Converted from an 18th century townhouse, Clarance Hotel is a unique, tranquil getaway with a Michelin starred restaurant.
Ever since Axel, our eighteen month old son, made his way into our lives, our travel style has changed. Flights are no fun anymore - for us or for him. So, when the travel bug bites, we look for destinations which are a drive or a train ride away. Lille, a city in the North of France, and a two hour drive from our home in Amsterdam seemed like the perfect choice. But, it wasn’t until we began exploring places to stay in Lille that we truly made up our minds; the Clarance Hotel, a boutique hotel in the centre of old Lille, was beckoning to us. So, we took a long weekend, loaded up a rental car (what a relief to not worry about baggage limits!) and set off for France!
After a beautiful drive through green fields and Lille’s century old neighborhoods, we pulled into the Clarance Hotel’s courtyard. As I stepped out onto the cobblestones and looked at the magnificent building before me, I could feel the hotel’s history washing over me. Hotel Clarance was built in the 18th century as a townhouse and has been lovingly restored and decorated in a style that perfectly balances the contemporary with the traditional.
The lobby, for example, welcomed us with traditional high ceilings and wooden floors and an ultra-model marble reception desk, quirky neon signs, abstract pillows and a stunning floral light feature. The “traditional meets contemporary” design was carried forward through the hotel; elegant staircases were flanked with colorful abstract wall art, traditional wood paneling was the background pieces of contemporary art and walkways were framed by plants and flowers. I love a place with history and style!
We ascended a staircase to our room, which was decorated with subtle shades of eggshell white and dove grey. I could spot pops of purple and eclectic prints scattered tastefully across the room, which gave it a modern spin. High glass windows and intricate chandeliers created a charming, old-world feel but the room had plenty of convenient amenities including a flat screen tv, bluetooth speakers - perfect in case you get the urge to have an impromptu dance session. In short, the room offered the best of both eras! The room also had a cot for Axel and there was plenty of space to have him set up comfortably. Bottle warmers and changing tables are available if you need them and babysitting services are offered upon request.
While the flat screen tv and plush bed were wonderful, my favourite feature was the walk through glass French doors which allowed the room to flood with natural light, Past the doors was our own private balcony overlooking the hotel’s garden (more on that soon). It’s very easy to get up on the right side of the bed when you’re waking up with that view!
It’s also easy to enthusiastically leap out of bed each morning when you’re tantalised by the thought of breakfast. Clarance Hotel does the full French breakfast with stacks of warm, glistening French pastries, fresh jam and the creamiest, richest butter you’ve ever had. The kitchen also whips up fluffy omelets and scrambled eggs, but it's the pastries that stole our hearts. Even Axel developed a habit for flaky croissants smothered with butter!
The highlight of our dining experience was our meal at La Table, a gourmet restaurant which has been (well deservedly, in my opinion) been awarded a Michelin star. We thoroughly enjoy fine dining and gourmet meals and La Table was one of the main reasons we gravitated towards Clarance Hotel. Did it live up to our expectations? Most definitely. Helmed by Chef Thibaut Gamba, who has honed his culinary skills in France, Norway and New York, La Table’s menu is centered around French and European cuisine, featuring fresh, healthy ingredients and a variety of seafood.
We tried the tasting menu with a wine pairing. It was such a memorable meal; I particularly enjoyed the roasted scallops with wild garlic coulis, radishes and green tomatoes and the saddle of lamb with black olives and gnocchi. I also loved the green asparagus with fermented shiitake ravioli which beautifully balanced earthiness and freshness to make a yummy savoury dish. Dessert was brown beer waffles topped with maroilles cream cheese and grilled chicory - my mouth waters at the thought of it. In fact, the memory of dessert is almost tempting me to hop onto Clarance Hotel’s website and make another reservation for a weekend away...It’s evident that our taste buds were in heaven but so were our other senses - each dish smelled uniquely rich and tantalising and each was exquisitely plated. Nutritionists tell me that a colourful plate is a healthy plate; our plates were a riot of beautiful colour which was an added bonus!
We could have spent our whole weekend seated in La Table, sampling plate after plate of Chef Gamba’s creations, but our stomachs do have the annoying habit of filling up. So, we walked off our decadent meal by exploring the hotel’s nooks and crannies.
Past the dining area is the The Clarance Garden which is a lush open lawn fringed by low fruit trees, organic vegetable beds and vibrant green bushes. In a more secluded corner is a collection of beehives where the hotel gets its honey and at the center is a pond filled with water lillies. We were delighted to find that the hotel serves wine, spritezers and a variety of craft beers at the alfresco seating area in the garden. We’d go on to spend many a happy hour nested in the garden, sipping on glasses of wine and watching Axel ‘discovering’ new species of plants and bugs.
Because the property has only a few rooms, it seemed like we always had the garden to ourselves - it was almost as though we were in the privacy of our own home! There’s adorable library nook tucked near the dining room filled with classics and contemporary fiction. Just next to the books are shelves with a wide variety of premium liquor and spirits; the perfect pairing if you ask me!
Another amenity we took advantage of was the location; the next morning, we began to explore our surroundings. Clarance Hotel is in the heart of ‘Vieux-Lille’, which translates to Old Lille. As its name suggests, the neighborhood is filled with incredible architecture, old churches and cozy cafes and pastry shops - yes, there I go talking about the food again! Lille’s Notre Dame de la Treille is a five minute cycle ride away and the Vauban Garden which is 15 minutes away is a great place to have a stroll through.
Both the Clarance Hotel and its neighborhood have a tranquil, unhurried atmosphere to them. We were happy to spend hours simply meandering through quiet lanes or sipping wine in the garden. It was a wonderful, romantic escapade- even with Axel in tow :) I highly recommend Clarance hotel - when you’re in Lille, there’s no better place to stay.
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