Stylist’s features writer Hannah Keegan explores Le Barn, a horse farm-turned-hotel just 45 minutes outside Paris.
The last time I was on a horse – a jet-black mare named Poppy – it nearly threw me off. I was riding along a beach in the Lake District with my sister, who is a much more experienced rider than I am, when her horse broke into a gallop. Poppy, naturally, thought it would be a good idea to chase her friend. I, meanwhile, screamed demonically, gripped the reigns and ignored my sister’s yells to stand up in my stirrups; as if – I was practically in the foetal position.
So, when I arrive at Le Barn, a new hotel on the grounds of horse farm and riding academy La Cense, just outside Paris, I haven’t quite decided whether I’ll ride again. But I come to realise that would be the equivalent of going on a brewery tour sober: missing the point entirely.
The hotel’s 71 rooms, for example, sit across three two-storey converted stables. Activities include horse-whispering sessions and trail rides around the grounds, and you can even watch them grazing from your window. The idea to build a hotel on the grounds of a horse farm came to hotelier Edouard Daehn after meeting La Cense’s founder, William Kriegel, and falling in love with the vast, leafy grounds of the Rambouillet Forest.
It’s the right time for this project too, Daehn tells me. The French, he thinks, are changing. They no longer want the responsibility of holiday homes and are bored of the old, stuffy châteaus that are standard for short breaks. For Parisians, this is their Soho Farmhouse. For Brits wanting to go further afield than the British countryside to relax in nature, it is ideal too.
Le Barn is just 45 minutes outside of Paris; catch a train from Gare Montparnasse and the hotel will arrange to have a car waiting at the station for you. As you drive through the greenery, you’ll have a hard time believing this much peace and quiet exists so close to the city. A long, winding road decorated with hay stacks leads you to the hotel which sits beside a lake, where you’ll find Daehn’s docile dog Clark basking in the sun.
Designed by architect Antoine Ricardou, founder of branding agency Be-Poles – the company behind Paris’s Le Pigalle and New York’s The NoMad – it’s no surprise that the vibe is no-fuss, laidback cool. My bedroom, a superior suite, is all exposed wood, crisp white sheets and muted tones. The food I eat at La Serre, one of the hotel’s two restaurants, is comprised of fresh, local ingredients. Over two days, I eat asparagus frites, smoked salmon, hearty salads and raspberry tarts.
When it comes to passing the hours, there is still plenty to do if you don’t want to ride. You can use one of the hotel’s bikes to explore the grounds (all 500 acres of it) or the nearby village of Bonnelles – cycle to the 19th century château, a fire-ravaged beauty, before popping into the local boulangerie. Back at Le Barn, you can go fishing in the lake or relax at the spa equipped with a sauna, hammam and two outdoor hot tubs. Access to the spa is included in the price of your room and you can arrange with reception to have an ayurvedic massage or see an osteopath.
In the end, I rode, I relaxed and I slept the whole way home. The countryside will do that to you.
Doubles at Le Barn start from £120. Find out more at lebarnhotel.com