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Francis I. established Fontenay le Comte as the “Fountain and spring of beautiful minds”. By baptizing their mansion that once belonged to Charles-Louis Perreau with the same circumlocution, the owners have made it their own. ‘Les Beaux Esprits’ is faithful to its new name (despite the absence of a fountain) and is now a place for exchanging ideas, meeting new people, and sharing experiences. All of this takes place in the seminar room, the guest rooms and a gite at the edges of an age-old garden bathed in the beautiful light of the South Vendée. Long gone are the days of revolutionary assemblies that were held here – those were different times, with different customs and colours. The art of receiving guests here has changed with a new focus on wellbeing.
We were really taken with the South Vendée region, the town of Fontenay le Comte and this 18th century mansion which was the perfect location for our bed and breakfast project with a gite and seminar rooms. The location in the heart of the historic centre provides peace and quiet as well as a picturesque neighbourhood with many historical monuments and amenities close by.
Our home is an 18th century mansion supported by an older part which is probably from the end of the 16th century. It was built in 1780 for doctor Charles-Louis Perreau, but unfortunately this is not well-documented. Specialists of the time believe that it was one of Nicolas Ledoux’s students, Amiot, who was behind the project – he was an architect in La Rochelle who came to settle in Fontenay. This unique residence certainly resembles buildings that can be found in La Rochelle and Niort. Unfortunately, his original design with seven sections was not completed due to the revolution. In fact, some toothing stones can be seen on the left-hand side of the façade. The owner had purchased the neighbouring building to continue the work that was never finished. The classical architecture of the façade features a broad cornice, a horizontal stone ledge with the bossage technique that runs the length of the house, an entablature above the door showing a sculpted acanthus leaf, and a beautifully crafted wooden door. Inside, the winding staircase and the sculptures of polichinelles are particularly intriguing.
The house is in the historical district of Fontenay, it is located just below the old feudal castle and the garden lies where its moat once was. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, various buildings were constructed to form a city centre that was protected by walls. In 1780, physician Charles-Louis Perreau (who became the richest man in the department at the beginning of the empire) had the mansion built by developing on an older part that he had bought from Jean François – an alderman who went on to be mayor and captain of the city between 1726 and 1742. From 1793 to 1794, Charles-Louis Perreau was a member of the Revolutionary Supervisory Committee and meetings were held in this house which then belonged to members of his family until 1992.
A friendly and warm welcome of course. We put a lot of time into meeting our guests’ expectations. We suggest places to visit, restaurants and tell them all about the history of the city and our house over a welcome drink or breakfast in the large 18th century dining room. We often show them the common areas and the cellars of the house. Each room has a unique personality that fits the overall atmosphere of the property. During the renovation works that were carried out in 2014, we tried to preserve the architectural features and set them off with fresh decoration. Our attention to detail and our sense of colour harmony are always highly appreciated as well as the comfortable bedding. We are very mindful of well-being. Guests can easily enhance their stay with a massage, a coaching session or a health debate on certain dates.
The South Vendée region is rich in architecture and attractions. We are fortunate enough to be located just ten minutes from the Marais Poitevin where we always enjoy the boat trips that are available by the Abbey as well as those in Damvix. We are not far from the forest of Mervent and only a few kilometers from the ‘Petites Cités de Caractères’– Vouvant, Foussais Payré and Nieul on the Autize – and the abbeys of Nieul and Maillezais. Niort is only forty minutes away and La Rochelle is just a little further, as are the beaches of Vendée and Le Puy du Fou. As far as restaurants are concerned, we have visited many to ensure that we are giving the best possible recommendations to our guests. With a range of areas and styles, we are able to offer them anything from pizzerias and gourmet restaurants, to places in the neighbourhood. We would recommend the Pizzeria de la République, for example, which is run by Carole (in the kitchen) and Philippe. With its beautiful Art Deco interior and particularly exquisite selection of local wines from the Pays de Loire, it is an excellent restaurant. We also know the Pinky very well, a small restaurant nearby in the Les Halles district where the charming terrace is very popular, the staff are friendly and a Lobster menu is available on Fridays and Saturdays. Also in the Les Halles district is L'Ardoisine or the Hotel de Vendée, both have excellent service and the dishes are traditional with generous portions. The restaurants at the Rabelais or Fontarabie hotels offer something a little more upmarket, but the gourmet restaurant of L'Auberge de la Riviere with an utterly charming exterior probably serves the most refined cuisine just ten kilometers away. Otherwise, there is the Belle Etoile in Niort, a restaurant that combines modernity and charm with excellent cuisine on the edge of Sèvre – this is one that we always recommend to our guests.
80 € - 110 € / night
The entrance leads to all that we offer here. Located on the ground floor, it comes to the dining room where breakfast and welcome drinks are served. Next is the seminar room which, when it is not reserved, doubles up as a lounge where our guests can relax, borrow books from the library, enjoy a cup of tea or watch some TV. Last but not least, it takes you to the staircase which leads up to the three guest rooms on the first floor. Each has its own bathroom with a shower and toilet. The room named Adelaide can accommodate up to four people, whilst the other two are designed for one to two guests, in the case of Alienor an extra bed can be provided for a third person.
270 € - 390 € / week
Opposite the house on the other side of the street, nestled in the garden and its orangery, a gite for one to four people is available all year round for weekly rentals. Covering an area of forty square metres, it has a common room that serves as a kitchen and living room with a pull-out sofa bed that sleeps two people. It also has a bedroom with a double bed and a window that overlooks the back of the garden which can be accessed by stairs. The gite also has a small bathroom with a shower and a separate toilet.
From time to time we offer activities such as knitting workshops or Mandala, as well as an animated writing workshop led by an author and professor of literature. From the end of October until the end of May, the latter is held every other week on Thursday evenings from 8pm to 10pm. The programme and prices are available in the ‘Events’ section of our website.
About once every four months we organize «Café Santé» conferences on selected topics which are led by a naturopath. The conference is held in the Charles Louis Perreau room with a welcome snack and selected delicacies. This costs five euros and has a maximum capacity of 35 participants. The programme can be found in the ‘Events’ section of our website.
Once or twice a year we invite an artist to exhibit their work for a weekend or a week. The programme can be found in the ‘Events’ section of our website.
Guided tours of the mansion are available year-round to both guests of Beaux Esprits and passers-by. The visit includes the common areas on the ground floor, the gardens, the courtyard, the cellars and a detailed description of the stunning façade – visits must be reserved and are subject to availability with a minimum of five and a maximum of thirty people. The duration of the visit varies from forty-five to sixty minutes and costs five euros per person.