Enjoy the European Chateau Experience Right Here in California
The castle getaway.
Written byGinny Prior
AboveThe stunning setting at Château du Sureau
In the world of luxury travel, there is nothing so sensuous as a chateau. The blend of art and architecture, gardens and hospitality make chateau-style inns a favorite throughout Europe. Happily, there’s no need to travel overseas for one of these fairy tale experiences. Gracious, chateau-style accommodations are waiting to be discovered right here in California.
A luxurious suite at Château du Sureau
Château du Sureau
Stately Château du Sureau sits above Yosemite’s southern gateway town, Oakhurst. The architecture is enchanting—a 9-acre castle-resort with fragrant gardens and secret spaces that transport you to the French countryside. It’s a true chateau in every sense. The living room invites guests to enjoy a glass of wine in front of a crackling fire. Off the lobby, there’s a place of reverence—a small chapel. And because a chateau is the heart of a village, Elderberry House Restaurant and the stone-and-wood Cellar Bar, considered among the area’s premier fine-dining destinations, are popular on-site restaurants.
The original owner of Château du Sureau (built in 1983) was Erna Kubin-Clanin, an Austrian chef, restaurateur and hotelier with a passion for sharing European charm and hospitality. Each of the 10 guest rooms in the chateau is curated with her favorite treasures. “Erna found everything herself, from the furniture to the tile in the breakfast room, which she bought from an old castle in France,” says Château du Sureau’s French hotel director, Rani Grube. Also on the property is the freestanding, two-bedroom, 2,000-square foot Parisian-style manor, Villa Sureau—inspired by Erna’s good friend, Barbra Streisand, who needed more privacy when she came to visit.
When Erna retired in 2017, she sold the chateau to the Rosenson family of hoteliers, whose collection includes Mirabelle Inn in Solvang and Mansion on Sutter in San Francisco.
A charming courtyard at Lafayette Park Hotel
Lafayette Park Hotel
Speaking of San Francisco, a chateau-style hotel just minutes from the city pays homage to famed 18th-century aristocrat Marquis de Lafayette. The Lafayette Park Hotel’s striking yellow facade and French-inspired architecture make it a landmark that draws visitors from around the world. General manager Nick Bozych credits the customer service and caring staff for making the hotel a AAA Four Diamond winner for more than 25 years. “Everything falls back on the customer service,” he says. “It’s really making sure we have people at the right place at the right time for you.”
In the hotel’s highly-rated Park Bistro & Bar, diners enjoy farm-to-table cuisine and carefully sourced meats like the tender Akaushi ribeye. The full-service Spa at the Park pampers patrons with signature treatments like the Wildflower Wrap—an invigorating dry-brush massage with herbal moisturizers and flower essence massage oils, followed by a warm, comforting wrap and scalp massage. As with other chateau-style properties, fountains and fireplaces create magic. The Wishing Well Courtyard is a delightful interior patio with cocktail tables among colorful rose bushes and hydrangeas. On the third floor are quiet seating areas in alcoves and romantic firepits. There’s even an outdoor fireplace by the swimming pool and whirlpool tub.
The foyer and formal dining room at Lafayette Park Hotel
In the artsy enclave of Carmel-by-the-Sea, L’Auberge Carmel is an enchanting three-story inn by architect Albert Farr, who also designed Jack London’s Wolf House in Sonoma. Built in 1929, this Bohemian-chic hotel captures Carmel’s village-in-the-forest vibe and is just steps from art galleries, boutique shops, notable restaurants, tasting rooms and picturesque Carmel Beach.
As with other inns on this list, secret spaces invite you to reflect, read or share quiet conversation. A cozy stone fireplace bar off the lobby exudes old-world charm. L’Auberge Carmel’s 20 guest rooms circle a fountained courtyard rimmed with twinkling lights that doubles as a patio for dining al fresco. And speaking of dining, the crown jewel of this Relais & Châteaux property is the Forbes Five Star restaurant Aubergine, with its eight-course tasting menu. Executive Chef Justin Cogley is noted for his innovative cuisine that changes daily based on the freshness of ingredients sourced on the Central Coast.
The expansive grounds at Auberge du Soleil
Auberge du Soleil
No list of French-inspired inns in California would be complete without Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, just north of Napa. The dream of French restaurateur Claude Rouas, the resort was built in stages to accommodate guests of the Napa Valley’s first fine-dining restaurant, of the same name, built on the site in 1981. The sprawling 33-acre property, a sun-kissed hillside that was once an olive grove, is the perfect setting for the inn’s 48 guest rooms and two stand-alone suites, or “maisons.”
The views of Mount Veeder and the lattice work of vineyards are stunning in any season. The terracing and trees are also magnificent, while providing the privacy for guests. In fact, Auberge du Soleil’s Lauren Brenner says the rooms are designed so that you may not realize other guests are staying nearby. “Once you get beyond the gate, it’s only for resort guests, so it’s very private. Each room has a private terrace. Some have hillside views. Some have garden views so you feel like you’re in a secret garden—complete with outdoor bathtub.”
Some of the rooms at Auberge du Soleil feature outdoor bathtubs
As you would expect in the Napa Valley, the Auberge du Soleil’s fine dining restaurant showcases the region’s much heralded fresh produce and has earned 14 consecutive Michelin stars. Breakfast is included with an overnight stay, along with a curated selection of gratis snacks and local wine in each guest room. Guests often enjoy finding a secret spot in the trees or the lavender fields to have a picnic. They also love strolling among the 100 art installations on display on the property (most are for sale) and enjoying the spa with its individual treatment rooms opening to a central courtyard.
Art, architecture, gardens and gracious hospitality. These are the elements that make French-inspired hotels so enticing. Point of fact: you don’t have to travel to France to feel like you’re in the flower fields of Provence. A drive of five hours or so is all you need to find your own joie de vivre.
Lions and tigers and bears—oh my!