Situated near the Alps and France’s largest lake, Château Brachet enchants visitors with its wealth of history and beauty
Ever since Jean-Michel Belin spent his honeymoon at an idyllic small hotel in the Outer Hebrides, he dreamed of becoming a hotelier. That ambition began to be realised in 2009, when he stumbled upon an old French château in the historic Savoie spa town of Aix-les-Bains. “It was love at first sight,” says Jean-Michel. “We felt the château had great potential and still feel blessed to have found it.”
It was another decade before Château Brachet was ready to open its doors to visitors, who remain charmed by the hotel’s fine furnishings, superb signature restaurant with a light-filled conservatory, beautiful gardens, perfect location and rich history. “We are exactly where we wanted to be and very happy with how we have been integrated into the local economy,” he says.
The château is named after former owner Dr Brachet, who was instrumental in making Aix-les-Bains an international destination in the late 19th century. He rented the property to English aristocrat Lady Virginia Somers – a great-aunt of Virginia Woolf – who held salons and soirées for everybody from Queen Victoria to the scandalous wife of the then Archbishop of Canterbury. As well as celebrating the home’s history through displays and a library of 4,000 19th-century first editions, Jean-Michel shares his passion for vintage cars around the château, with a 1953 Ford Vedette being used as the hotel taxi, and a 1964 Peugeot 403 pick-up on call for garden and kitchen staff. The hotel also hosts car-related events, such as the VIP rally held in October 2022 with Damon Hill.
Now a gleaming symbol of the Belle Époque, the 15-room hotel is in the perfect spot to attract a range of visitors, who come from across Europe and the US to enjoy the hotel’s second golden age – and its facilities. These include six hectares of immaculately landscaped grounds, tennis and padel courts, a small golf training facility, pétanque, badminton, croquet lawn and an 18-metre outdoor swimming pool. There is equal attention to facilities inside. “One key point for me was to pay attention to the bathrooms because that is now a very important part of a hotel stay,” says Jean-Michel. “All our bathrooms are different and all of them are beautiful.” The natural beauty of the Alps and Lake Bourget a short distance away, and the charming town of Aix-les-Bains itself, with its shops, restaurants, galleries and museums, add further visitor appeal.
A particular attraction of the château is its restaurant, whose chef’s illustrious CV includes a period at the deluxe Hotel Brando in French Polynesia. “We use mainly local produce – much of the meat, fish and cheese is from nearby and the suppliers are nearly all local,” says Jean-Michel. “The restaurant has already become a destination for everybody in the area.”
Jean-Michel has secured permission to expand Château Brachet’s accommodation by building ten lodges. These will be contemporary in design, featuring the latest facilities, with particular attention paid to energy efficiency. This will be Jean-Michel’s personal addition to the history of a château that has already seen so many great days – with many more to come. “I made this hotel a synthesis of everything I have loved from hotels I have stayed in, while avoiding the things I didn’t like,” he says. “People notice and appreciate that. The attention to detail throughout the hotel is something guests always comment on.”