In the continuing series, Conor Power checks into the Hôtel Bourgtheroulde in the resurgent and vibrant Norman city of Rouen
15 Place de la Pucelle, 76000 Rouen.
You really are right in the heart of the city, with teeming pedestrian city life literally on your doorstep.
Once you begin to step inside the huge automatic entrance doors, however, you’re in a very different atmosphere. You may feel as if you’ve stumbled into a high-end shop with dark interiors of blood pink and purple-grey. The check-in desk is over to your right, cutting a relatively modest presence. You tend to be drawn directly ahead, however, to the huge funky multi-level bar/lounge area.
Natural light streams in from the glass roof. Low-lying tables are spread about the floor. Avant-garde art poses around the staircase to the mezzanine level, on the walls and along the balcony that wraps around. The overall effect is unexpected and jaw-dropping but there’s so much fun going on in the bravura decor and design that you just feel like smiling. Then you notice the jolly-looking bar to your left. If you arrive in the evening, the lighting effect creates a completely different ambiance and you won’t be able to avoid noticing that there are glass panels in the floor that look directly down upon wet bodies moving about in the swimming pool below.
The history of the Bourgtheroulde is impressively checkered. It was the residence of the wealthy Le Roux family in the Middle Ages, who finished building it in 1532.
Similarly to a good chunk of Rouen (particularly the bits anywhere close to banks of the Seine), the building suffered a good deal of bomb damage during WWII and many elements were reconstructed since, including the corner tower which used to have a lot of mediaeval statues encrusted in it until heavy-handed liberation from the Germans changed things.
In latter years, the property was home to a commercial bank and it wasn’t until 2006 that investors turned the landmark building into a high-end hotel. It’s the only one in Rouen and its opening in 2010 to much local excitement meant the creation of a whole new market in the city.
Do they look after you?
The level of welcome you get here is of the international Americanized variety. There’s nothing terribly wrong with that and the highly-trained staff were never short of attentive, pleasant and courteous to a fault, but anyone expecting a traditional Norman castle will find that the soul of the place has more in common with Manhattan than Middle Earth.
It is a great place to hang out in – whether you stay overnight or just lounge in for a coffee and a chat. It’s a busy meeting place all through the week and the extra cents you pay to have your drinks in the courtyard of the Bourgtheroulde instead of out on the Place de la Pucelle are worth it for the more peaceful atmosphere of castle cloister.
The spa and swimming pool is a real piece of work, dug out from the foundations of this former bank. They do the full range of spa treatments deep beneath the Atrium Bar, whose patrons may peek down from above as you wallow in the large and luxuriant swimming pool.What are the rooms like?
The room we stayed in was a “tradition” guest room. Even though this is the standard room, it was a very grand affair with tall ceilings, a desk for working, huge soft bed, mini-bar and free coffee-making facilities (with the increasingly ubiquitous but devastatingly delicious Nespresso machine). The next level up is the Modern Guest Room and then the Privilege Guest Room (which is more like a mini-suite).
The bathroom was equally gorgeous, continuing with the sandy colour scheme in the tiling and usual range of sweet-scented cosmetic products, heavy fluffy robes and soft face cloths. There was a separate bath and a huge shower with multiple options as to the source and degree of strength of your cleansing water jets. I went for the deeply satisfying rain-forest-style overhead one.
We got a look around some of the other rooms. The suites are superbly appointed, with a lot of individuality in the design. The pick of them all is the “honeymoon” Privilege Guest Room with the corner tower. Here, you can live like Rapunzel in a two-level love nest, with a view out onto the street below. It’s a private spot too, set away from the main building and therefore a favourite with those who are famous and like to remain aloof – Foreign Affairs Minister and former PM Laurent Fabius is a fan, allegedly.
The breakfast in the Brasserie des 2 Rois involves a great 5-star spread with hot and cold buffet that covers just about every imaginable food group. The service is nice and relaxed and the decor is busy and funky: clear plastic chairs, glitzy bar, deep busy colours and large mirrors everywhere, plus lots of striking large art pieces on the walls. It’s a feature of the hotel that they take nothing from their regular exhibitions of contemporary art but one painting from the artist’s collection. Hence, they have an ever-increasing collection of stupendous and highly up-to-the-minute art.
The bottom line:
Rooms start at about €215 per night with breakfast with suites beginning at €325 per night.
(Hotel de Bourgtheroulde Website)