Gina Baksa tees-off in Deauville at a luxury spa and golf weekend – staying at the Hôtel Barrière l’Hôtel du Golf & the iconic Hotel Barrière Le Normandy
Just two hours north of often-snooty Paris is another, friendlier world: Normandy. Its D-Day golden beaches now the playground to more peaceful visitors. Picturesque Honfleur gets the Insta hits and Rouen is a must for history buffs, while sophisticated Deauville remains the glitziest resort on the coast. The town is an easy day trip from Paris and is a popular summer vacation destination.
Deauville is the former fishing village that became an overnight hit once Napoleon III’s half-brother unleashed his entrepreneurial savoir faire. Designed to attract the cognoscenti and wealthy, 19th-century Deauville soon boasted luxury hotels, horse-racing (1854), a casino and beautiful mansions for the Parisian elite. Fast forward a couple of centuries and the Deauville American Film Festival put the town on the world map, attracting Hollywood’s elite to its all-star showings. Now there are two marinas, three golf courses, and the Gold Cup Polo event – Deauville is a popular playground for the wealthy and influential.
This is my first visit to Deauville and I’ve arrived via Eurostar from St Pancras, changing trains in Paris and heading to Normandy via Gare St Lazare. I’m staying at the Hôtel Barrière l’Hôtel du Golf: the prestigious hospitality and casino group also owns the Royal, Normandy, Deauville Casino and several restaurants including Le Ciro’s. En fait… Deauville could easily be renamed Barrièreville. Under the talented and astute eye of the late Diane Barrière-Desseigne – former CEO and matriarch of the family – the Barrière’s hotel and casino holdings underwent major renovation during the Nineties, bringing a more glamourous and updated aesthetic to the portfolio.
Hôtel Barrière l’Hôtel du Golf
Giant apples (Calvados and great cider hails from Normandy) and horse sculptures are a major decorative theme in the lobby of the Hôtel Barrière l’Hôtel du Golf – our destination for the weekend. Now at the end of its three-year refurbishment with contemporary- heritage interiors from Chantal Peyrat (think Scottish tartans and Chesterfield sofas), the L’Hôtel du Golf stands sentinel on a hillside above Deauville in the middle of a spectacular 27-hole golf course. Indeed, my superior sea-view room is just above the manicured 18th and affords amazing views: I can spot the jetty of Le Trouville beyond the Hippodrome race course and Deauville Casino. And beyond that the port of Le Havre. This is a quiet oasis that feels in the middle of the countryside, yet is just a five-minute drive from town. Offering 171 rooms and 11 suites, it’s the perfect destination for golfers.
My room is calm and warm: a palette of sophisticated ochre and grey alongside wood and black granite – with a superbly comfortable bed. Best of all the huge picture windows actually open and I enjoy the breeze; a welcome change from the usual headache-inducing aircon. Thoughtfully I’ve been given a bottle of Cidre Bouche and a whole banana loaf to wolf down.
We’re booked for a massage at the Spa Diane Barrière on the ground floor. There’s a sauna and steam room here, as well as fitness sessions, massages, beauty, and hair and scalp treatments. The outdoor pool looks inviting but the weather is too chilly. However lovers of le freeze will enjoy the cryotherapy chamber here – used by professional sportspeople to aid muscular and joint recovery, cryotherapy is now more widely used for its numerous benefits. Apparently you sit in a freezing cold room, enveloped by a hydrogen mist. Results include reduced muscular and joint pain, increased energy levels and accelerated metabolic rates. Perhaps on another visit…
Enjoying drinks in the cool refinement of The Green Bar before supper, I love the clubby Tartan theme which is welcoming and sophisticated. My first taste of Calvados (the range is mind boggling) with great views of the golf course beyond the 180-degree panoramic terrace. Our evening meal at the hotel’s Restaurant Le Lassay is superb: Helmed by Chef Tommy George, his creative output includes regional meats and local fish served alongside locally grown vegetables. A cavernous dining area somehow manages to be intimate and also has vistas of the golf course. We indulged in a succulent seafood plate starter, followed by sea bass and French crepe stuffed with caramelised apples. Normandy is the home to Calvados, cider and all things apple.
As you’d expect, golf is the main attraction at Hôtel Barrière l’Hôtel du Golf. A 27-hole playground among 70 hectares of magnificent landscaping. Opened in 1929 on the heights of Mont-Canisy a few minutes from the town centre, the course is renowned as one of the most beautiful in France. Architects Tom Simpson and Henry Cotton designed three 9-hole courses (the red course, white course and blue course), giving players of all abilities a shot at the birdy. Sessions and lessons can be booked online and there’s a pro shop.
