Words by Amelia Bell
It’s not every day a hotel has a bedroom that once belonged to Claude Monet, perhaps one of the most illustrious impressionists of all time. In a former life, La Ferme Saint Siméon was home to aspiring artists (today some of the biggest names in impressionism) who painted the surrounding countryside, coastlines, and shifting skies in their early works.
Now the five-star, Relais & Châteaux farmhouse celebrates its artistic past but brings with it a flair for fine dining, design, and hedonism in the heart of Honfleur.
Much like Normandy’s past, La Ferme Saint Siméon harbours its own history. Once an inn dating back to the 17th century, former residents included impressionists who stayed for the scenery and views overlooking the Seine estuary (cue moody skies, coastal views and the famous Normandy light.) Step inside and you will still see the brush strokes of some of the world’s most acclaimed impressionists dotted around the hotel today. From the decadent lounge, decorated with seaside paintings to portraits clinging to the walls inside the rooms and restaurants, every inch of the hotel has art at the core of it, and it’s not just the design but the activities, and even the food too.
A painter myself, I loved the fact that guests can take painting and drawing classes in the garden or workshop to discover the way in which impressionists played with colour and light. If that’s not your thing, you can wander around the hotel grounds and apple orchards looking out onto the views which inspired their works, and even take a horse-drawn carriage for a historic tour of Honfleur.
I particularly enjoyed my visit to La Ferme de Bien-être, the renovated spa within the hotel, which features a colourful and elaborately tiled indoor pool with murals, steam baths and a sauna. The spa treatments are all based on organic and local ingredients such as milk and Normandy apples and offer a selection of personalised and unique seasonal treatments.
Bag yourself Claude Monet’s once favourite room in the inn (room 22) or Corot’s former workshop (room 19) during your stay. The rooms strike a nice balance between grandeur and the rustic charm you’d expect from a farmhouse. With ornate wooden panels, vintage furniture and a colour palette of creams and charcoal grey, they feel cosy and inviting, as well as grand.
I stayed in a beautiful room in the Pressoir House with ample space, a perfect bathroom, complete with Hermès toiletries, and a bed boasting only the best night’s sleep. Soft lighting, timber frames, roaring fires and vintage chandeliers make it feel like you’re stepping back in time to a more decadent era.
The experimental menus change in rhythm with the seasons, so the culinary concept is always fresh and exciting. Led by head chef Matthieu Pouleur, the hotel has two restaurants, each with a unique ambience and artful take on Norman cuisine. Les Impressionistes set in the opulent dining hall looks like a painting itself, lit by flickering candles set atop pristine white tablecloths, wood-panelled walls and elaborate floral displays.
Go for the Impressions Gourmands menu, which has the likes of turbot with confit cep mushrooms stuffed with Norman sausage and the prettiest apple mousse with white chocolate and apple cinnamon sorbet. You’ll also find local dishes and ingredients like beef reared in cider, pumpkin and Norman lamb in the mix, and, during winter, seasonal ingredients like scallops and apples feature heavily on the menu.
Bistro La Boucane restaurant, meanwhile, has a more relaxed setting with a flickering fire, nice ambience and a copy of one of Monet’s most famous works on display, a painting of La Boucane back in the day. Expect to dine on local specialities such as Norman poultry and fine apple tart with Calvados ice cream.
“My experience of Honfleur has always been the richest of my dreams” said Charles Baudelaire of the historic town, one of northern France’s most popular tourist destinations.
Honfleur attracts visitors from Parisian weekenders to travellers from all over the world keen to discover this pocket of Normandy. With close to one thousand years of history behind it, the area is awash with things to see and do. You can stroll around the medieval town for hours, visit the port, pop into one of countless historic museums like the Eugène-Boudin Museum, or sample yet more excellent food at the local market, also situated next to an exquisite church. Still peckish? A wander down Rue de Darphin, a quintessential cobbled street that is bustling with delicatessens and chocolate shops, will tide you over until dinner.
In a nutshell
Whether it’s the history, the scenery or the art, La Ferme Saint Siméon has so much charm and character and a real story to tell. It’s a place in which to reconnect with nature, enjoy spectacular food and have an experience, rather than just a hotel stay.
Rooms can be booked from €135 with early booking discounts.