A series of charming yet jarring juxtapositions (and a really comfy bed)
After fulfilling some professional obligations in London, I hopped on a train and soon found myself in Lille, a French town located so far in the north of France that it’s practically Belgium. It’s often overlooked by international tourists, and with a population of around 200,000, many of whom are students, it’s not the most burgeoning hotel market either. There is an unsurprising amount of hostels (which is to say: “there are lots”), but the other end of the spectrum is lacking. If it’s luxury you seek, you’ll have better luck in Brussels, which is a short ride away… but if you must be in Lille, I’m pleased to report that the Marriott-affiliated L’Hermitage Gantois is worthy of your attention.
L’Hermitage Gantois is located in the center of Lille, and even though it’s a few blocks south of the old town proper, it occupies a former hospital dating back to the 15th century. Thankfully, it’s since been renovated to include more contemporary features (hello, functioning indoor plumbing!), although it didn’t lose its medieval charms in that process. The resulting mix is an eclectic blend, but depending on your tastes, you might find it all to be a bit jarring. At the minimum, there are quite a few juxtapositions, some of which you’ll start noticing moments upon your arrival. As you walk up, for example, there’s a massive plaque that celebrates the building’s heritage, noting both its status as a historic monument and also the 2003 restoration effort to convert it in to a five-star-hotel.
A little bit further past that is a marker denoting hotel’s family: the Autograph Collection.
Both markers are relatively subdued for what amounts to one of the most luxurious chain/points hotels this side of Paris, but serve as appropriate introductions nevertheless. The style evolves in to a grander, more classic elegance when you turn down a red-carpet-lined vestibule, which will eventually lead you to the lobby. Here, underneath an awning adorned with five (bronze) stars, you’ll be met by a uniformed doorman, eager to escort you and carry your bags, and then ultimately deliver them to your room.
Once passing through the automatic front doors at the end, you’ll step inside and pass an expansive tapestry from an era long past…
…and then you’ll come upon the check-in desk, which, compared to everything else thus far, looks like a UFO.
The main entrance obviously derives its design influences from two vastly different time periods, and whether or not they fit well together is completely subjective. For better or for worse, there was plenty of time to speculate about this; L’Hermitage Gantois was sold out the night that I was there, and a large majority of those guests apparently arrived to check-in within five minutes of each other. There were only two people staffing the front desk, and the line stretched out the door along the red-carpeted corridor. 15 minutes elapsed before I made it to the front, where a warm and resounding “Bonjour!” greeted me.
Beyond “bonjour“ and “merci,” I don’t speak a lick of French, and feebly asking “Parlez vous Anglais?” only goes so far. My lack of confidence led to a crippling stammer, but the receptionist graciously switched to English immediately. He joked, “you are probably not French, but have you been to Lille before?” I hadn’t, and without missing a beat, he pulled out a pocket map, and outlined the lay of the land, circling popular monuments and offering directions to them. “What kind of food do you like?” and I expressed interest in trying the local fare. He suggested a few creperies in response, before continuing with, “you may be content just staying in your room…”
“Yes, because of your loyalty to Marriott, you have been upgraded to a penthouse suite, and your new room is very impressive! Maybe you would rather have room service and take a bath.”
This surprise might have much more to do with the hotel being sold out than it does my mid-level elite status and standard room booking, but who’s complaining either way?
“Do you need an escort to your room?”
“No thank you, it shouldn’t be a problem…”
“Well L’Hermitage can be a bit confusing to newcomers!”
And with that, he came around from behind the desk, and led me in to a courtyard, and up a set of stairs.
At the top, we passed through an arched doorway in to a room that looked straight out of a musty apartment building. There were no lights and no art — I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s haunted here — but we didn’t linger long enough to find out.
We went up another flight of stairs, and at the top of that, there was a small landing and a single door. Finally, we had made it to the suite, and after the wait and the walk, my anticipation was bubbling.
A foyer awaited on the other side of the wall, and initially, it was a little bit of a let down. After forming an impression of medieval grandeur in the lobby (mixed with the future), I was expecting a similar degree of foo foo in private, especially in one of the property’s premier rooms. There wasn’t anything bad per se, but everything just seemed remarkably standard, including the door directly opposite the entrance. You’d think that it’d be a closet of sorts…
…but instead it was a powder room. Well, it wasn’t even that! It was *just* a toilet.
If the foyer was uninspiring, this is outright bad, especially considering that this is supposed to be the best of what one of the top hotels in the city has to offer. There are Super 8 Motels with more interesting bathroom arrangements than this one. Also, at one time or another, I may or may not have leaned back too far and, much to my surprise, unexpectedly flushed the toilet.
