Right by the water’s edge in Dinard, an elegant resort town in Brittany whose belle époque villas and grand hotels still hint at the grandeur of days gone by, Hotel Castelbrac holds its own among the surroundings. This fortress-like jumble of manicured stonework, originally built in the 1930s as a marine research station, sits on the town’s eastern shoreline overlooking St Malo across the water.
Inside there’s a sophisticated, modern vibe (think art deco-inspired headboards and bathroom fittings, columns intricately tiled with mosaics and porthole-like windows illuminating velvet banquettes in the bar) while panoramic seaside views reflect the hotel’s restive, peaceful atmosphere.
Pampering is very much the order of the day here. Guests have access to private boat trips, bespoke treatments by Parisian spa brand Thémaéand a stunning sliver of a pool – a heated outdoor lap pool that lies just above the shore (bob your head up between strokes and you can look out at the sea below).
The hotel’s main restaurant, Le Pourquoi Pas, offers refined dining that attracts hotel guests and locals alike. Using high quality produce (including fish and seafood caught just along the coast), chef Julien Hennote and his team pair local Breton ingredients with classic French techniques to create a menu rather fancifully described as being inspired by a walk along Dinard’s Claire de Lune promenade; you can either dip your feet in the water with the restaurant’s seafood or keep your feet on the ground and order the Breton pork. Don’t let the pretension put you off. Our trio of pork belly with crispy skin, slow-braised pork and a croquette made with pigs ears, feet and cheek was delicious. As was a carrot cake-inspired dessert named “the carrot” – a wondrously gooey concoction made with caramelised carrots, soft-cheese sorbet, crunchy biscuit and orange sauce.
If you’re there for lunch over summer definitely try to bag a table on the terrace. Right by the water, beneath a battalion of stylish parasols, you can order from a lighter, simpler menu (think grilled fish, salads and a seaweed burger) while gazing out to sea.
Afternoon tea is also a possibility here, as is a sundowner, but if you’re staying at the hotel don’t overdo it: freshly made pastries are delivered to your room each evening.
Choose from that stunning terrace (perfect in the summer months) or grab a velvet-lined pew in the hotel’s main bar. Called The Aquarium it takes its name from the marine exhibits that were once housed here (in a nice nod to its former incarnation the colour scheme is a medley of wave-like blues and golds while coffee tables are draped in gilded, mermaid-like scales).
As you might expect, the wine list is exclusively French and covers all the country’s major wine-producing regions, including Muscadet and Gros Plant from more northerly climes.
Like any self-respecting French bar, there’s a decent cocktail menu too (try an Apple Badiane made with Calvados from neighbouring Normandy along with Chartreuse, lemon and apple juices and cinnamon). Surprisingly there aren’t any Breton ciders on the drinks list but Eric Bordelet’s artisan cider from Normandy won’t disappoint if you’re a cider fan.
There are 25 rooms to choose from at Castelbrac and no two are the same. Scattered across three buildings, all of which overlook the sea, each one is a variation on designer Sandra Benhamou’s 1936-meets-2016 nautical theme. Pretty mosaic tiles, navy and sand colour schemes (with the occasional splash of russet and lime) and furnishings emblazoned with delicate, seaweed-like fronds are subtle nods to the surrounding sealife – and to that which once inhabited the space.
Splash out on one of the prestige rooms and you can enjoy panoramic windows stretching across the entire front of the room. Walk-in rain showers come as standard but some rooms also have elegant bathtubs at the foot of the beds; draw a bath and soak up the views while wallowing in a selection of Thémaéminiatures (ours came with a bath teabag in a soothing blend of green tea and almond milk).
As you would expect the selection of fresh breads and French pastries at the breakfast buffet is exemplary but there are some surprises, too. We loved a lemon drizzle cake and an apple tart was to die for. Help yourself to these, plus cold meats and cheeses, or choose from a menu of more substantial dishes that are cooked-to-order.
Take a short stroll along the promenade to Dinard’s beach. There are lovely views here over to the picturesque old town of Saint Malo. If curiosity wins out, ask to be whisked across to it on the hotel’s private motorboat. Or, for ultimate romance, ask for the skipper, Nicolas, to take you on a trip to Les Ebihens Island, where you can enjoy a glass of French wine and a picnic provided by the hotel.
Simpler pleasures can be found just by wandering around Dinard, however. Especially for gourmands. There are great daily markets here (pick up some French cheeses to take home with you) and all manner of places to try crèpes, or galettes (we liked the ones at Le Hautecloque on rue du Marechal Leclerc).
Superior rooms at Castelbrac start from €210, b&b (castelbrac.com). Return ferry crossings from Portsmouth to St Malo cost from £78 for two people and a car (brittanyferries.com). For more general info on the area see brittanytourism.com.
Written by Nicki Smith, May 2016
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