, the three cottages or outside
  • Tasty communal evening feasts and there are separate kids’ suppers at 5pm
  • Swings, bikes, games and a sandpit mean children will have a whale of a time
  • The atmosphere is unfussy and homely, with a TV room, a help-yourself bar and snacks, and tea and coffee in the kitchen

Lows

  • The furnishings are antique and often intentionally well worn; if you’re seeking contemporary chic, this probably isn't the place for you
  • 7-night minimum stay during July and August, but you get organised play sessions unavailable for the rest of the year
  • The communal atmosphere won’t suit everyone, but you can find your own space when you want it
  • No on-site lunch options, evening meals aren't served Thursdays, and it's a drive to the nearest eatery
  • The self-catering cottages are a much less lavish proposition

Best time to go

Le Castel is open all year, but is at its best between March and November. Come in winter for blazing fires and solitary walks; come in summer for serious lazing on the terrace while the kids play. Or time your visit to coincide with the now-famous Coutances jazz festival over Ascension weekend (6 weeks after Easter).

Our top tips

  • Don't miss croquet on the lawn in front of the house: locals may find it quirky, but apparently the game was invented in Normandy.
  • The markets at St Lô (Saturday) and Coutances (Thursday) are some of the best in Normandy; stock up on veg and cheese before you drive home
  • Ask about the treasure hunt which Jon has set up, taking in some of the exquisite abbeys and churches of the region
  • Great for...

    Cheap & Chic
    Family
    Foodie
    Wedding
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Boutique Hotel
    • 4 suites + 2 cottages
    • Half-board (dinner Friday-Wednesday only)
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Outdoor Pool
    • Spa Treatments
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Daily Maid Service
    • Towels & Bedlinen
    • Bicycles Available
    • Laundry Service
    • Laundry room for the cottages
    • Croquet
    • Play tent
    Room: Napoleon (Emperor Suite)

    Rooms

    The main house has 4 large two-bedroom suites, each sleeping 3-6, with antique furniture sourced by Jon, and soul-soothing views over lawns and woods.

    The largest - and our favourite - is first-floor Roi Suite: its blue and gold double bedroom, Marie Antoinette, has a carved 19th-century bed and an original granite fireplace. At the end of its oak parquet landing is a smaller twin room, Louis, with green silk wall-linings. Both bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms. Also on the first floor is the Emperor Suite, made up of twin-bedded Josephine, with yellow silk walls and plush red velvet furnishings, and double-bedded Napoleon, which is flooded with sunlight in the morning; they share a shower bathroom.

    The second-floor attic suite, Dauphin, is smaller and more informal. It includes double-bedded Charles VII, with a stylish claw-footed bathtub from where you can gaze out over the gardens as you soak, and adjacent Joan of Arc, with 3 single beds and a shower room.

    The newer ground-floor Comte Suite consists of a small double room, an ensuite bathroom (with tub and overhead shower) and an additional room that can be used as a lounge or child’s bedroom. It opens directly onto the terrace, so you might hear noise from the dining room - but those with a small child may appreciate the opportunity to dine while they sleep nearby.

    Created from 18th-century stables 50m away from the chateau (and with access to all amenities) are the three double-storey self-catering cottages: Voici, Voila and Votre. Original features - beams, exposed stonework - remain, sociable open-plan kitchen-diners bring the cottages up to date. Voici and Votre have two bedrooms (double and twin) plus shower bathroom upstairs, and separate living room and kitchen-diner and family bathroom downstairs. Voila has just one bedroom upstairs and a kitchenette in the living room downstairs and is taken as an annexe to Voici, note it is not available June to August.

    Features include:

    • Central heating
    • Cots Available
    • Extra beds
    • Internet access
    • WiFi

    Eating

    Breakfast is laid out in the dining room or on the terrace: juices (maybe local apple or even carrot), cereals, yoghurt, fruit, freshly baked croissants and local jams (try the wonderful rhubarb and fig). If you fancy a lie-in, send the kids down from 8am and staff will make sure they’re fed.

    Parents can enjoy communal, home-cooked dinners around a grand walnut table (daily except Thursday). Being so close to the coast, the seafood is particularly good: garlic scallops or king prawns pan-fried in parsley butter. We also enjoyed duck breast with poached plums in a red wine sauce, followed by local cheeses and a dark chocolate pudding with white chocolate sauce.

    Kids' suppers - chicken casserole, macaroni cheese or beef stew with salad and cous-cous - are served separately at 5pm, though over 14s can join the grownups if they wish. On Saturdays, there's a family BBQ instead. All suites except Comte have small kitchenettes, and microwaves are available to heat up baby food and sterilise bottles.

    There's a simple snack fridge, but no lunches are served, so be sure to get bread and cheese from the local town if you're staying in for the day. Restaurants within a 45-minute drive include La Cale in Blainville-sur-Mer, an unlikely-looking hut that produces excellent moules-frites, and La Verte Campagne in tiny Trelly, where Cordon-Bleu-trained Lynne serves excellent agneau pré-salé (saltmarsh-reared lamb) for which the Cotentin is famous.

