When in France, travel French. It may not be an official adage, but it’s the best way to immerse yourself in the culture. Staying in locally owned and operated properties in a country synonymous with savoir-vivre and high design invites travelers to better understand the rich past, present, and future of France’s most beloved destinations. And it’s never been easier: A handful of hotelier upstarts have developed in recent years, disrupting an industry long dominated by large-scale, iconic luxury hotels and international hotel groups. Explore five hotel groups in France that offer something for every traveler.
Les Domaines de Fontenille
If you crave gardens and the seaside
It began in 2016 with the Domaine de Fontenille. Fréderic Biousse and Guillaume Foucher opened the 18th-century manor house and wine estate in the village of Lauris, one of the few pockets of Provence’s Luberon region that isn’t overcrowded with tourists. Within the same year, Biousse and Foucher knew they couldn’t stop there.
They quickly set up Les Domaines de Fontenille, a collection of accessible luxury lodgings that emphasize agrotourism and conserving local culture (restoring regional architecture and vines, producing organic wine, olive oil, and herbs to be used throughout all properties) and have a distinctly French aesthetic.
Now guests will find the group’s properties in stunning, natural locations throughout Europe, though its French hotels remain the gold standard. Want to be near the water? Try the 19-room, Marseille-based Les Bords de Mer—housed in a waterfront art deco villa and capped with a popular rooftop bar and seafood restaurant—or Les Hortensias du Lac in the southwestern surf town of Hossegor, north of Biarritz.
But it’s the leafy 18th-century, 30-room hideaway on the Primard estate (previously owned by Catherine Deneuve!) in a quiet Norman village that makes for an ideal getaway—especially from Paris. An hour from the capital, guests can wander 100 acres of restored gardens, dine at one of two farm-to-table restaurants overseen by the three-Michelin-star chef Eric Frechon, and plan an excursion to Monet’s house in Giverny, a 20-minute drive away.
If you need to get away from it all
Whether it’s to escape to the slopes in the French Alps or onto a pool lounger for views of the Mont Ventoux in Provence, travelers look to the family-run Maisons Pariente group for their growing collection of hotels in restorative surroundings. Each of their three properties—Crillon le Brave in Provence, Lou Pinet in Saint-Tropez, and Le Coucou in Méribel—incorporate just-like-home comforts but are designed to feel like true getaways.
Part of that is done through design: at Le Coucou, a ski-in, ski-out resort with 10 floors, the family hired esteemed architect Pierre Yovanovitch to reimagine the traditional Alpine chalet. The result is fresh and slightly cheeky: funky fabrics, teddy-bear armchairs in rooms, owl head coat hooks, and a trompe-l’oeil swimming pool. And like any good escape, the Pariente family properties have strong dining programs, superior spas, and unbeatable access to spectacular outdoor adventures.
Airelles Collection, Lov Group
If you can’t get enough history
Prestigious properties in historic destinations is the abiding idea behind the Airelles Collection. The company is best known for the Bastide de Gordes in the ancient hilltop town of Gordes in Provence’s Luberon area and Les Airelles in the posh Alpine town of Courchevel. Each property is meant to evoke its surroundings and heritage to full effect.
At Gordes, 18th-century Provence lives on—literally. It’s woven into the decor, as well as the staff: Men wear earth-toned culottes and vests with straw hats; women don floral bodices and flowy beige skirts. Les Airelles in Courchevel—with its liberal use of wood paneling, plush fabrics, and period uniforms sported by stafff—feels more like a 19th-century Prussian castle than a ski resort.
The collection’s opulent calling card, however, is Le Grand Contrôle. A 13-room-and-apartment luxury hotel, it opened in summer 2021 right on the grounds of the Château de Versailles. Frances’s royal heritage is on display throughout the property: Tour the restored libraries and explore the more than 900 original pieces of furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries. And enjoy unparalleled proximity to one of the most beloved historical sites in Europe. Guests get to explore 2,000 acres of Versailles grounds on their own and take one of the twice-daily privately guided tours (before and after hours) of the Hall of Mirrors or the Queen’s apartments included in the room rate.
If you want to play outside all day
After generating serious buzz (and Instagram adoration) for its striking riviera property, Les Roches Rouges, Les Hotels D’en Haut group changed hands and visions and, in 2021, became Beaumier. Named for the 19th-century French writer-geographer Auguste Beaumier and aimed at outdoor enthusiasts, the collection emphasizes hyper-local experiences, well-crafted design, and superb natural surroundings at each of its eight properties.
There’s the recently refreshed ski-in, ski-out favorites Le Val Thorens and Le Fitz Roy in the French Alps, or Le Moulin, Beaumier’s newest opening, a former oil mill from the 18th century in the heart of Lourmarin in Provence. Next up: Measured expansion within Europe, including Switzerland, where the group has just acquired three mountain hotels in Wengen.
If you’re obsessed with design
Faced with Airbnb’s imposing, impersonal presence in Paris, Evok Hotels opened in 2016 to offer unique, community-focused lodgings that would appeal to locals as they did to visitors. Creating compelling hangouts has certainly been part of the group’s success—Evok is known for its sexy bars and restaurants worth crossing the city for—as has its emphasis on luxury service and swanky designer interiors.
Its first property, the Nolinski, on the avenue de l’Opéra, felt pulled from the pages of Architectural Digest. Evok’s latest hotels (all five-star spots, hugely popular among Parisians) are showstopping in their own ways. Le Brach has Philippe Starck–designed interiors featuring sleek materials and contemporary art, plus an on-site sports club fit for the athletes of Roland Garros or the Parc des Princes, both located nearby.
Sinner, in the heart of the Marais, is playful and seductive with an avant-garde theme dreamed up by interior architect Tristan Auer that straddles the monastic and modern. There are vaulted archways, stained glass windows, and even a candlelit crypt that recalls the Knights Templar and doubles as a concept store.
But its most prestigious addition to the portfolio opened in 2020: the Cour des Vosges, an intimate, 12-room-and-suite getaway in a listed 17th-century hôtel particulier (mansion) on the Place des Vosges. In the future, expect to find designer outposts in Venice, Madrid, and Rome.