“What’s with the monkeys?” my wife wondered. They were all around the room, in white plaster relief against an eggshell blue background, swinging on tassels hanging from faux pelmets, relaxing in a hammock. Along with the warmth of the greeting at the Chateau de Montreuil they cheered us after a depressing day. First there was a delay of some 90 minutes at the Eurotunnel terminal. There was still time for a planned diversion to Le Touquet, for coffee and a bracing walk on the promenade, but sleety snow on the autoroute put paid to that idea. So we turned inland, killed a bit of time shopping for wine, and checked in early at the hotel. The Chateau is at the top of the fortified hill town of Montreuil sur Mer in Pas-de-Calais. It’s a member of the posh Relais & Chateaux consortium and its restaurant has a Michelin star. Instructions in the room reassure guests that there’s no need for jackets and ties in the dining room. “Most important is hat you are comfortable and ‘at ease’ to appreciate our nice cooking.” Before dinner there were canapés, birthday Champagne for Cheryl and a glass of sauvignon blanc for me in the lounge. The menu offered two fixed price choices: three courses for €85 and a seven course surprise tasting menu for €100. We opted for the former. Good move – cuisine minceur this isn’t. After an amuse gueule I started with oysters in tempura with a sauce diable. Cheryl chose scallops with cider and Cox’s apple sauce. Both dishes were faultless, though with hindsight I might have picked something a little lighter than the impressive pie that followed. This Tourte feuillete of rascasse (scorpion fish – a staple ingredient of bouillabase) was for two sharing. It sat on the serving trolley like a pastry solar topee before the waiter cut it neatly in half. The dish came with vegetables and a sauce of cream of shellfish and green Chartreuse. Pudding was a chocolate soufflé fortunately so light you could imagine it floating off on the slightest current of air. Though you could blow the kids inheritance with a 1990 Haut Brion at €1600 there’s a good selection of more earthbound wines on the list. We picked a delicious Sancerre, costing €35. We’d been upgraded (no travel writer’s privileges were involved) from a Garden Room to a superior double on the first floor. There was flat screen TV, WiFi, and for warmer weather, a balcony overlooking the wintry garden. The large bathroom, with bath, shower and bidet, had a kind of coffered copper ceiling. Continental breakfast, at €19 a go, had us yearning for the pre-referendum exchange rate. But it was a lovely start to he day with croissants and pains au chocolat, crepes, a length of baguette and a bread knife, wonderful jams, orange juice and a huge pot of coffee, all served at our table. In summer, on days warm enough to use the outside pool, you could linger over it outside on the terrace.
Morning had arrived bright and cold. Though today it’s some distance inland on the River Canche, long ago Montreuil really was sur Mer. It was much loved by Victor Hugo, who set part of Les Miserables there. We took a brisk, half hour walk around the town’s imposing ramparts, which were built in the mid 16th century, dropped into a charcuterie to buy pork terrine and rillettes for dinner and left with that warm feeling that sometimes the briefest of trips can feel like a full scale holiday.
Our total bill at Chateau de Montreuil was €365. That was based on a late booking room rate of €110. Garden level rooms are wheelchair friendly. The hotel can provide ramps to overcome doorsteps.