Cían Byrne finds a deep sense of relaxation at Castelbrac, a hidden escape on the Brittany coast.
Sitting in a sheltered corner on my private patio I watch the summer moon grow bright, time seems to go slower here in Dinard. The sea here is ferocious, there’s a massive 12-metre change between high and low tide. But on this late June evening, everything is calm. All is silent except for the water gently lapping against the shore and boats bobbing in the bay.
Castelbrac has lived many lives. Dinard was a sleepy fishing village in the 1800s until the English elite moved here during The Belle Époque and built their summer homes on the hills by the sea, including Castelbrac. By the 1930s the building took a step in a very different direction and became a research centre of the National Museum of Natural History and the hotel that we have today is centred around this part of its history.
Arriving at Catelbrac, you’d be forgiven for driving right past it, it’s almost unidentifiable from the road as the hotel is below you, clinging onto the cliff face. Walking through the different floors and split levels of the building, there’s a labyrinth and organic feel to the space as corridors seem to follow their own path.
Each room is full of character and charm with hidden corners and spaces that draw you in. The layout makes me feel like it’s my home for the night as if parts of the hotel are exclusively for me. Rather than being assigned a uniformed space down a long corridor of carbon-copied rooms, I’m staying in a Deluxe Balcony Room that’s full of interesting nooks and crannies in the belly of the building. Opening the double doors to the balcony the outside rushes in as the chirping of sea birds and the smell of sea air fills the room.
The rooms of Castelbrac are designed with subtle but very well-considered choices including porthole style mirrors and windows, whitewashed wooden floors, and abstract fish-shaped details in the panelling all recognising its maritime past. The owners here know the hotel’s story and are steered by it, rather than beholden to it.
Each design detail is gentle, letting me make the link with the building’s history rather than roaring it at me at every chance. Front Office Manager Nicolas and his team here are part of the calming experience as well, their relaxed approach lets the hotel and services do all the impressing. During my stay, they were brilliantly able to toe the line between being attentive to anything I needed without stepping into the territory of being overbearing.
The old signage for the National Museum of Natural History remains etched in stone at the entrance to the lounge, and though mementoes of famous expeditions to Antarctica decorate the walls, the atmosphere is much less perilous nowadays.
Sipping on a cider cocktail (this part of France loves cider) I look across the water to the walled fortress town of Saint-Malo, Dinard’s neighbour who has had a much more colourful past with stories of pirates in the bay and attacks from Louis XIV on the Welsh ruler of the town. Things are calmer on this side of the bay.
Walking down the private path towards a small port, I step aboard the hotel’s private yacht for a tour of the bay. Decked out with vibrant wood panelling and plush seating, Captain Jeff pulls up the buoys, pushes down on the throttle and heads for open water.
Jeff has been sailing these waters for years and knows each cove and hidden beach. He tells me how the deep waters and extremely low tides make this part of the French coast a natural fortress that raiders tried to infiltrate and where corsairs began their infamous raids from.
Back on dry land and exploring the many layers of the hotel, I find my way to the spa where the wheels of the rest and relaxation machine keep on spinning. I book a 50-minute massage in the spa, a short walk down a pathway lined with blooming flowers and climbing plants – it feels like the session has begun even before I arrive.
Castelbrac describes itself as ‘Soul Haven’ and honestly, it’s hard to disagree, it’s almost infectious as if everyone staying here is here to unwind, giving the hotel an overarching air of serenity.
Sailing across the bay on the passenger ferry to Saint-Malo as I leave Dinard, I cross the void back to reality and away from the restfulness of the Castelbrac and back to real life. My stay was only for one night, but it felt longer, and I left with a sense of tranquillity and a fresh appreciation for Brittany.
Images (C) Castelbrac
Tell Me More About Castelbrac
Castelbrac, 17 Av. George V, 35800 Dinard, France
T: +33 2 99 80 30 00 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rooms start from €394