Ok, it’s a feeble excuse. But since Lavender’s Blue have once again been asked to sit on the Nominations Committee of the World Boutique Hotel Awards, we simply had to hop on Eurostar Business Premier to five star intimate luxury in Lille. Three blind mice arches on either side of a gated pedimented Corinthian pilastered archway line the pavement of Rue de la Barre in Quartier du Vieux. Beyond this most enigmatic of screen walls, set back behind a courtyard, is the façade of a gorgeous nine bay three storey 18th century stuccoed mansion. It’s Relais + Châteaux; it’s really a château.
Clarance Hotel started life in 1736 as the home of Count and Countess of Hespel. Current owner Aurélie Vermesse says, “It took me more than two years to set up La Clarence as a hotel, opening in April 2015. Today, I have 30 employees, a Michelin starred restaurant, and I generate €2.7 million in turnover!” Our coterie, an outré beau monde, is at home among the soignée haute monde, social carousels in slow motion, floating through the airily graceful reception rooms. A row of French (what else?) windows lighting the rear enfilade opens onto a gloriously private walled garden with the tower of St Catherine’s Church as a backdrop. Fruit trees and beehives surround a pond of waterlilies that would give Monet a run for his money. Clarance Hotel is divine, so chic.
It’s not just us feeling Lille. “For those who want a London career,” surprises Annunciata Elwes in Country Life, “but enjoy a French attitude to cuisine and culture (cheese and wine), apparently Lille is the next commuter property hotspot. Website Emoov claims that the combination of the capital’s higher wage potential, Lille’s more affordable properties (34.9 percent cheaper) and a Eurostar commute of only an hour and 22 minutes is a winner.”
By nightfall, turndown of our light and spacious bedroom includes a handwritten card from the hotelier: “’There, all is order and beauty, luxury, Peace and Pleasure.’ I wish you a pleasant stay at Clarance. Aurélie.” And the all important chocolate truffles. Our room, No.14, is called Le Voyage. It’s one of just nine rooms on the second floor. The others are called No.12 Allegorié; No.15 L’Albatros; No.16 Hymne; No.17 Le Flacon; No.18 Le Jeu; No.19 La Musique; and No.20 Clarance. No.13, its door luckily unnumbered, is the broom cupboard. A segmental arched window looks across the courtyard to a pleasing jumble of chimneys and rooftops. Directly below are seats perfect for enjoying a nightcap of Les Rochettes Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu 2015 from Loire Valley.
The categories for this year’s World Boutique Hotel Awards are Beach or Coastal| City Explorer | Classic Elegance | Culinary Excellence | Family | Honeymoon Hideaway | Inspired Design | Newcomer | Relaxation Retreat | Romantic Retreat | Wellness Spa | Sustainability | Stunning Views. We could easily nominate Clarance Hotel for all 13. Ok, Beach or Coastal might be pushing it.