Our golf lesson began early the next morning with the female resident golf pro who somehow coaxes nascent Tiger Woods out of us. The pros make it look so easy. It takes me nearly 10 attempts before my club actually hits the ball. But what a feeling when metal makes contact and I watch my white orb ascend in the air towards the 100m mark. Result!
Best Deauville restaurants
Drop in for a bite to eat or drink at the Golf Clubhouse and restaurant. Or head into town and the boardwalk delights of La Folie Douce Barrière. For a grander evening and special celebrations, the Belle Epoque charm of the Côté Royal at the Hotel Royal Deauville is a must. Crystal chandeliers and decadent fabrics are the backdrop for Chef Eric Provost’s gourmet cuisine. We had a truly exquisite lunch at Le Ciro’s – the only restaurant on the Planches boardwalk that’s open in the evenings. Service was superb.
Our lunch of an extraordinary seafood platter for starters (big enough for a main meal) followed by a fabulous Royal Bouillabaisse (sea bass, salmon, red mullet, cod, lobster and langoustine, saffron potatoes, rouille and garlic croutons) was outstanding. As was the Sancerre wine to accompany. The finale a divine apple tart with decadent Calvados on the side.
A walk along the 634m boardwalk is essential after such a feast… windswept and beguiling in its winter costume, both the Planche and beach are almost empty. Built in 1923, the boardwalk is a Deauville icon and the scene of many film festival photoshoots. The beach cabins are even named after famous actors and directors. I imagine the crowds here in spring and summer create an altogether different vista.
Should you tire of the sea and beach, Deauville has many attractions for visitors. Golf reigns supreme with nine courses in or near the city. Add to the mix La Touques and Clairefontaine racetracks, a vibrant yachting community, polo fields and an abundance of tennis courts and there’s much for outdoors lovers. Culturally the city has regular festivals and exhibitions. And shopping is a popular distraction. Many luxury labels have stores along the rue Eugène-Colas and around Place Mornay and Place du Casino. Coco Chanel opened her first shop in Deauville in 1913 when she moved to the city to be with her lover, Boy Capel. Clearly she was sartorially inspired by the clothing she saw on the racecourses, beach and golf courses.
Foodie vans will enjoy the local fish market, and the covered market – as well as the many street stalls. Deauville’s mayor is a keen supporter of the arts and has invested in local exhibitions and festivals. You’ll find information at the Tourist Information office on Quai de l’impératrice Eugenie. The famous half-timbered houses in Deauville with Norman turrets and spires are an attraction in their own right. And the city loves its flowers.
Hotel Barrière Le Normandy, Deauville
The second of Barrière’s Deauville bastions, the iconic Le Normandy was built in 1912 in the typical Anglo-Normandy style of the region. This grande dame of Normandy luxury hotels faces the beach and is only a few minutes’ walk from the shops. The green-timbered façade, with complimentary red-brick highlights and classic ornamental finials against almost Gothic gables seems ageless. The definitive Sixties movie ‘A Man and A Woman’ was shot here and the hotel has provided a backdrop for many others. Today the Toile de Jouy-filled suites and rooms have, like the Golf, been refreshed by designer Nathalie Ryan. The Presidential Suite – all 100m2 of space is extraordinary and boasts its own lofty terrace above the courtyard.
We have coffee in the plush lounge area, before a yoga session next to the indoor pool. A great workout, we relax in the sauna and indoor pool, before exploring the town.
Dinner later here at La Belle Epoque is beautifully presented and well cooked , with a choice of local Normandy favourites and fabulous seafood. The dining room a mahogany and velvet affair with views out to the expansive Normandy Courtyard which welcomes diners in the summer months. Le Normandy is a popular brunch spot, and the quality of the food at our meal was superb. I recommend relaxing over an apéro before your meal in the snazzy Normandy Bar – favourite haunt of many celebrities during the film festival.
Located between the Hôtel Barrière Le Royal, Deauville and the Hotel Normandy, Deauville Casino was our first port of call after dinner. Owned by the Barrière Group, the Casino is perfectly situated and can be reached by an underground interior corridor from Le Normandy. We head for one of the roulette tables and cash in our chips. My first-ever play at the game and I’m drawn in by the tangible tension. A gentleman next to us spreads his bets across black and reds. And promptly loses around 2,000 Euros before heading to another table for a rendezvous with lady luck.
Next time you find yourself in Paris – escape for a long weekend or midweek break to Deauville. The sea air is life-restoring, the locals are welcoming, the hotels are luxurious and you’ll have the best seafood of your life. Especially if you dine at Le Ciro’s.
Where & How
Where: Le Mont Canisy, Deauville, 14803 Saint-Arnoult, France
How: Visit hotelsbarriere.com or phone +33 2 31 14 24 00 to make a booking.