“Discover an unlikely hotel de charme in an untouched rural corner of Normandy, less than 2 hours from Paris”
The other surprise is the area. Few, even among the French, have heard of the Perche, a historic province tucked away in Normandy's southeastern corner. Yet its historic stone villages and rolling hills, similar to an ungentrified Cotswolds, are one of the region's best kept secrets. It's also famous for its huge white horses. Riding is Sandrine's passion, and the hotel's bizarre name is borrowed from her favourite Arab pure-bred stallion.
- Villa Fol Avril's firelit salon, locally crafted furnishings and personal service make this the complete antithesis of a chain hotel
- The region, much of it a natural park, is great for history-lovers, foodies and walkers alike, with its Percheron horses, venerable manoirs, honey-stoned villages and birdlife
- The dining room and sunny terrace offer tasty and affordable food, with an informal atmosphere that’s more bistro-chic than grand restaurant
- There's a decked swimming pool for cooling off in the summer months
- It's excellent value
- Two sides of the hotel are on the road - but it’s the quietest place on earth, and if a car passes more than once an hour in the night, that’s busy
- Be prepared to dust off your French - English is not widely spoken round here, although Sandrine and Philippe are exceptions
- This is one of Normandy's remotest corners - not the quickest place to reach from Channel ports, though it's close to Paris and Chartres
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Boutique Hotel
- All ages welcome
- Open all year
- Heated Pool
- Spa Treatments
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
Light, space and natural materials are the keynotes of all of the hotel's 12 rooms. Set in either the main building or the garden, each of them is immaculate and agreeably different. New oak is cleverly combined with old beams and the odd antique, and there are pleasing corners where a patch of stone or brick has been left exposed. Sandrine and Philippe were adamant that as many as possible of the furnishings should be from the Perche, so furniture, stair banisters and key-holders were all hand-crafted in local wood, and linen bedcovers and cushions were purchased from the long-established Maison Fassier in nearby Rémalard. Even the ironwork lanterns in the stairwell were made by a local craftsman. The only 'foreign' touches are the occasional item from Belgian interior design company Flamant, and a few Eastern European antiques.
Bathrooms are a delight throughout - luxurious, spacious and well-equipped, with thick towels and classy toiletries by Damana. All have bathtubs, and loos are always separate (except in Room 4 - Chambre Confort), which is a pleasing touch.
Two of the larger rooms - and our favourites - are Room 6 (Grande Chambre) and Room 7 (Chambre Familiale), both on the second floor and nestled under the vast oak roof beams. Room 6 has part of an animal manger as a bedhead, a coarse linen eiderdown from Fassier, and luxurious wool carpets and blankets. Room 7, in soothing storm-greys and whites, is a duplex, with a double bed in the main space and twin beds on a platform reached via an oak ladder. For more outdoor space opt for one of the Junior Suites au Jardin or Exception, as they all have private balconies.
Of the first-floor rooms, Room 3 (Junior Suite) has a white Flamant four-poster plus a Percheron antique wardrobe and desk. Stripes and strong colours like navy and burgundy add interest, and flooring is oak parquet or seagrass. Room 2 (Grande Chambre) has a more classic feel with its pink floral wallpaper. Rooms 1 is the only room on the ground-floor and therefore the only room suitable for those with limited mobility.
- Central heating
- Cots Available
- Extra beds
Lunch and dinner are so fresh that you can almost smell the garden it grew in, and unlike in so many French restaurants, it's deliciously light. We had a salade jardinière for starter, followed by a fishy filet de julienne aux poireaux and a choice of crispy crême brulée or juicy apple tart. Nothing too fancy, just good local food done to a T. And it's great value, especially if you book half-board. Or you can choose from the suggestions du jour, based on what's in the market that morning.
In summer, you can sit out on the enclosed terrace and watch the gentle goings-on of a rural village. In colder weather you adjourn to the dining room, whose smart oak and chocolate linen décor is every bit as fresh as the food - but be aware that in winter it's only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for lunch and dinner, and on Wednesday and Sunday for lunch only.
Breakfast is a fairly standard continental affair, including crusty local bread, croissants, fruit, cereals and yoghurt.
If you fancy going out, there's a surprisingly impressive choice of restaurants nearby, although you'll need wheels to reach them. The foodie favourite has to be Auberge des Trois J in the tiny village of Noce (closed Sunday evening, Monday and Tuesday in winter). For an Obelixian extravaganza, head for the luxurious Château de Villeray at Condeau. If you fancy a taste of old France, the Tribunal (also a hotel) in historic Mortagne is a must - try the locally-made boudin noir (black pudding).
- Room service
- Vegetarian menu
- Start with a stroll around this quaint village perché ('hill-village'), whose Romanesque church dates back to the 12th century and boasts the largest dog gargoyles ever seen. Amble down the cobbled lanes with their honey-stone houses and rose-decked gardens, past the tempting épicerie (deli) and bakery
- Relax by the heated outdoor swimming pool with its elegant decked area for sunbathing
- If you're into hiking, this undulating region is criss-crossed with well-marked footpaths; make sure you stop off at La Bourdinière farm shop a couple of miles away for an unbeatable picnic of home-made bread and goats' cheese
- If you prefer to see the area on horseback, there's a pony trekking centre on the edge of the village. If you want to ride a mighty Percheron, just ask Sandrine - she's passionate about horses and will happily to fix you up (bring your own gear and pay by the hour or per day)
- Go fishing on a lake nearby (again bring your own gear). Hunting and shooting are also available, as is golf (at Bellême, 28km away)
- Visit the region's tiny fairytale manor houses, many of them still inhabited by their original land-owning families
- The historic town of Mortagne-au-Perche, with its ancient houses, crumbling convents and monumental portal, is less than half an hour's drive away. On Saturdays there's a great market in the central square, and at the end of March you'll catch the annual Foire au Boudin (black pudding fair), when over 5km of the dark sausages are sold
- The pretty town of Bellême boasts some of the best artisanal shops, including the chocolatier of Charles Bataille (14 Boulevard Bansard des Bois), the homewares and tea-shop of Le Comptoir du Porche Adorable (1 Rue du Château) and the usual weekly market (on Thursdays)
- Chartres is less than an hour's drive away (55km), with its soaring Gothic cathedral, pretty half-timbered houses and the languid waters of the river Eure bisecting the old town
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Historical sites
- Horse riding
- Shopping / markets
- Traditional cultures
The hotel is child-friendly but Philippe and Sandrine are keen to not have too many children on site at the same time - it can spoil the atmosphere. Under 5s stay for free.
Family friendly accommodation:
Room 7 (Chambre Familiale) is a large duplex with a double and 2 single beds ideal for families
Babysitting is available by arrangement
Baby listening/monitors are available on request
Baby cots are available on request
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking
Kids Activities nearby:
- Pony riding
- Farms nearby
- Castles to explore
- Local markets and fairs to experience