In all seriousness though, the lighting was poor and it was low-quality. I typically prefer to not do my business underneath a flickering fluorescent bulb in a room that was likely repurposed from an industrial closet. It also seems like a sink would be a worthwhile investment here for, you know, personal hygiene.
“There HAS to be another bathroom somewhere,” I thought to myself while finishing up, “this hotel is old, but it’s 2018; there HAS to be more than just a chamberpot!” That inclination was correct, but the locations of the other features you’ve rightfully come to expect (like showers and sinks) aren’t immediately evident. Some additional searching would be required, and I exited
the dungeon with a toilet inside only partially satisfied.
Two main rooms make up this suite. If you turn to the left from the foyer, you’ll enter the bedroom, which is where I looked first in the ongoing quest to find the other bathroom.
While the penthouse had been underwhelming up until this point, the sleeping chambers did a lot to change my mind. The room is spacious, especially by European standards, and it’s just so charming without being too over the top.
The bed here, which is an important component of any hotel, is downright memorable. It’s soft yet supportive, but doesn’t come close to feeling lumpy. There’s also a nearly overwhelming amount of pillows that vary in firmness. For what it’s worth, the bed at L’Hermitage Gantois is one of the best that I’ve slept in this year, although different people have different preferences.
The smaller details here are worth noting, as they distinguish the space and make it more becoming of its five star rating. The wood paneling on the walls adds a certain warmth, as do the framed pieces of art hanging underneath gallery-styled lights. Exposed rafters made from what seem to be original beams (they’re not, but they definitely lack polish) subtly remind you of the impressive place you’re in: a really old hospital.
Modern fixtures on the other hand, like a flat screen television and a substantial quantity of electrical outlets and USB jacks, keep you firmly in the 21st century. Note that there are no international plugs here, so be sure to bring your own adapter. If you forget, the front desk loans them out too.
A mini fridge occupies the space beneath the television in the bedroom. Most soft drinks were only a couple Euro, and the wine and beer didn’t cost much more. If you do stay in for a brew, be sure to try the Page 24; it’s not too expensive, and it’s brewed no further than 20 miles away.
If you want some snacks to accompany your beverage(s), you don’t even have to leave the room. Adjacent to the fridge along the near wall is a seating area with two chairs and an end table, the latter containing a small variety of sweet and savory snacks (and extra bottles of wine, because #France). These too are relatively inexpensive, and there’s enough to satisfy most cravings.
Obviously there are plenty of nice features here, but so far, nothing that I’ve mentioned is particularly unique or special (except for maybe the locally brewed beer). Instead, it’s certain elements of the room that are just so quintessentially French — the drapes and the dormer windows especially so — that are most memorable. Correspondingly, these left such a favorable impression that my original critical opinion became nothing but a distant memory.
But alas, still no bathroom.
Perhaps I’d have better luck on the other side of the foyer. There, opposite the doorway to the bedroom, is an arch leading to a living room of sorts.
The interior design here is consistent with that of the bedroom, albeit in a smaller space. Obviously there are traditional and contemporary furnishings, with a couple of arm chairs falling in the former category, and a flat screen TV standing atop a sleek-looking desk in the latter. A clear plastic chair is tucked underneath the table too, but that might be a bit too modern. Management was clearly (hah) going for a mélange of styles here — good for them — but the hard plastic just seems tacky. It’s still easy to appreciate the room for its other charms though.
There’s an espresso machine, complete with accompaniments, perched on a much older looking credenza with a green-marbled surface. Very nice!
Another French print hangs above, and while that’s already pretty “haute” inherently, the gallery-style lighting makes it even more so.
The single window looks out on the interior of the hotel, where you have a great view of the old mixed with the new.
There’s also a view in to a courtyard that’s along the way up to the room.
My favorite part of the living room though wasn’t a permanent fixture, but rather, it was a welcome gift from the front desk. Instead of the typical fruit arrangement, an entire decanter filled with port and some house-made chocolates were waiting on a side table.
The port was sweet yet strong, and the bitter chocolates served as the perfect complement. You won’t (shouldn’t) be disappointed, although be warned: it’s made by “traditional” methods. But as much as I wanted to start sipping on it immediately, the other bathroom had yet to be discovered and my hands were still dirty. FORTUNATELY, there was one more door in the corner.
Aha! At last the other “ingredients” had been found, right adjacent to the living room, of all places. Unlike the space the toilet occupied, this was much more pleasant to occupy. There are windows that allow for natural light (always a plus), and stone-colored tiles that fit right in with the aura of a centuries-old building. They are charming, to say the least, and more importantly, they are clean. No grody grout work in sight, thank God! A flower adds a nice splash of color, too.
But of course, who cares about appearance if nothing works correctly? The shower is far and away the worst offender of this, despite how cool the setup looks.
