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Hôtel Barrière L’Hermitage

by Mike Cranmer

To escape the unbearable heat and tourist-hassle of the capital in August, savvy Parisians go west. Not the Caribbean, but La Baule in the Loire-Atlantique (southern Brittany to you and me). Less than four hours by car or TGV, it’s their equivalent of Rock, or Salcombe, and they up-sticks for the entire month; maman, grand-mère, grand-père, des gamins, nounou, and assorted pets.

But what of papa I sense you asking? Well, he’s probably following that convention of many French professionnels of having his cake (should that be gâteau?) and eating it. The conversation goes thus: “I’ve got so much on that I’ll probably only be able to get down late on Friday. Go with the others Cherie, and I’ll be there as soon as I can″. She sighs resignedly, and knows exactly what this really means…some intensive rumpy-pumpy in the little appartement in which he keeps his not-so-secret maîtresse.

He’s maintaining that great Gallic tradition which his father, grand-father, and great grand-father practised. Almost an unwritten law, the French are not at all shocked by such goings-on, indeed it’s practically expected. She doesn’t really mind. There’s so much to spend his hard-earned euros on: tennis, horse-riding, golf, cycling, and swimming, all of which come with fit, tanned young professional instructors; and, the cream on the gâteau, spa treatments and shopping.The epicentre of all of the above is Hôtel Barrière L’Hermitage, old-money, solid 5-star traditional luxury on the spectacular 9 km beach. Surrounded by immaculate gardens where the buzzing of bees mingles with the distant splash of the waves, it’s been attracting the moneyed since 1926. Churchill, the Agha Khan, Aristotle Onassis, and Maurice Chevalier have all stayed.

Designer Chantal Peyrat has recently renovated things with a ‘touch of modernity’ (note the understatement). The lobby is a tad like the Hall of Mirrors at the fair. Rather discombobulating after a Dry Martini or three, but, once you have gained your suite all is restored to serenity and calm. With windows thrown open the view is splendid, the sweep of the bay together with a conveniently placed yacht to add a focal point.

Time, perhaps, for Cherie to spend some of papa’s hard-earned assets in the spa, which has all you would expect and more, including ‘Aerial Wellbeing for the Future massages’ (hunh?) and St Barth products whose Cream Mask with Pink Clay and Passion Fruit at €60 a small jar sounds both appropriate and a bargain. This is Gossip Central where wives and daughters and mothers wait their allotted time for treatments. All eyes swivel to a newcomer assessing her and what she’s wearing… Mmm, Christian Louboutin shoes, €700; Liu Jo Blazer and Joggins €442, nice. Important to look good in the spa.Invigorated, but worn-out from a morning’s pampering, lunch is taken by the outdoor heated seawater pool, then le shopping in the exclusive boutiques that cluster round the rear gardens of the hotel their owners circling like sharks round an injured fish. Cherie must have a new dress to wear at the Casino, and maybe something for that all-important appearance at the spa…Oh, and a new bikini…The propriétaire will know exactly what the other wives have bought and must be careful not to double-sell if she wants to avoid le scandale.

La Baule’s beach is big enough to land the world’s largest passenger airliner, the Airbus A380, on with bags of room left for beach volleyball, and stripy changing huts. It might sink into the soft sand though. Get up early and take a stroll when only horse riders and pisteurs are about. Pisteurs? We’re not in the Alps. Correct, but this beach is pisted every day not by a Ratrack, but a tractor dragging a harrow. Result? Perfect corduroy sand good enough to ski on if it was snow, and if it was halfway up a mountain.

Up the north coast is an uber-exclusive enclave of villas, each with its high wall, entry-phone access only, cool pines, and private, very private sea front access. These are the holiday homes of the privileged, the government minister, the financier, the famous. A certain Sir M Jagger brings his family here. Well some of them anyway. He has eight children with five women, five grandchildren, and a great-grand-daughter. Must be a decent-sized villa!But what of papa feeling the pressure of all that work bearing down on him? Convention requires at least one weekend appearance at Hôtel Barrière L’Hermitage when he will be required to make a show, host a meal, maybe at Fouquet’s Brasserie, sister of the original in Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and presented by Chef Mikael Amisse. Specialities include fine oysters from the Île aux Moines, roasted blue lobster or the famous sole meunière.

Monday morning, duty done, he’s on the early train to Paris and more of the daily grind.

Hôtel Barrière L’Hermitage
5 Esplanade Lucien Barrière
44500 La Baule-Escoublac


  • Mike Cranmer

    Michael is passionate about many things: skiing, music (anything that moves him, but especially the blues, Stax, Motown, and gospel), Dirty Dry Vodka Martinis, good pals, and living ‘in the moment’. One-time international photographer turned Picture Editor, he eventually saw the light and became a ski-instructor and travel writer. His stories are “about the extraordinary people I meet along the way”.

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