“Bah, a chateau is a chateau is a chateau; you seen one, you seen ‘em all, right?”
Not exactly. True, there is a chateau in almost every village in France, sometimes amazingly grand and restored to the last stone, sometimes modest and crumbling. But not one of them looks like the former Chateau Lalande in Saint-Sylvestre-sur-Lot, in SW France.
Old chateaux are basically money pits, so their owners try to find ways to staunch the losses. The Lalande, some parts of which date from the 13th century, and others from the 16th to 19th was last restored in 1992 and made into a luxury hotel. The hotel eventually failed and the chateau sat abandoned until 2008, when a very successful local entrepreneur, Philippe Ginestet, picked it up for 780,000 euros (slightly shy of a million dollars at the time), including 22 acres of grounds.
Ginestet is not short of imagination. With the help of architect Jacques Bru and a LOT of paint, they have forever disrupted the image of the classic chateau. Renamed Le Stelsia as a luxury hotel, it just opened in late June (2015) and despite initial skepticism, people are coming in droves.
Is it garish? Maybe.
Is it well done? Definitely.
Does it work? Well, I think it’s fabulous. Look at my pix, and you can decide for yourself.
The grounds are also fabulous, with scattered sculptures, a quiet tree-lined brook, and a silent swarm of little 24″ x 12″ electric lawn mowing robots, that chomp their way across the lawn and park themselves at their charging stations when they run low on juice.
We could only go inside to the cafe, but what we saw there was quite spectacular. The chairs in the waiting area are done in shimmering crushed velvet.
We couldn’t leave without indulging in “lunch”, if you can call our feast by such a lowly name. Finishing it off was the lightest baba I’ve ever had, swimming not in rum but in Armagnac. The center was a prune jam. WOW!
This was just the cafe… Ginestet is aiming to make the hotel restaurant a Michelin 5-star. I’ll be back.