My biggest gripe comes from the sloping wall, which, as a tall person, makes me feel claustrophobic. People under six feet should be in the clear here, but the placement of the shower controls should drive you crazy no matter your size. You have to reach around a partition and potentially expose yourself to the stream in order to turn it on. If you’re not quick enough, you’ll be cruelly subjected to a douse of cold water. every. damn. time. The water comes out fast and strong, which is a curse in the beginning and a blessing once it warms up, but herein lies another problem. The glass partially surrounding the tub does a terrible job of containing that excellent pressure, leaving spray everywhere, and ultimately, a soaking wet floor. Shower curtains aren’t particularly glamorous, but one would certainly be welcomed here.
As frustrating as it can be to shower here, at least the sink is user-friendly. It’s a cool-looking setup with practical-yet-stylish design features, and there’s a decent amount of counter space too. Everything works how it’s supposed to, which is really all you can ask for.
There’s also quite the selection of amenities and toiletries. Everything was accounted for, like a shaving kit and extra toothbrushes and a shower scrub…
…and a couple of plush bathrobes paired with sturdy slippers…
…and the usual collection of toiletries and then some, here provided by The White Company.
This was my first time bathing with this brands’ products, and it was a really disappointing experience. It’s hard to expect much from the hotel samplers — they’re given away for free and are thrown away once guests depart — but these were actively bad. Even at a non-five star property, these would be unacceptable. After the only shower, my hair felt greasier than it did before I shampooed it, as did my hands after washing with the bar soap. How does that even happen?!?
Maybe 10 minutes after arriving in the room, the doorman showed up to deliver my bags. He brought with him an umbrella, explaining that “You might need this if you decide to go exploring tonight.” This gesture was particularly kind and considerate, especially because rain was indeed expected later. He rested it right near the front door, propped against the table that the espresso machine is on.
A cute note was affixed to it as well:
As I was unpacking for the night, it became apparent there wouldn’t be enough storage in the bedroom. There’s a single dresser tucked away in a corner, but it’s so small and the drawers are so cramped. It’s hard to fit anything more than a couple articles of clothing in each one.
There’s also a closet in the foyer adjacent to the front door. It’s not the most glamorous solution, but what else could you do besides live out of a suitcase? This does the trick, I suppose.
There are some cubbies and hangars to use, in addition to a safe for valuables… but also a coffee maker?!?
“Taking off points” because there’s a coffee maker in the closet would be a bit harsh, but it does seem to be in a strange location regardless; all of the other beverage offerings were visibly placed in the open. This isn’t particularly problematic, but it does reflect a much more significant issue with the suite: it’s not laid out well. If a hotel room could be characterized as scattered and disjointed, this one at L’Hermitage Gantois would be the textbook definition of such. Some examples include (ordered from least irritating/frustrating/offensive to most)…
- There are five different drinks (and more) that are kept in five different places: the mini fridge (soft drinks, beer, wine, champagne), the bedroom snack table (red wine), the living room end table (port), the living room credenza (espresso machine), and the foyer closet (coffee maker). Happy hunting!
- There is one tiny dresser in the bedroom and a slightly larger closet in the foyer. If you’re a solo traveler staying for one night, no big deal, but if you bring your whole family for a week, you might have to cram your stuff, or worse, live out of suitcases. Depending on how you organize yourself, the process of picking out clothes and getting dressed might require you to move repeatedly between rooms.
- The toilet is a relatively significant distance from the rest of the bathroom. If you use the former while someone is in the latter, you won’t be able to wash your hands (unless the other doesn’t mind a privacy invasion). If you have to go to the bathroom immediately after a shower, you’ll be dripping through the living room to get there.
It’s simple enough to buy furniture that can contain a cornucopia and/or every item stored in guests’ suitcases, but the bathroom is a long way from being fixed. At the end of the day, my complaints are first world problems, and L’Hermitage Gantois is good enough in other areas to make forgiving and forgetting easy. Granted, a five star hotel should be better than “good enough.” This property wouldn’t fly in the more-crowded market to the south, but I slept really well and that’s what matters most. The smaller touches, like chocolate-on-the-pillow turn down service, is an appropriate level of luxury equal to some of the best though.
The following morning, after a solid rest (did I mention how wonderful the bed was?), I showered and went downstairs with the hope of eating breakfast. The man working check-in the previous afternoon wasn’t kidding when he said that the property can be confusing, and in a groggy state, I had no clue of where to go. The map mounted on the back of the front door wasn’t much help either.
I went back to the lobby, and figured that exploring around there would be more effective. Behind the front desk is a massive indoor courtyard, with plenty of seats to lounge about, and a fully stocked, full service bar that’s capable of quenching any thirst. The space also looks especially cool. As is common with other locations at L’Hermitage, there’s the perfect blend of old architecture with contemporary design here.
