The European Union recently placed the United States on their green list allowing for fully vaccinated travelers to enter within each EU nation’s own parameters. One country that was fully open without any restrictions except for proof of vaccination is France. I chose to stop by France for a couple of days on my return from a recent trip to Taiwan (which by the way is also a green listed country with same parameters to enter France).
Upon researching potential places to visit and stay, I came across an AFAR Magazine article on Le Perche and Normandy Cidre. This made me want to visit Normandy and explore cidre distilleries. However, given my shorter visit I soon realized logistically this may not work out as traveling through Normandy requires time and is not as easily accessible by public transit as some other parts of France. However, in my research, I came across a brand new countryside estate hotel that had just opened in late May 2021 just on the fringes of the Normandy and Paris border. This place is Domaine de Primard.
The highlights of my short but sweet stay here were all F&B related. First was trying a bottle of local Norman cidre in the greenhouse nestled in the rose garden. Second was the truly unique and wonderful experience of La Table d’Hote (La Cuisine de Chateau), a private dining experience in the main house’s antique kitchen wherein you can engage with the culinary team as they whip up a wonderful family style dinner with wines to choose from their extensive wine list. I document this in a separate post.
Domaine de Primard is a fantastic getaway just an hour (without traffic) drive outside of Paris. Nestled in its own beautifully designed and maintained gardens, surrounded by the river Eure, vegetable gardens, historic buildings, a spa, wonderful food and beverage program and animals. It is a relaxing escape and an easy French countryside chateau/ estate experience to access from Paris on a shorter visit. Friendly, welcoming, unpretentious, relaxed yet professional service awaits you. It has the potential to be an absolutely perfect understated relaxed luxury experience as it has the right team, lead by GM Celian, infrastructure and vision. Nonetheless it is currently still very new and many things need to be ironed out for a truly spectacular stay. So conclusion is, would recommend, and they certainly welcome all guests right now, this is always helpful to new properties to have a variety of folks walk through their doors to help them fine tune things. However, if that is not your thing to experience minor hiccups, then I would wait it out a bit, but that could also mean higher prices once things are fully up and running.
40 Rooms, including 9 suites
Rates start from €216 right now (tax inclusive), though on the property there were signed indicating in the future, official rates start at €700. If book direct on their website, there is a breakfast inclusive option, as well as refundable and nonrefundable rates. They are a Virtuoso member and on Mr and Mrs. Smith as well.
Check-in is at 3PM, though if arriving early they do everything they can do accommodate an earlier check-in. Check-out is at noon.
Packing: bring the swimsuit, bring what you are comfortable in as this is a place to relax, though nicer outfits for evenings and meals cant hurt. Definitely bring outdoor wear and/or shoes that can handle mud and nature.
Spa treatments start at around €50 for basic things, over all very reasonably priced spa.
Domaine de Primard
The over 30 hectare (100 acres) estate is located in Guainville, just an hour (though realistically 2 with Parisian traffic) drive outside of Paris and half an hour from Giverny, home of Monet. It is an 18th century Directoire-era estate on the banks of the river Eure and until recently, was the home of French actress Catherine Deneuve for over 30 years. It is now run by the Les Domaine de Fontenille hotel group. Primard’s vision is to “welcome you home” and create an unpretentious, understated, and relaxing luxury getaway in the French countryside that will allow you to reconnect with nature, yourself and the abundance of fresh French and Norman produce that make France the culinary capital it is.
Primard has a total of 40 rooms and suites housed in 4 different buildings. There is the oldest building on the estate, the Lakehouse (La Maisno du Lac) with some ground floor rooms having private gardens, Le Barn (a handful of rooms share the former barnhouse with the Spa), La Maison du Verge (former orchard housing the two main restaurants and a few rooms) and the main historic 18th century Maison sur’Eure, the River Eure House. There are 8 room categories, each of varying sizes, some are scattered at various buildings some found in only certain buildings. Most are white walled, minimalist designed while the ones housed in the River House have a mint/ sage/ pastel interior. Over all the entire property has a minimalist countryside pastel chic aesthetic, at least in my terms, not sure how the professionals would call it. Regardless, the focus here is natural tones and elements while remaining true to some architectural and design aspects from the original bones of the buildings.
