And so begins a whole slew of travel posts, because I have been here there and everywhere, recently, and I have lots to report. But I must begin with a little trip back in time – February, Les Etangs de Corot, with my Mum – because we had such an amazing break together, and as often happens when I have to write about something amazing, I put it off and off because I can’t find good enough phrases for my descriptions. I work myself up into a little frenzy, scribbling down words and then gritting my teeth maniacally, inwardly screeching “but it doesn’t tell them how AMAZING IT IS!” And eventually I do the modern, electronic equivalent of throwing down my quill and parchment (clicking “save as draft” on my computer) and, exhausted by my emotional efforts, retire to the local tavern (pub) to grapple a wench or two (drink wine).
But here we are, months later, and I am biting the bullet (getting on with it) as best I can. With perhaps a little too much pre-amble? I don’t know. Don’t judge me – I’m just getting warmed up. You have to ease yourself into these things.
Question: have you ever shared a bedroom with your mother? Not as a baby – obviously you might have shared a bedroom with her then – but as an adult? Because I can tell you, it’s more than a little nerve-wracking! They see your little untidy habits (not making the bed, or even attempting to) and your private quirks (pillow must be misted with Deep Sleep spray, phone alarm must be set to a time that has a seven at the end of it) and these are things that nobody really gets to see, apart from your partner, if you have one. And (I’ll just put this out there) it’s possible that they might be watching you as you sleep. Just a thought.
I jest, of course; sharing a room with my Mum was a breeze. It helped that it was such a lovely room and that our surroundings were so beautiful, but Mum and I worked out a little code of conduct quite quickly and easily:
1) If you don’t tell anyone about my weird sleep-talking thing, I won’t tell anyone about your weird sleep snuffles, and,
2) If you’re going to go to the bathroom then put the television on first.
You may remember me visiting Les Etangs de Corot, sans mother, a few years ago. I reviewed the spa and wrote about it here – it was so gorgeous I promised myself that one day, when I had the means to do so, I’d go back and stay there with my Mum. And so that’s what I did for her birthday, back in February. Les Etangs was the obvious choice when I started planning the trip; I wanted to take Mum to see Versailles (Les Etangs is just a ten minute drive down the road from the palace), I wanted to treat her to amazing food and wine (the hotel has a fabulous restaurant and wine cellar) and I wanted her to experience the Caudalie spa, which the hotel keeps downstairs. A quiet haven of gurgling water and wet bamboo and gorgeous aromas. If ever you were looking for everything in one place – a bit of historical sightseeing, a lot of fine dining and as much relaxation and pampering as you can handle – then this is your spot. It’s only a quick hop over on the Eurostar to Paris, but you feel as though you’ve properly gone on holiday. It’s near enough to go away just for the weekend, but far enough to be able to detach from normal life and really kick back.
Mum and I left London on a Thursday and stayed until Saturday; I knew that Versailles would be busier at the weekend, so I planned for us to visit on the Friday and use the rest of our time to relax. And eat. (I’m going to write about Versailles separately, because it really is quite a spectacle, but know that if you’re planning a trip then you’ll need at least half a day to properly tour the palace and get round the grounds as well. And I would most definitely make time to go around the grounds – the summer residences, Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon are just as interesting as the main event.) It is so easy to relax and eat at Les Etangs; it’s quiet and warm, luxurious yet still somehow cosy and welcoming, and absolutely everything you need is right there in the grounds. There’s no real reason to leave, apart from visiting Versailles…and even then, we were hard pushed to get ourselves out of the door!
A very special mention must go to Le Corot, the gourmet restaurant at the hotel. My Mum has diligently recorded the entire tasting menu that we sampled over on her blog, but I can tell you that as we were ploughing our way through the endless delicacies, we both muttered (almost continuously) how does this place not have a Michelin star? Well. It seems that someone out there was listening, because I am pleased to report that the restaurant now does have a star, and incredibly well-deserved it is, too. I hadn’t enjoyed a meal as much as that in a long, long time. Everything was – to use one of Mr AMR’s favourite phrases – a “taste sensation”. All of the ingredients were sourced as locally and as responsibly as possible, all of the dishes had been designed in a way that made you wonder whether or not you should eat the food or frame it!
And by God, my Mum is a trooper when it comes to finishing food. I could not believe how much she managed to eat! Even when we got to the second (third? fourth?) dessert sample, she was still gamely popping morsels into her mouth and scribbling notes down on the back of her menu. (What a woman. An idol if there ever was one; full of surprises and showing no sign of ever slowing down. The perfect holidaying companion, I have to say, as a little aside. I don’t want to single her out and cause her embarrassment, but…if she rented herself out as a travel “buddy”, she’d be fully booked. An (almost) unlimited sense of humour, a good grasp of conversational French, a love of wine, a bottomless appetite for mischief and adventure…)
We only just managed to roll back up to our room after the meal – I was so bloated that I had to pull myself up the stairs using the handrail, much to Mum’s amusement – and we were asleep within minutes. I think I may have even gone to bed with my shoes still attached to my feet, because neither I nor my mother could bend far enough to take them off. The whole meal had been a bit of an event, really; definitely a highlight of the trip and something that would have been a big treat even without any kind of hotel stay or spa visit. If you go to Les Etangs then you MUST book a table at Le Corot; it’s very special indeed. A meal to remember.
So much so that the meal has clouded my memory of the spa. I remember entering the spa, and I remember lying down on the heated bed, cocooned in warm towels; I also remember – vaguely – being spritzed with Caudalie’s Elixir. After that? Nothing. I had a massage, apparently, and then a facial, but all I can recall is being in a very deep state of relaxation for a couple of hours. Exemplary service, just as it was when I visited years ago. It’s not often that I completely switch off in a spa, but again, Caudalie did the trick. I was far more marshmallow than human when I left – and so was Mum, who sat waiting for me with a happily vacant expression, almost as though her brain had been removed and they had filled her head with cotton wool or those polystyrene things that they put into packing boxes.
Note: after the facial, Mum had absolutely NO lines on her forehead. She is over sixty. No lines. I’ll just repeat that – because we both did, over the course of the following day – there were no lines on her forehead. We even invented new expressions for Mum to pull so that lines would appear – nothing. No lines. She was one very impressed customer, let me tell you.
For a quick (ish!) girly getaway, I couldn’t recommend Les Etangs de Corot more. There were quite a few Mums-n-Daughters there, and some girls who had obviously gone as a group and your usual spattering of couples and families, too, but the overall atmosphere was just so chilled out and quiet. Packaged up with a trip to Versailles (I will tell you about that, I promise!) it just makes the perfect little weekend away. You can read my Mum’s thoughts here and the hotel website is here. Do also take a look at my spa write-up from 2010 – it’s still a very accurate description and far more in-depth than this one! I actually managed to stay conscious…
Rooms when I booked were about €170 for a double or twin, but I’m guessing that prices vary depending on time of the year and day of the week and all of that jazz. You can reach Ville d’Avray (where the hotel is) by public transport, but it’s a bit of a mission. If you have to, to stay in budget, then get the train to Versailles and hop in a cab from there to the hotel. Mum and I saved on our Eurostar tickets (they were about thirty pounds each, each way) and so taxis for other legs of the journey didn’t feel so extravagant!