The sprawl of the property is evident from this centrally located atrium. There are a number of hallways branching off from here, some leading to more typical amenities, like a spa and a gym and a meeting hall…
…but also to some more, shall we say, unconventional spots, like a “royal garden,” a chapel, and a museum with an accompanying art gallery.
As is the case with
the bathroom the room with the sink and shower in the suite, the breakfast-serving restaurant, called Restaurant Gastronomique, is easily missed. It has a humble entrance tucked away in a corner, with a single door and a newsrack waiting outside.
It’s quaint for sure, but lordy is it red. That color might be an acquired taste, but it’s hard to disagree with the gothic architectural features.
A host came fluttering over as soon as he saw me enter, speaking quickly in French. I stared back blankly for a second, and then he immediately switched to perfect Canadian English. That was a surprise — I wasn’t expecting to hear that accent so early in the morning — and he laughed and explained that he’s a Quebecois living in Europe. He crossed my name off a list, and then gestured to the buffet. He proactively brought over a French Press too, and it was as if he could see in to the hectic future; I would desperately need that coffee during the day ahead. How thoughtful!
The dining room is impressive, but the pantry in which the food is served is less than so. That’s not a serious issue, but if more than three people were to enter, you’d probably start feeling pretty uncomfortable. Better make it quick! There are a few options, with wide selections of warm, cold, and room temperature dishes available.
And if you need something quick to-go, there are packaged snacks and fresh fruit on a table right by the entrance.
The quality, on the other hand, was just okay. I had some bacon and waffles, and while they weren’t repulsive, I wasn’t yearning for seconds either. A croissant to round out the meal was good, but it tasted to be a day old or so. Perhaps you’ll have fresher options if you eat breakfast later in the morning. Alternatively, Lille is a quintessential college town, filled with quaint bakeries and cafes selling affordably priced treats. You should have no problems if you choose to venture from the property.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t any time to check out the local scene. After finishing eating, I returned to the penthouse, brushed my teeth, and then departed ten minutes later. It was on to Paris, the next stop during the whirlwind European weekend.
Despite its irksome flaws, L’Hermitage Gantois is a mostly well-executed hotel. The kind service and excellent bedding, all within the beautifully-renovated confines of a centuries-old hospital, are far more memorable than a poorly laid out bathroom arrangement. While an improvement on that last front would be appreciated, the setup in its current state doesn’t warrant total condemnation. Who knows, that suite could be the only affected room, and it would be a shame to disparage a place otherwise deserving of its five star rating. L’Hermitage is, without a doubt, the best Lille has to offer, so the next time you find yourself in Northern French, you owe it to yourself to visit.
The good, the bad, the ugly of L’Hermitage Gantois, Lille, France
- The Good
- The atmosphere here is unique in a medieval kind of way, and it feels like you’re in a chateau at times. Add in some contemporary design elements, and you have a one-of-a-kind property. This isn’t some generic Marriott.
- The bed was magnificent.
- The staff working was kind and helpful…and particularly forgiving of my French skills (or lack thereof). Merci beaucoup!
- The little things were well-appreciated, like the bottle of port and chocolates that were waiting upon arrival. Nothing says “we’re happy you’re here” more than free stuff like that!
- The Bad
- The bathroom could have been designed much better. For one, why was it divided between two rooms? Secondly, reaching “through the stream” to turn on the shower (and subsequently be doused by cold water) is awful. Then once inside, it was difficult to prevent water from spraying all over the floor.
- The suite seems “interrupted,” with a number of features scattered about without a lot of rhyme or reason as to why. I’d rather all the beverages be in one place instead of some in all of the rooms, for example.
- For such a premium hotel, the toiletries in the bathroom seemed really low grade. I found myself feeling greasier after using them, and who honestly likes the feeling of being oily and then crawling under the covers.
- The Ugly
- Some of the appointments might be too foo-foo (like the tiny dresser). Others might be too uber-contemporary (like the clear plastic desk chair). Then again, there’s no accounting for taste.
- It’d be great if there was a small sink in the powder room. It was a nuisance to have to walk from the toilet to the bathroom through the living room.
“A Weekend to Europe” Trip Report
- Introduction: A Weekend to Europe
- United Polaris Business Class, Boeing 767-400ER, EWR-LHR
- United Arrivals Lounge, London Heathrow (LHR)
- L’Hermitage Gantois Hotel, Lille, France
- Air France Business Class Salon (Terminal 2E, Hall K), Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
- Air France Business Class, Boeing 787-9, CDG-YYZ
Have you stayed at L’Hermitage Gantois in Lille, France? What are your thoughts?