The revamp of the estate into a hotel was headed by designer Alexandre Lafourcade, with gardens manicured by Belgian artist Jack Wirtz (done 35 years ago). The rose garden contains more than 200 rose varietals! Food and beverage is helmed by Chef Eric Frechon’s group, known for 3 Michelin Star Epicure in Paris’ Hotel le Bristol, and overseen by Chef Yann Meinsel and F&B Directer Julien, both of whom are super friendly. There are 3 dining options, 2 restaurants housed in the former Orchard house. Octave is the casual dining open daily, serving 3 meals. Eglantine is the gourmet restaurant open only Thur-Sun for lunch and dinner. And finally the La Table d’Hote, host’s table private dinner experience in the River Eure House, available on a 24+ hour notice and reservation for parties of 2-12. There is also a hotel bar serving cocktails and liquors and small bites. The wine list is curated by sommelier Louise, and he is super friendly and engaging, if wine is your thing definitely have a chat with him. There is also a Susanne Kaufmann spa housed in the former barnhouse of the estate, with a relaxation area of jacuzzi, steam and sauna. The grounds include a 18 meter pool surrounded by loungers, riverside loungers, gardens, orchards, organic vegetable garden, pastures for the farm animals (donkeys, horses, cows), a vegetation covered natural lake, moats, rivers, a rose garden and green house.
There are plenty of on and off-site activities to choose from. Complimentary bikes available to ride on the estate or in the neighboring Norman villages. You can canoe in the river, explore the gardens and animals. Go to the spa. Arrange for transport and tours of nearby Giverny and its Monet house and gardens. They can also arrange for horseback riding, hiking, fishing, tours of nearby Chateaus and villages and much more at additional costs. Venture further and go deeper into Normandy if you have a car or they can also arrange. There is even a nearby gold course! There is quite a lot to do in and around the estate. But just walking around, enjoying the nature the property has to offer as well as enjoying gastronomic delights throughout the day is enough to fill the day. If walking or biking around the property is not your thing, reception has a small fleet of golf carts they can use to whisk you around if need be. Once the grounds and other logistics and flows are fully developed and complete there will be more options on the estate itself. It is pet and child friendly as well. In fact, very suited for entire families to come, as it has it all for everyone.
Booking and Arrival
I had first found Domaine de Primard on Mr and Mrs. Smith but ended up booking directly with the hotel as the hotel has rates that include breakfast. Primard’s website is easy to navigate and the booking tool is straight forward. I also appreciate that the room descriptions are clear and transparent, for example they clearly inform you that there are 2 deluxe rooms that only come with showers as opposed to the shower/tub combo the rest of them come in. The website though is still lacking in photos for all room categories, but I believe this will be updated in due time. As mentioned the website currently offers both refundable and nonrefundable rates as well as breakfast inclusive and exclusive rates. Rates are quoted tax inclusive, which I absolutely appreciate. In contacting Primard to get some clarification on some things, since their website was slowly in development during my booking in early June, they offered to assist with the reservation. I took them up on the offer v. using the website which would have been much simpler but in talking to them on the phone I was able to get some questions answered at the same time. It was straight forward, I provided my name and contact information and dates, they then sent a confirmation and link to a secure payment portal and once that was submitted my booking was fully set.
Over all email communication with Primard was efficient. They were mostly responsive, though at times it did take a few days to get a response. Nonetheless my questions were always answered. In wanting more information and details before committing to the €1500 pricetag of the La Table d’Hote experience, the reception team said the F&B team would reach out with more information, this did take about a week and was not until I followed-up that I received an email from the F&B manager. Julien was very friendly and professional on our call and he wanted to ensure I understood what I was getting myself into with La Table d’Hote as well as to make it clear that my cousin and I would be his first group of 2 to do the experience. I appreciated the candidness and transparency in this, he really did want to make sure I was making an informed decision.
We ended up booking a nonrefundable, breakfast inclusive rate for a Deluxe Room at €271. Your rate also comes with fully stocked and complimentary non-alcoholic mini-bar, that can be restocked at any time during your stay, and a a complimentary bottle of Fontenille wine, and of course free WiFi (though mainly available inside buildings). Deluxe rooms are scattered across all 4 buildings, and I was glad we were assigned one in the Maison Sur L’Eure, the main Riverhouse.
