The story goes that Baron de Lucé dropped down dead on the steps of this chateau on the day he arrived to inspect his finished creation. No one knows whether it was from delight or despair, but given that Antoine Arnault, of LVMH empire fame, booked it for his summer holiday last year, our money is on it being the former.
The chateau was the creation of Baron Jacques Pineau de Viennay III (otherwise known as Baron de Lucé), a close confidant of King Louis XV, who had inherited the land, including a medieval castle, from his father. In 1750, the baron tore down the castle and replaced it with the neoclassical building that exists in all its satisfying symmetry today. The chateau was passed down through the family, used as a hospital for wounded British officers during the First World War and, finally, ended up in the hands of the French government, who restored the gardens and used some of the buildings as tourist offices.
In 2003, the American interior designer Timothy Corrigan bought and renovated the chateau as a private residence. His style and influence can still be seen throughout the hotel, which reopened under new ownership in 2020 to serve its original purpose: to host and inspire the most discerning traveller.
There are 17 rooms and suites, 12 of which have been refurbished under the new management and can be booked via the website, and five of which are as Timothy Corrigan styled them, and can be taken as part of a group booking. No two rooms are the same, although they've all been designed with the opulent spirit of the 18th century in mind: think limestone and French oak floors, original boiserie panels, silks, fine art and furnishings from several centuries, sconces, chandeliers, bespoke fabrics and Persian rugs.
What's for breakfast?
Croissants from the local boulangerie, yoghurt from a farm just down the road, biodynamic coffee, jam made from fruit growing in the potager (kitchen garden) and honey from local hives, plus continental and US options, crepes, pain perdu, scrambled eggs and savoury tartines.
How about lunch and dinner?
Dinner is served in restaurant Le Lucé, which faces the gardens and has a summer terrace. The chef's three-course menu - not counting the amuse-bouche, pre-entrée, cheese, pre-dessert and petits fours - showcases modern French food based on classic principles, including dishes like lobster-and-cherry carpaccio, and chocolate-olive mousse.
Meat, fish and dairy are sourced locally from producers who pride themselves on being able to tell you the name of the particular animal on your plate, and the fresh produce - fruits and vegetables - is grown on site by a team of eight gardeners. If you order a verveine tisane to help you sleep, you can expect to see someone sprint to the end of the gardens to pick the fresh verbena for you. The chateau benefits from its location in the Loire to offer a superb wine list comprising local wines, with a few bins from further afield in France.
Dinner can also be served in the formal dining room - a particularly luxurious option for groups to experience dining 18th-century-style under crystal chandeliers with portraits of long-dead notables looking down on the heavily gilded and upholstered chairs.
Lunch is also served in Le Lucé, but if the weather is nice, the chef will make up a picnic hamper and bring it to you by the pool or in the garden, or for you to take with you on the back of one of the hotel bikes if you're exploring further.
Is there a bar?
Yes, and it's the only place in the chateau with a television. A cocktail list in the pipeline, but, a good selection of spirits is currently being served.
You can look forward to a pool in the style and location of the original circular fountain, with a second winter pool planned, pedal and electric bikes to suit any energy level, a valet service, spa and fitness salon, Buly 1803 products and thoughtful touches like the specially chosen book for bedtime reading and the wicker basket crammed with local goodies to snack on in your room when you arrive - perfect for swinging on your arm à la française as you head for a swim.
Things you should know
The ground floor of the chateau is worth wandering around, to take in the Petit Salon, Salle à Dinner, Grand Salon and Salon de Thé, which is an excellent place for a morning coffee or an afternoon snack, and, even if you're not staying in it, see if you can ask one of the impeccably dressed (top-to-toe cream, plus the latest Stan Smiths) staff members for a tour of the Baron's Suite and private drawing room, the Salon Chinois. The hotel is also both child- and pet-friendly.
What about accessibility?
The hotel is accessible to all - a lift has been cleverly concealed within the original walls to allow access to all floors.
And their eco-credentials?
While they're not sustainability pioneers, alongside the home-grown fruit and vegetables in the potager, all the food (and most of the wine) is locally sourced. In addition, the hotel is part of the town's new energy initiative - a heating network that relies on wood chips and steam instead of oil, which has been 10 years in the making.
Within a short walk you can find…
The chateau is set in 32ha of grounds surrounded by the original medieval wall, and a short walk (or bike ride) will take you through the potager, past the geese-filled lake and into the white-oak forest to find the seven statues of ancient gods given to the baron by his friend King Louis XV; replicas of those at Versailles. In the other direction is Grand-Lucé village, with the gates of the chateau opening into the tiny town square. The village is home to two boulangeries, a beautiful 11th-century church, the historic City Hall and a farmers' market on Wednesdays.
In the unlikely event you want to leave the peace of the estate, hot-air balloon rides can be arranged from the meadow, allowing you to float over the Loire Valley, home to some exceptional French wines, including its famous Sancerre, tastings of which can be organised by the hotel. Le Mans, famous for its 24-hour racing circuit and ancient walled city, is less than half an hour away.