Medieval Splendor meets Modern Style in Rouen
The Hotel de Bourgtheroulde has been a Hotel (an old French word for mansion) for five hundred years and a hotel (as in hostelry) just since early 2010, but the two eras have found a common home in Rouen’s newest lodging. In a city filled with Gothic and Renaissance buildings, the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde is the oldest stone house, and the best known, and its recent transformation into the city’s newest boutique hotel stunningly preserves its historic roots.
A 16th century visitor to this turreted Gothic mini-chateau would feel right at home entering the inner courtyard through the arched carriageway under the gold and blue heraldic shield; he’d recognize the coats of arms on the stone facade and tower, and the historic bas-relief representing Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France meeting on the Field of the Cloth of Gold to forge an alliance, but once he strode up the flight of courtyard steps and through the main doorway, he’d be lost in a 21st century time warp.
Straight ahead is the cavernous main hall, its triple-height vaulted atrium spanning a large open space covered in black glass tiles (more about this later). In the building’s most recent guise as a bank, this was filled with tellers and customers. Now, pairs of black leather arm chairs and sofas flank small white marble tables. At the far end, a short flight of stairs stops at a landing and the white stone statue of a walking man in profile; here two stairways lead left and right to a mezzanine circling the room, defined by deep salmon-colored walls and square steel-gray pillars. A long white marble bar runs the length of the hall, like a glistening rectangular iceberg.
The nearby lounge is less monumental and a bit cozier, with stone walls, similar black leather chairs and black tiled floor, a marble table and benches in front of a fireplace.
The hotel’s formal “Restaurant d’Aumale” reworks familiar elements: black leather and steel chairs at large round tables; stone and slate gray walls; a white veined marble floor; high, gold-leafed ceiling; and a large abstract painting on the far wall. It features fine dining with regional produce; the more casual “Brasserie des 2 Rois” offers simplified versions of the same regional cuisine.
The reception area is where Renaissance first meets Lucite, at the see-through plastic desk and chairs by the medieval tapestry. The hotel’s 76 rooms and 2 suites come in various shapes and sizes but all have virtually invisible Lucite chairs at slate desks quirkily paired with Louis XV white wood chairs upholstered in black-and-white patterns, champagne-colored bed spreads, partly paneled walls, and occasionally a timbered ceiling. Spacious bathrooms feature intricate tile work and sometimes deep soaking tubs.
By and large, the hotel admirably outfitted the historic 16th century building with contemporary amenities—there is elevator service and even specially designed wheel chair lifts for the 4 rooms equipped for disabled access—but surprisingly there is no house computer or wi-fi; if you are traveling with a laptop, plug-in internet connections are available in your room for a charge.
Where the hotel has exceeded wildest expectations is in the full-service Spa du Drap d’Or (Spa of the Cloth of Gold—for the historic allusion, see above), a 7500 square-foot underground facility. Its crown jewel is a huge pool in what used to be the bank’s vault, located directly beneath the main hall. The surprise is a dark glass window in the ceiling, which makes the pool visible to the people in the main hall above through those black glass floor tiles. The mix of optic fiber lighting and stone is oddly serene for lounging poolside.
Five treatment rooms (one of them extra-large for couples) and three therapists handle the spa menu of Carita and Decleor treatments: a range of aromatherapies for the face, and exfoliation, stress, and revitalizing massages for the body. A facial, manicure, and pedicure for men are offered. Other facilities include a sauna, oriental hammam, and a fitness room.
The hotel is superbly located among the timber-framed Norman houses and cobbled streets of the old town where William the Conqueror died, steps from the market square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and just a few blocks from the famous Rouen Cathedral that Monet immortalized in his Impressionist paintings. The city’s Fine Arts Museum has an exceptional collection, and its current exhibit, “A City for Impressionism: Monet, Pissarro, Gauguin in Rouen,” is a keystone of the 2010 Normandy Impressionist Festival (www.impressionism-normandy.com).
Rouen, the capital of Normandy, is also the center of this first region-wide celebration of over 300 events: paintings, of course, but also the influence of Impressionism on film, dance, music, and literature. When the Festival ends in October, the city’s historic treasures will still shine for visitors.