My flight arrived at Paris CDG on Monday at 7AM. I had booked a one-way transfer and the driver Whatsapp messaged me shortly after I arrived. CDG was a mess as usual and figuring out where to meet the driver with multiple entryways closed due to COVID was a bit of a challenge but made easy by the driver’s good communication. He was waiting outside with a Primard sign, and soon I was whisked away in a BMW to Primard. Bottles of water awaited me in the car. The journey took just over 2 hours due to the heavy traffic surrounding Paris. But it was a nice drive through Parisian countryside in the cloudy, rainy Monday.
Upon arrival, there was unfortunately a construction vehicle in the parking lot, but nonetheless the driver (a third party contractor) contacted the reception and soon a golf-cart made its way to the parking lot. The receptionist even brought an umbrella and had already drawn down the plastic drapes of the golf cart. My bags were loaded and I was taken to the reception, housed in the main house. Our deluxe room was not quite ready yet but we were welcomed and told we could roam about and use all public facilities including the spa at our leisure. A property tour was offered and given, we also were offered to be taken to Octave to have breakfast. Before all that we met with Julien, the F&B Director to go over some details of the night’s dinner experience, La Table D’ Hote.
We had the full day Monday as our stay, as we left at 8AM on Tuesday to return to Paris. Despite the rain in the morning, it was still a lovely time on property.
After a quick tour of the property our golf cart arrived at Octave where we had a light breakfast. Breakfast is served buffet style with juices, yogurt, pastries, cheeses, jams, cold cuts and eggs, you can also order eggs a la carte to your desire. Coffee/tea available on request. You also have the option to have breakfast served in your room if you’d prefer as well.
Following breakfast, we walked around the gardens. There really are a lot of small nooks and crannies throughout the property and the gardens are meticulously manicured. Afterwards, we opted to check out the spa and facilities. Unfortunately due to COVID Protocols the public relaxation room with jacuzzi, steam and sauna was by appointment only, though it has floor to ceiling windows that outside folks can look into and inside folks can look out of, so you can get an idea of what the space and facility looks like. On the second floor is a gym with a rowing machine and full set of water filled kettle bells. On a whim, we decided to book a massage. Though they were fully booked for the afternoon and evening as such since our rooms were not ready and it was still rainy, we just went for a noon massage. I booked a deep tissue massage, and it was actually quite good. The only thing I thought missed the mark was the design of the spa’s interior spaces and treatment rooms. A tad too sterile and hospital like with white walls. Personally I think they could have still gone with the over all natural/pastel tones but incorporated some aspects of a barnhouse aesthetic since it is housed in the former barn. The spa pricing is also very reasonable for a property like this, my 50 minute deep tissue massage was 89 euros. Book with Mr and Mrs. Smith and you can get upgraded to a 90 minute massage when you pre-book a 60 minute massage. After the massage we had water, though tea is also a choice in the post-massage relaxation room. In name of sustainability, there are no plastic bottles on property. Water is canned or in glass bottles.
After the Spa, we went to see if our room was ready and sure enough it was. We were assigned Chambre 4 on the 2nd floor of Maison Sur L’Eure, a nice corner Deluxe Room facing the river Eure and the chateau’s moat. Our baggage were in the room waiting. We were given a verbal room tour, I believe this may be a COVID thing where they dont walk in? Or it could be they wanted to respect privacy and let us relax. Nonetheless a in person tour of the room and its amenities and how to use things would have been great. Our room had very tall ceilings, and large windows. The corner bathroom was very spacious featuring a large claw tub with shower (though no partition) and also had 2 large windows. The hotel delivered on my request for 2 duvets, which is a big plus as often times hotels, even 5-star luxury ones, miss this request when I ask. The bathroom is not fully stocked with all amenities, but if you need something like a dental kit for your toothpaste or brush, they have it available on request. Though other things like slippers, soap/shampoo/conditioner/ lotion, loofa, bath salt, hygiene kit and hair dryer were all there. Estate map is available in the room. The mini-bar is well-stocked, though when opening the compartment housing the fridge, it can get very hot due to the fridge’s exhaust. Nespresso machine, kettle, coffees and teas also available on the table. Charging outlets mainly by the table, none to be found bedside, which I find problematic but could easily be constraints of a historic building, so understandable if that is the case. There is cable TV with a nice selection of local and international channels. Bedding is comfortable with very supportive and plush pillows. Supposedly there is room-service, though no menu or hotel directory was to be found anywhere in the room, perhaps still in development and will soon appear. Nonetheless a simple call to reception should suffice in ordering a glass of wine or a small bite to deliver to your room, and from my observation and experience the team here is more than happy to assist and meet your requests.
