Mr & Mrs Smith started as a publishing company, specialising in guidebooks, two decades ago. The natural evolution was to become a booking platform, since readers inevitably wanted to book the hotels they were seeing in the sleek coffee-table-tome pages.
In the 20 years since it was founded, the brand has attracted a million members all over the world, become a certified B Corp and published several more guidebooks, including edits on the best hotels in France, Italy and South-East Asia.
Its hotel experts are available at the end of a phone 24 hours a day, and each booking is made with a best-price guarantee (if you see a lower price elsewhere, it’ll be matched and you’ll be given a £50 voucher). The main selling point, though, is the tight edit the collection upholds – each hotel is hand-picked and has to meet the brand’s high standards. There are new finds all the time – the curators are always on the hunt for hotels and chances are if there’s buzz about somewhere, it’ll already be in the process of joining the collection – and existing properties are anonymously reviewed by glamorous undercover hotel inspectors to ensure they’re still up to scratch.
We see if it lives up to the hype with a stay at one of the grandest hotels in its edit, Domaine des Etangs, Auberge Resorts Collection in France…
One of France’s finest château hotels, Domaine des Etangs, part of the esteemed Auberge Resorts Collection, is the stuff your Francophile (and fairy-tale) dreams are made of. The 13th-century castle sits on a 2,500-acre estate, with manicured lawns, floating tennis courts and a huge lake, with row boats ready for quoting Keats.
We were staying in the Soleil suite, which has a bedroom in the tower, high ceilings, a huge bathroom and a grand salon. It was almost absurdly opulent. The interior design was pitch-perfect for the 13th-century backdrop – it was modern, but not offensively so. Every piece of furniture was immaculate and perfectly placed.
The owner has an impressive art collection and, luckily for guests, much of it is on show throughout the grounds, including eye-catching sculptures by the water’s edge. There’s also an art gallery within the acreage, which hosts regularly changing exhibitions.
The spa is in the estate’s windmill, with a spectacular couple’s treatment room set amid the old machinery, and a thermal area set in another turret. There are bicycles to borrow and an outdoor pool, too.
For rainy days, there’s a games room in the attic, and a series of salons to sit in, two of which have a grand piano. One even has a miniature set of ornate chairs for children to sit at with oversize coffee-table tomes swapped for more age-appropriate books such as Maud la Taupe.
Exclusive offers for Domaine des Etangs bookings made through Mr & Mrs Smith include 25 per cent off for early reservations, packages with spa treatments, and romantic getaways with a three-course dinner at Dyades, a bouquet of roses in your room and a glass of champagne on arrival.
The château is in Massignac in Nouvelle Aquitaine, north of Bordeaux (the nearest airport is in Limoges). You can also arrive by train, to the TGV and Eurostar station in Angouleme. It’s a sleepy part of France, perfect for anyone hoping to slow down and enjoy the peaceful, rural setting.
We spent a couple of days beforehand at the home of my friend's father and his wife, nearby. Their country house – complete with pastel shutters and interiors fit for the pages of ELLE Deco (thanks to an expert eye for brocante finds) – is remote, and so a bakery van calls round their neighbourhood several times a week to ensure no-one goes without croissants. The initiative was set up to help local people in these rural communities, especially the elderly. A visit to this part of France is a charming way to time-travel.
The staff at Domaine des Etangs are friendly and helpful, with many of them speaking several languages, but the service is more laid-back than stuffy and five-star formal. The Dyades restaurant serves what the French like to call a ‘bistronomic’ menu – our giant chateaubriand came with an equally enormous sharing portion of fries, a perfectly dressed salad and a generous serving of béarnaise.
Luckily, we didn’t have any issues with our travel, but even if we had, Mr & Mrs Smith’s personalised booking service would’ve ensured a stress-free solution. Domaine des Etangs more than lived up to the high standards we would have expected from a hotel within the brand’s collection. And the Smith Extra in this instance is a generous €75 food and drink credit, an angling session or guided garden tour, a bottle of wine, and early check-in and late check-out (based on availability). Plus, with the price guarantee, and new hotels to constantly look out for, it’s the perfect way to book the best hotels in the world.
Domaine des Etangs, from about £360 a room a night, with Mr & Mrs Smith.
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