During warm weekends and extended holidays, the French saunter out of Paris to find respite in family homes tucked into the quaint corners of Normandy or Loire Valley. These getaways are as essential to the French way of life as just-baked baguettes, full of idyll lounging, endless from-the-garden meals and the occasional leisure activity unfolding over days and weeks.
The French have always been devoted to the country escape, but it’s recently become more modern and accessible thanks to Le Barn. This cool country hotel outside Paris opened in June with a contemporary interpretation of this longtime ritual, drawing inspiration from the French tradition without requiring the journey deep into other regions of France.
A brief 30-minute train ride from Gare Montparnasse drops visitors off at the town of Rambouillet, which shares a name with the rambling royal forest that covers over 100 square miles of ?le-de-France. Hopping in a taxi at the station, the car winds through small villages that offer pause between acres of oak trees home to wild boar, deer and even a troupe of wallabies, descendants of a rogue few who escaped from a local zoo in the 1970s. The trip is the equivalent to a ride up the Hudson from Manhattan to Dobbs Ferry, but the destination is much more reminiscent of rural Vermont.
This bucolic setting leads to Le Haras de la Cense, a rustic 500-acre horse training academy surrounded by hiking trails in the small town of Bonnelles. Owned by Franco-American executive William Kriegel, the estate echoes the natural setting of a sprawling sister property in Montana, offering up its pastoral beauty as the backdrop for Le Barn. Kriegel, who expressed an interest in transforming part of the French estate into low-key accommodations for visitors to the horse academy, eventually gave way to the compelling vision of Edouard Daehn. A partner at Marugal hotel management, Daehn imagined Le Barn as a soulful, sustainable retreat within unprecedented reach of the French capital.
Reinventing a cluster of old barns into design-forward spaces required a bit of ingenuity. “I think that when we talk about the countryside in France and in Europe, we refer constantly to the past,” Daehn says. ”But it’s also interesting to experience a contemporary interpretation of what the countryside could and should be.” Seeking artistic nuance, Daehn partnered with the iconic Parisian design studio be-poles to bring his vision to life. What evolved from there is a rich reinterpretation of a French country retreat that yields to nature with the poetic informality of a chic summer camp.
Hay bales welcome you to the property, followed by horses swishing their tails in large paddocks and children darting up and down the estate’s dirt roads on the hotel’s bicycles. Daehn’s puppy Clarky (named after William Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark) often greets guests outside the main building, and a former sheep barn now houses a glass-backed bar that doubles as a concierge. There’s a tiled fireplace in the middle of the lobby, framed by a low forest-green couch, a long farm table and a small library of eclectic books. A conservatory overflowing with plants serves as a communal living room and La Serre (which means “greenhouse” in French) is the property’s indoor-outdoor bistro. The restaurant expands beyond the bar into a breezy patio, where you can watch guests riding horses into the trails of the adjacent forests. Its menu sticks close to home, pulling produce from the two gardens on the estate. With four choices per course, the seasonal options are fairly limited but beautifully executed French favorites.
The fine editing of Le Barn’s design informs every detail of the hotel, from the perfectly mismatched vintage prints to the co-ed bathrooms off the lobby. Be-poles has anchored the rustic chic motif in the hotel rooms, most of which have been built in repurposed grain stores. Earth tones and neutrals ground petite rooms trimmed with Barbour waxed cotton curtains. Early sketches of Le Barn’s designs hang on the cork wallpapered walls with push pins. Outside, American hunting chairs rest on porches, beckoning you to grab a cup of drip coffee in an enamel cup (enamel is a theme here) and watch the sun rise over the property.
The spirit of reinvention extends from the rooms to the spa, a former mill that ushers in waves of relaxation with a hammam, sauna, and outdoor Nordic baths. Daehn recruited Ayurvedic doctor Sreejan Kerala as a masseuse and osteopath, and his holistic philosophy nurtures the same joyful calm in humans that the horses embody in their tranquil life on the farm. Although most of the guests are young families, couples often retreat to the natural oasis of the spa for a quiet weekend.
Le Barn differs from other rural retreats by striking an egalitarian note; Daehn wants to make bourgeoisie vacation more affordable than the cost of a country house. There’s a six-bed bunk room that’s ideal for children but doubles as an attainable getaway for 20-somethings who want the designer digs and a leafy landscape without the price tag. Daehn hopes everyone will come here and “unleash” their kids—or their inner kid—to experience unbridled adventure. At his behest, Le Barn doesn’t have a set check-out time on Sundays, so visitors can reap the full benefits of a restorative weekend without any constraints.
Guests here do as much or as little as they want, from resting on lounge chairs under a giant oak tree to taking meandering walks to nearby villages, horseback riding, cycling, or collecting wild mushrooms. For those looking to see cultural attractions, the Chateau de Rambouillet and sprawling Versailles are always nearby. I opted to sink into the property and rest—and I wasn’t the only one embracing the slower side of a quick getaway from Paris.
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