Following a post-spa shower and quick room “inspection,” we walked back to Octave for lunch. Unfortunately during a early weekday stay your only on-premise dining options are Octave or La Table d’ Hote (if available), as Eglantine is Thur-Sun only. The lunch and dinner menu at Octave is the same. But for a couple day stay you wont get sick or find yourself repeating the food as its a menu with enough options. There is a wine by the glass menu as well, though it seemed half the choices were not available. Further, either in a classic case of French-English lost in translation in France or it really is the case, when asked for the full wine list or if possible to order from that full wine list we were informed by our waitress that the wine by glass (and their respective bottles) menu was our only option for lunch. Regardless, I would hope this is not the official rule and if so that perhaps it can be changed to provide guests with more options and since it is the same kitchen and cellar, I dont see why not. Octave is a nice refine rustic interior with an open rotisserie and wood fire grill used for lunch and dinner service. All ingredients used in Primard are locally sourced, and some come directly from the estate, in addition to wines Domaine de Fontenille group has its own line of olive oils and other gastronomic condiments. When it is not raining, you can eat outside in the garden in front of Octave. The place is also very pet friendly, staff will pour water in proper dog bowls for your furry friends. Lunch and dinner crowds are a mix of hotel guests and day visitors either passing by or coming for a meal and property tour. For appetizers, a must order is the Mackerel cooked and marinated in white wine served with horseradish sauce. For main, the Norman style rotisserie chicken is a solid option served with creamy buttery mashed potatoes and a salad.
We walked the remainder of currently accessible lands and gardens. The organic garden is planted and there however the full use of the space is not quite ready. There is construction of the future pavilions wherein weddings, events and even gardening/ garden tours will be held, the pathway of the garden has also not been fully touched up yet either. But it is a large garden with lots growing. Along the riverbank and backyard of the main house there are loungers to relax by the water. On a nice day out you can enjoy drinks and small bites in the bar’s outdoor patio seating as well. Due to the weather, I did not use the pool but it is open 9AM-9PM in the longer summer days. There is a small pool house with restroom and what seems to be a set up to serve beverages to guests, though seemingly not in full operation yet. The pool is a very nice 18 meter lap pool and ample loungers surround it. My favorite corner in the various parts of the estate was the greenhouse nestled in the rose garden. You get views of the Maison Sur L’Eure, but still feel secluded amongst the greenery and 200 varieties or roses.
Mid to later afternoon was when we decided it was time to try some Norman cidre, after all that was part of why I opted for Normandy. We went downstairs to the bar, which at the time was not manned, so we just grabbed a menu, happened to grab an English one, and looked. No bottles of wine or cidre available on this menu as its not the proper wine list, but plenty of nice cocktails and liquors to choose from as well as pours of house wine or some Veuve Cliquot vintages. We then went to the reception to see if they had the full wine list or if they had a list of cidres somewhere. There was some confusion, but then we quickly established what we wanted and they noted that they did not have the full wine list yet at the main house or reception but that was a work in progress. They said they would have to call the main restaurant to bring over the list. We opted to walk over instead. This is what I mean by some things are still being ironed out in the entire process and flow of service and offerings here. However, the restaurants were both closed and in their lunch to dinner transition phase. Nonetheless we were let in to the restaurant reception area and the friendly waitress chatted us up as we waiting for a manager to assist us. Manager was on the phone but was able to instruct our waitress friend to grab the Sommelier, Louise, to assist us. Louise is fantastic, super laidback fellow who is excited about his curation of wines at Primard. Unfortunately the cellar is not quite done yet and as such we were not able to see it despite asking. Louise asked how he could assist us, we had been chatting with him throughout the day to decide on our wines for our diner, and I informed him that I wanted to learn more about Normandy Cidre, since we were in Normandy. Louise lit up with excitement as he said he does not often get asked about Cidres but that Normandy cidres are a historic hidden French gems only just taking off on the international stage, much like what the AFAR article said. He asked us where we’d like to have it, even offered to deliver to our room, I said we wanted to enjoy it in the greenhouse, to which he also lit up saying they really want people to utilize and enjoy that space with some wine or food, but that it just gets too hot in the summer on a clear sunny day. Soon Louise came to the greenhouse with a bottle of Eric Bordelet Sidre. Louise walked us through a brief history of Norman cidre and explained that Eric Bordelet is a classic winemaker by training but that he wanted to bring his winemaking skills and expertise to the realm of cidre distilling, which is disruptive to the AOC so to speak as such his Cidres are labelled as Sidres as they are not “officially” considered Cidres due to his distilling process. But that being said, it was my first taste of Norman cidre, and all I can say is WOW. You got elements of wine, beer, liquors, and apple cidre all in one sip. Its crisp, bitter, sweet, earthy, and subtle all at the same time. Easy drinking, and as Louise said, perfect for a summer afternoon drink. Would highly recommend trying a cidre from their selection, and to do so in the greenhouse or any outdoor space.