    If self-catering in the cottages, there are plenty of groceries available locally. Voici has a large dining kitchen, Voila only a kitchenette, and Votre a well-equipped kitchen plus dining area. Expect salt, pepper, herbs, spices, oil and flour on arrival, and week-long bookings receive a bottle of house wine or Normandy cider. And you're welcome to dine at the chateau of an evening (except Thursdays) if self-catering starts to pall.

    Features include:

    • Breakfast
    • Children meals
    • Communal dining
    • Vegetarian menu
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • Set in 4 acres, Le Castel has a woodland den, a croquet lawn, bikes to borrow, plus extra kids facilities and activities during summer - so grab a book and head to the garden for some downtime
    • If you want to explore, the Cotentin peninsula offers unspoilt sandy beaches, fairytale castles at Gratot and Pirou, a magical abbey at Hambye and a Gothic cathedral at Coutances
    • The D-Day landing beaches, the Bayeux Tapestry and the pinnacle-top monastery of Mont St Michel are all less than an hour’s drive away
    • To the south is the enchanting town of Villedieu-les-Poeles, renowned for its manufacture of cooking pans and bells
    • Fishing, kayaking, windsurfing and sailing are all available within a 15km drive; Jon can also arrange golf (15km), tennis (8km) or horse riding (3km)

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Cycling
    • Fishing
    • Golf
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Horse-riding
    • Kayaking
    • Sailing
    • Shopping / markets
    • Swimming
    • Tennis
    • Windsurfing

    Kids

    This is the perfect house for children - there's lots of space inside and out, and the relaxed atmosphere means you won't constantly be worrying whether the kids have stained the carpets.

    If staying in the stable cottages you still get access to the fun and games on offer at Le Castel, to romp around the parkland, and discover the woodland den and play marquee.

    Best for:

    Babies (0-1 years), Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Each suite has a double bedroom and an additional single, twin or triple room. Most can also hold a baby cot. The Roi and Dauphin Suites have glamorous claw-footed bathtubs - wasted on infants, but they'll probably like them more than the shower. The Comte Suite is on the ground floor, near the dining room.

    The three cottages in the grounds are also a great well-priced option for families. Both Voici and Votre have two bedrooms, with the second configured as a twin. Votre has a bed done up as a wooden fort with rope ladder for ascent, and a secret play area. Voici has a large family bathroom on the ground floor. Voila is best used as an addition to Voici for teens or grandparents. If you take all three cottages you can have up to 12 in your party

    Babysitting:

    Childcare for kids aged 3+ is offered as part of the summer all-inclusive family holidays - up to 4 hours a day with an English-speaking childminder. There's a charge for children under the age of 3 (see Rates)

    Baby listening:

    You can borrow baby monitors which work everywhere in the chateau, allowing you to eat a lavish meal and hear what they're doing upstairs

    Baby equipment:

    • High chair
    • Plastic crockery and cutlery
    • Cots
    • Baby bedding
    • Bed guards
    • Night light
    • Baby bath
    • Potty
    • Toilet steps

    Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

    Creche/Kid's Club:

    During summer, organised activities for 2-12 year olds (finger painting, picnics, cake baking, games etc) are included in the rates. For Easter, there is an egg hunt in the grounds plus a Bucks Fizz breakfast for adults

    Children's meals:

    Breakfast is included and dinner is available Friday-Wednesday (kids' meals are served at 5pm; parents dine at 8pm). Children over 14 can join the main dining table if they wish. Parents with babies can use the microwave to heat up food and sterilise bottles, and most suites have kitchenettes. On Saturdays there's normally a family BBQ.

    If staying in the gites, you can self-cater with ease, or join in the buffet-style family meals on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Dinner is served most other nights, except Thursdays - let them know in good time if you want to take advantage of this

    Kids Activities on site:

    • Four acre grounds
    • Swings, trampoline
    • Woodland den
    • In-room toys
    • Communal library with UK TV, DVDs, computer and books
    • Gypsy caravan
    • Sandpit
    • Croquet
    • Bikes to borrow
    • Heated 5.5m splash pool (summer only)
    • Play marquee in the garden: toys, games, table tennis and football (summer only)

    Kids Activities nearby:

    • Mont St Michel is magical for children
    • The D-Day beaches also make a good family trip
    • Caen's Parc Festyland is a decent mini theme park
    • Jon has designed a regional treasure hunt through churches and abbeys

    Families Should Know:

    Both Voici and Votre have steep stairs and spiral staircases, these have stairguards at the top but not at the bottom. Voila is not available June-August

    Distances:

    • Airport: 1 hour 30 minutes
    • Doctor: 5 minutes
    • Nearest shop: 10 minutes
    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    9/
    Rooms
    10/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    10/
    Value
    10/
    Overall

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