An hour’s drive from here, in the Perche which is just outside of Normandy, is the beautiful medieval town of Bellême, really one of my favourite towns to visit for its huge doorways, arched gateways, imposing church and quirky shops.
My favourite time of year to stop here is in the summer when doors and windows are thrown wide open and the sound of the church bell strikes out over the slate roofs every hour.
And if perchance, I needed to stay overnight, or longer, my immediate choice would be the Hotel Suhard. This stunning little hotel has been brought to life from an old, a very old actually, private home, that between 1757 and 1849 belonged to Madame Claire de Suhard and her daughter.
This house, whose earliest records date from 1621, has been transformed through the centuries by the successive women who have lived there. Today it is run as a hotel by a lady called Josiane, and it is she who chose to call the hotel ‘Suhard’, in reference to the 18th century occupant who herself had changed so much.
The hotel is not huge in size but includes five generous rooms, each with en-suite bathrooms. As you walk around the hotel, you can clearly see where the 16th century gave way to the 17th century, and where the 18th century also brought its changes.
Floor tiles are a good indicator of the passage of time. The corridor on the top floor, is partly tiled in small 16th century terracotta squares, and partly in slightly larger 17th cousins.
Before undertaking the restoration of the building, Josiane contacted a local expert historian who helped her research the life story of the building, and understand why, for example, there is a round tower at the end of the garden …. the answer being because the house was originally built against the outer wall of the fortified medieval town, and this was a look-out tower.
There were hurdles bringing a 16th century building up to speed for the demands of 21st century travellers. Fitting six bathrooms into the walls was challenging, but the result is seamless. Furnishing the house has been a pleasure for Josiane. She has mixed family heirlooms and antique furniture with more recent pieces to create an elegant and comfortable home, filled with the small details that any guest would enjoy.
She has been particularly clever in her choices of textiles, using antique pieces, and sourcing manufacturers of fabrics with designs close to those used in the 18th century.
So if one day you find yourself passing through the lovely region of Le Perche, why don’t you make a point of lingering a while …. over the weekend, there are plenty of antique stores to explore and little restaurants to visit, and Josiane will always be on hand to share her local knowledge while you sip tea in her garden.
rue d’Alencon, Bellême