France has officially reopened to (vaccinated) international travelers—and not a moment too soon, say travel agents, who have immediately found themselves scrambling to meet the demand. “We are already seeing availability issues in July and August,” explains Philip Haslet, co-founder of the French travel specialist Kairos, speaking from his home in Provence. “This is the busiest I think I’ve been—ever.”
That’s good news for the travel industry, which needs to make up for a year and half ‘s worth of deficits. But for travelers, it leaves a lot to untangle; some are piecing together short stays at multiple resorts to work around booked-up dates and other restrictions. Combine this with the fact that many of France’s most exciting hotel openings are still to come, and there may be good reason to (briefly) delay a visit.
Plus, says Haslet, August should still be relatively quiet amid the typical summer closures in Paris and beyond. “This is France,” he exclaims. There may be fewer businesses closing for the month, “but I fear that the underlying Gallic DNA will kick in.”
Not that there’s ever a bad time to visit France. So whether that’s in the near future or after more dust settles, here are the hotels to prioritize … assuming you can get in.
Surrounding the Cities
Airelles Chateau de Versailles, Le Grand Controle
Within the gated grounds of the iconic Louis XIV estate and facing its famed Orangerie is Le Grand Controle, a three-building complex that once hosted dignitaries and has recently been reborn as a 14-room luxury hotel. It’s the first time that relative commoners—not courtiers—can sleep within the palace’s storied walls, a privilege that buys private early morning access to the gardens and after-hours tours of the Hall of Mirrors. The sumptuous, period-inspired rooms feel like time travel to the 18th century. But then the Alain Ducasse restaurant, Valmont spa, and sophisticated geothermal heating system that were installed during the years-long renovation remind you that 2021 is a gilded era all its own. Rooms from $2,000.
Saint James Paris
Imagine the quintessential French country estate—and then drop it in the 16th arrondissement within a few minutes’ walk of the Trocadero or Arc de Triomphe, which is getting wrapped according to the (late) artist Christo’s design in September. That’s what you get at the Saint James, which will open with 50 rooms and a members’ club on July 1. The gracious estate was once an elite school, and its gardens occupy a former launchpad for hot air balloons; now it will have an ambitious restaurant helmed by Ducasse protégé Julien Dumas and enough space for guests to go horseback riding or cycling. For the ultimate urban oasis book, the Pavillon d’Amour, a stand-alone triplex cottage with its own steam room and an elaborate fountain out front. Rooms from $535.
Tuba Club, Marseille
You’d think this chic, five-bedroom inn—run by the owners of a popular restaurant that shares its name—were on its own private island in the middle of the sea. The opposite is true. Sure, it’s set on a rocky outcropping with daybeds under the Mediterranean sun. And yes, the house dish, “Linguini Tuba,” is coated in a clam sauce that smacks of the Italian Riviera. But Tuba is in fact perched at the edge of a fishermens’ enclave on the outskirts of Marseille, a vibrant culture capital that’s ready to outgrow its French second city reputation. Even with traffic, you’re just 30 minutes away from Vieux Port, where you’ll find the Mucem museum of art and architecture, with its Jeff Koons summer blockbuster show. Rooms from $200.
New Countryside Classics
La Maison d’Estournel, Bordeaux
The original tenant of this grand estate in the Haut-Médoc, Louis Gaspard, was one of Bordeaux’s early wine exporters, sending cases for distribution in India throughout the early 1800s. Now under the careful management of Michel Reybier Hospitality—a group that also owns La Reserve in Paris—Gaspard’s legacy is kept intact. You’ll notice his influence throughout the maison’s 14 rooms and many common spaces, from a secret basement cellar (now available for wine tastings) to its sprawling vineyards and subcontinent-inspired décor. Befriend the concierge, who can arrange tours at premiere grand cru vineyards, cooking classes in local homes, or lunch with oyster farmers along the charming shoreline of the Bay of Arcachon. And expect to indulge. Bordeaux may be best known for its grapes, but this is the region that gives us foie gras, truffles, and some of France’s best produce. La Maison puts all of that on display every chance it gets. Rooms from $300.
Les Sources de Cheverny, Loire Valley
Nobody does bucolic luxury like the French, and nowhere is that clearer than Les Sources de Cheverny, a 49-room castle that takes its ethereal design cues from the ancient forest around it. The location is convenient to Cheverny and Chambord, but the hotel is a destination unto itself, with yoga classes in the woods, a spa that offers “crushed Cabernet scrubs,” and thermal baths en plein air, plus a wine bar in the estate’s old cellar that focuses on lesser-known local varietals. Rooms from $240.
Le Domaine du Mas de Pierre, Provence
The house car at this totally overhauled 75-room resort is a Rolls-Royce, but most guests opt to get around the property—and the quaint surrounding town—with a fleet of house e-bikes. That’s Le Domaine du Mas de Pierre Resort & Spa in a nutshell, with varying strokes of luxury for many kinds of guests. For families, there’s a complimentary kids’ club that accepts three-year-olds and up, complete with a bouncy castle and gardening workshops. For nature lovers, there is an equestrian center and the option to go canyoning or paragliding. And for sybarites, there’s a fragrance garden, aviary, and four restaurants that draw ingredients from the aforementioned on-site garden. There’s no better place to choose your own adventure. Rooms from $275.
Hotel Lou Pinet, Saint-Tropez
Travel specialist Haslet says this hotel has single-handedly made Saint-Tropez relevant again, contrary to any impression that the destination was resting on its laurels—or that it may be best suited for one- or two-night escapades to simply soak in excess. That’s because Hotel Lou Pinet has something many of its neighbors lack: three generations worth of soul. Family owned and run, the hotel has just 34 eclectically designed rooms inspired by such artists as Picasso and Cézanne. Its soundtrack is more cicadas than electronica, the property is planted with fragrant trees (Lou Pinet means “pine” in the local dialect), and the pool is tiled in a romantic shade of egg blue that matches the hotel’s window shutters. It all feels a little like a 1960s daydream, with the Brigitte Bardot glamour to match. Rooms from $625.
Worth the Wait
Those willing to plan an entire trip around a truly special hotel will have two openings to watch for in the coming months: the Maybourne Riviera on the Cote d’Azur and the LVMH-owned Cheval Blanc Paris. Neither has begun to accept bookings, yet there’s a good chance both will open before summer’s end.
The Cheval Blanc project occupies a storied building in the 1st arrondissement, right off the quai du Louvre. A former department store, it’s being completely reimagined as a 72-room urban oasis by Peter Marino, all spritzed with a custom scent designed by Maison Dior’s top nose. This is LVMH, so Dior will also do the spa, where floral baths will be on the menu; it’s expected that there will be ample opportunity to showcase the company’s various Champagne brands. In typical LVMH style, the company is building mystery around the finer details—but this is an enterprise that can always exceed the hype.
There’s more to chew on with the Maybourne Riviera—literally. A modernist glass-and-steel jewel box near the medieval village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, it’s set to have 69 sea-facing rooms with access to a spate of restaurants designed by the world’s best chefs. Mauro Colagreco, whose three-Michelin star Mirazur currently holds the title of World’s Best Restaurant bestowed by William Reed Business Media, is in charge of one venue; Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Japanese sushi legend Hiro Sato are overseeing others. It’s only fitting for a hotel group whose crown jewels include the Connaught and Claridge’s.