At its inception, Relais & Châteaux delighted visitors who toured the Route du Midi in France. Over a short period, the concept went global. The idea: to discover countries through gastronomy and a unique art de vivre. Bliss!
In 1941, Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, ex-music hall entertainers, purchased the hotelrestaurant ‘La Cardinale’, on the banks of the Rhône in the Ardèche. They later recruited seven friends – concierges of hotels and restaurateurs – that shared common values and goals: high standards of quality, pursuit of excellence, and a passion for fine cuisine and the unique lifestyle concept they embraced, art de vivre. In 1954, eight locations situated along the Paris-Nice axis united to give birth to a hotel group bearing the name of Relais & Châteaux. The first Routes du Bonheur (road to happiness) was laid.
Almost 60 years later, there are over 500 establishments in 60 countries on five continents. Their mission: to disseminate the signature art de vivre around the globe, in outstanding properties of truly unique character. In Québec, there are six: three hotel-restaurants (La Pinsonnière, Manoir Hovey and Auberge Saint-Antoine) and three restaurants (Europea, Initiale and Toqué !).
What are the criteria that a hotel (referred to as maison) must meet in order to bear the stylized golden fleur de lys emblem of Relais & Châteaux? There are five: courtesy (the certitude that you will be welcomed by the owners or general director); charm (a seductive interior); character (a unique architecture); calm (where one can rest and rejuvenate); and cuisine (each establishment must offer the highest level gastronomy). But we tend to forget that there are more owners in the organization engaged in haute cuisine than in the inner workings of a hotel, so what about them? In this instance, it must generally be conceded that the Chef is recognized internationally. He must also be present onsite to demonstrate his personal commitment, in addition to employing the highest quality ingredients the local region has on offer, among other duties. All is measured against the highest standard. Should a Grand Chef or Maître de maison decide to leave an establishment, Relais & Châteaux reviews the membership of that individual, states President Jaume Tàpies. He adds that the establishment must exist for at least one year before being accepted. “We never decide in advance.” In other words, the onus is on the hotel or restaurant owner to first prove him or herself.
the quality of the services and the inimitable hospitality make the difference.
Each country has its own unique road to happiness.
What is the appeal of a Relais & Châteaux hotel over other establishments? Sometimes it’s to explore gastronomy, or engage in cooking classes; at other times, to sample wines or take courses in oenology. In certain establishments located in the mountains, the emphasis may be on winter sports; or water activities, for those on the shore. Unless it’s a spa or bordering an outstanding golf course. Art and culture are pretexts for thematic travel, a romantic getaway, wedding or honeymoon.
But in all cases, the quality of the services and the inimitable hospitality make the difference. Each country has its own unique road to happiness. “The brand embodies the French concept of art de vivre. The idea is not to transfer French ways to every venue, but to emulate the art de vivre lifestyle epitomized at the court of Versailles and Florence: to please the eye and awaken taste buds, and to take the necessary time. This can be recreated on a ranch in Nevada, a lodge in South Africa, or a chalet in the Alps,” explains Jaume Tàpies. “For us, luxury is a lived experience, one that leaves you richer than when you arrived.” He points to Japan, where the epitome of luxury is found in four paper walls, tatami flooring, and from the woman who comes to prepare a bed at night on the ground. Hence his assertion: “Simplicity is the ultimate luxury.”
Relais & Châteaux carries in its gênes the art de vivre, and a passion for craftsmanship and regional culture. Mr. Tàpies mentions a recent experience at a Relais & Châteaux property in Peru. On the interior wall of a room there was a painting which was … 1500 years old! A somewhat unusual case, but it illustrates that the group offers not just a bed and a table, but rather exquisite ones. “This is the best way to discover the world,” he concludes.
Those fortunate to stay in one of these marvelous venues, and to savor gastronomic fare in these fine restaurants is certain to experience pleasures that will translate into wonderful memories.
Château de la Chèvre d’Or, France
Grand Hôtel du Lac, Suisse
Le Lemuria Resort of Praslin, Seychelles
Singita Pamushana, Zimbabwe
Les Maisons de Bricourt d’Olivier Roellinger, France