Soon thereafter it was time to get ready for our 8PM dinner.
After dinner, we finished off our wine at the bar and lounge room before heading in for the night. While finishing our wine, reception came over to confirm breakfast options. Previously I had asked what our options would be given our early departure and that breakfast starts at 8AM, they offered in-room breakfast or a 7:30 breakfast at Octave. The receptionist came to confirm our option, we went with a 7:15AM in-room breakfast and so she took our order, she offered the whole range from eggs to pastries, we were so full we simply ordered fruits, yogurt, granola, juice and coffee. A few minutes later as we were getting ready for bed in our room, we received a call from the F&B department to ask our breakfast order, he was apologetic for calling so late, but nonetheless we said we had ordered already and just repeated and confirmed our order with him. At least they are a thorough team!
We found that our room had been turned-down properly, and as requested right before dinner, mini-bar fully restocked, although we had asked for just still water they still restocked it with both sparkling and still (in addition to the other beverage selections), not a big problem in my opinion as its still hydrating, but we did specify just still after they asked and offered when requesting the restock. They even have a bedtime snack of Madeleines at the bedside waiting for you. Very nice touch.
Waking up at Primard is very nice and quaint. The birds are chirping, the water flows and if lucky you’ll see some wild swans just gliding down the River Eure. Breakfast was a few minutes behind schedule, but nonetheless delivered right to our room and was a lot more food than we had thought with our “simple” order. It was all very fresh and delicious and I appreciated that they gave us some options for an earlier breakfast, very accommodating and flexible, which again to me indicates they have what it takes for the Primard experience to go from great to perfection.
After breakfast, I settled the bill and we were taken by golf cart to the parking lot where our driver, the same one who picked me up from CDG, was waiting to take us to Paris. One minor snafu at check-out and upon reflecting throughout the booking process was that I was not told how to pay for the transfers. I realized upon leaving that I did not yet pay for it and it was not on my final invoice, nor was it communicated in my pre-arrival emails. I quickly sent reception an email to which I received a prompt reply that I had the option to pay the driver directly or they could charge my credit card on file. I opted to pay the driver directly, thankfully it was the same guy for both my rides. However, upon responding to confirm the total cost of my 2 transfers, I never received a response, not even now. Thankfully the prices were communicated in my pre-arrival email thread, so I just searched that up and was able to pay the driver upon our arrival in Paris.
There is no doubt that this is a special place. It offers a understated, unpretentious, relaxing French countryside escape so close to Paris. Whether you do it as a day-trip to eat and drink, stop by on your journey to and through Normandy or come to stay a few nights, it is definitely worth it for the experience. You have nature, beautiful gardens, history, a French country Chateau/estate experience, and fantastic food and beverage program at your disposal. It is pet friendly, and very suited for the entire family, solo travelers, couples or friends as the grounds offer so much and the amenities cater to all. It is still brand new, so if you stay anytime soon give them a chance, and its worth it at the current opening rate. But I think once they really have things fully operational and some minor attention to detail and ironed out processes and flows figured all out, it will be an absolutely wonderful and perfect getaway from Paris or pitstop on a nice Norman journey that will be worth the eventual going rates.