SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ: LA DEVINIERE HOTEL
On a quiet pedestrian street in the historic Basque town of St Jean de Luz, meters from the Grande Plage, lies La Devinière, a small hotel of surprise, style and intriguing beauty. Within the painted ‘maison famille’, the quiet of the polished interior with its book lined walls and eighteenth century furniture closes comfortably around, a seal against the modern world, and offers a tempting invitation into a time of elegance and grace. There are only ten bedrooms, each one styled with original furniture, arranged to create an entire ambience of the kind of luxury Louis X1V ( who in 1660 was married to the Infanta of Spain in the Church of St. Jean Baptiste round the corner) would have appreciated. His famous emissary and ecclesiastical fixer Cardinal Mazarin, set up in a house along the pretty port nearby for the event, and one can well imagine the two of them raising a congratulatory glass in the small chic salon of La Devinière.
The name comes from elsewhere. It was the home of the notorious French author Rabelais and hotel owner Bernard Carreaux, himself a prominent writer, reckons that is all you need to know about the spirit of his hotel.
“Go no further “ he asserts, “ Rabelais for me is the greatest of French philosophers. He embodies the art of living, the art of gastronomy, of wine – and of course of love.’ He gestures to a plan of his hero’s grand estate at Chinon, displayed on the wall. The hotel style is faithful to the spirit of good living. Each bedroom has an inspired collection of exquisite French furniture, for use not ornament, with the odd Prie-Dieu or antique clock ( not working, Rabelais would not have approved of time-keeping) and a library of books (mine had the complete works of Jules Verne and Stendhal - I counted a thousand volumes) .
The "La Devinière" experience goes further. Bernard Carreuax wants every guest to explore their own fantasies and their own humour. In fact there are wry ironic quips at every turn of the stair, and guests have a list of articles of association to read on arrival which turn out to be a humorous inversion of the usual injunctions to come in quietly late at night, telling those who want to go early to bed ( possibly because they’re in love ) must consider others who need to arrive late. The great Rabelais’ famous rule for the monks in his fantasy abbey “ Do as you wish” is certainly the motto at La Devinière. Our host wants us to live in the house as a friend. He gives everyone a key to guests to come and go as they like and live as if at home. Unless you have the entire Napoleonic army in perfect uniform as toy soldiers marching to the battle of Marengo as I had on my bookcase, your home probably isn’t , but the spirit of warmth and peace in the place is very like home really should be.
There are so many delightful touches. M. Carreaux serves a classic French breakfast every morning either in the densely secluded garden or in his tiny breakfast room on the street. Each guest has a large silver pot of coffee, and on the tray a handsome silver breadknife balances, plunged into a fresh ficelle loaf, jam and butter , croissants and pains au chocolat. There is no menu. In the salon a Bechstein stands there for anyone to play and the fire is set ready for any chilly day. It is unbelievably silent particularly since the Grand Plage with the entire razzmatazz of a French August seaside is only steps away. I imagine a winter visit would be divine.
Naturally enough, "La Devinière", does not do modern technology (M. Carreaux has conceded a downstairs wifi
“Screen in their rooms? What on earth for? I can’t imagine what they’re doing up there?” and although he treats guests with friendliness courtesy and charm, he is impatient of the dismaying glare of a screen lighting up in his elaborately styled salon. Actually halfway through the week he disappeared ‘A la Campagne” substituted by a charming blonde who told us ‘M. Carreaux always goes away at weekends, he will be back on Tuesday”.
La Devinière with its sense of a civilized past re-discovered, is true to its inspirational 15th century patron, rebellious, learned and dedicated to living well. Your stay will be your own creation.
As M. Carreaux writes “C'est à votre rythme, selon votre humeur et votre fantaisie que nous vous invitons à découvrir "La Devinière".
Tariff ; 160-180 Euros