Sebastien Siraudeau, an interiors writer and photographer, spent a year travelling around guesthouses all over France and the result is a book, French Style at Home, which features some 30 hidden gems.
'The owners are passionate about the places they live in and love sharing knowledge'
Those who love French style and are looking for inspiration for their own homes, or who want to stay in some of the most charming interiors in France and meet the owners, should let Sebastien's book be their guide.
“I have sought out places to stay where a unique interior design style takes centre stage but what they all have in common is that the owners are passionate about the places they live in and love welcoming guests, making them comfortable and sharing the local knowledge,” he says.
According to Corinne Aubert, who runs the Hotel d’Alfonce, an aristocratic town residence in Pezenas, Languedoc-Roussillon, the playwright Molière performed his first plays for the original owners, while Corinne’s ancestor used the 17th-century building as a lemonade factory.
Since Corinne is also a fashion designer, she could not resist giving some of the rooms a theatrical flourish by hanging painted trompe l’oeil panels, while the exterior boasts a flower-filled courtyard and tranquil loggias.
Over near Bresse in Burgundy, Dominique and Marie-Eugenie offer guests delicious, locally-reared food in their rustically charming La Ferme de Marie-Eugenie. Having downsized from Paris where they had both worked in advertising, Dominique turned the outbuildings into guestrooms, while Marie-Eugenie tracked down vintage objects and furniture at antique fairs.
If you fancy the Loire, Chantal Padovani and Yves Anne love welcoming guests into their Renaissance limestone château, Boissimon, near Tours. The couple fell in love with it several years ago, and bought it despite its decayed state.
With the help of local craftsmen and an interior designer, they have brought it back to life. A charming and knowledgable couple, they will lend guests bicycles to explore local sights.
Fans of Brittany will enjoy staying at Le Manoir de la Villeneuve in Lamballe, where owner Nathalie Peres has created a comfortable and romantic haven that is close to the seaside, while Muriel and Eric Chevalier used their renovation expertise and love of recycling to give Le Chateau d’Uzer in the Ardeche a dramatic makeover.
They used stones from an abandoned village train station to edge the swimming pool and reupholstered ordinary furniture in vibrant new fabrics. She loves cooking; he restores and makes furniture.
The Trente-Trois in Auteuil, Picardy, is decorated in a mix of Gustavian pastels and Flemish colour, and is a perfect place to visit the landscapes of Auvers-sur-Oise, so beloved of Monet and van Gogh, while the Sardines aux Yeux Bleus, in Aigaliers, is another restored 17th-century building, its bedrooms painted in muted colours and filled with vintage linens and flea market finds.
The Normandy skies are reflected in the pastel blue colour schemes chosen by Fan and Jean-Claude Osmont, in their 18th-century manor house at Le Clos Bourdet in Honfleur, which they renovated after running a small teashop for 25 years.
Alternatively enjoy the seaside feel of Ma Maison de Mer, further down on the Atlantic coast, run by Brits, Emma and Philip Hutchinson, who moved out there in 2003 and have no intention of coming back to Britain.
“It isn’t always easy, the way people imagine but it suits us and is a better way of living, even though the winters are wet and cold”, says Emma. Prices start at under €100 a night for a double room and breakfast.
Book offer: French Style at Home
French Style at Home (£19.95) can be bought for the special price of £17.50, including p&p, by calling 01903 828503 and quoting the reference T&H French.
I have tried all ways to travel to France - plane, car and train - and booked-in-advance Eurostar is the clear winner. Ryanair’s flights from Stansted to Bergerac, for example, may seem cheap at £10 but with taxes can cost £60 and with return fares to Stansted from Liverpool Street, top £80. Then there are taxis to and from the French airport.
Driving to a similar destination turns out to be expensive, too, once you add the cost of the Eurotunnel (about £80 each way), the diesel or petrol (four tanks at £50 a tank) and the motorway tolls (£30). And it is a punishingly long journey (unless you stop en route overnight, which pushes up costs again).
Eurostar’s fares to Paris, if booked well in advance, cost £50 for under-25s /£60 for adults return, plus about the same again from Paris down to Souillac. There are no derisory baggage restrictions and trains are relaxing, and especially fun for children. Even with a treat lunch at the fabulous Brasserie Terminus Nord in Paris it is still the cheapest.
For more information
Eurostar: St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, bookable up to 120 days in advance from £24.50 each way. Visit www.eurostar.com.
Rail Europe: for travel in the rest of France, booked up to 90 days in advance, call 08448 484064, or visit www.raileurope.co.uk.
Ryanair: flights from Stansted to Bergerac or Limoges are from £2.29 plus taxes. Visit www.ryanair.com.
Eurotunnel booking/information: visit www.eurotunnel.com.
How to get the look in London
Appley Hoare, 22 Pimlico Road, SW1; 0207 730 7070; www.appleyhoare.com.
Anna May & Daughter, 80 Wandsworth Bridge Road, SW6; 020 7731 0862.
The French House, 41-43 Parsons Green Lane, 020 7371 7573; www.thefrenchhouse.co.uk.
Sunbury Antiques market at Kempton Park Racecourse holds twice-monthly sales; www.kemptonantiques.com.
Bazar Antiques, 82 Golborne Road, W10; 020 8969 6262.
All pictures by Sebasatien Siraudeau