The soaring windows are draped with opulent blue and gold velvet. A delicate antique writing desk, adorned with a magnifying glass and letter opener, stands in the corner before an inviting tufted chair. A delicately painted French Provincial style bed, with a tall white headboard and matching curved footboard, is edged by a pair of inlaid delicate antique nightstands. Beautiful ceramics adorn the gilded furniture and a leaded glass door leads to a terrace with sweeping views of the Loire River.
Sounds like the bedchamber of a French royal -- a look-but-don't-touch historic room preserved in one of the Loire Valley's famous chateaux. Perhaps Chenonceau, where builder-queen Catherine de Medici reigned.
But in this room, at Chateau Le Prieuré outside of Samur, I can sit down at the writing desk, gazing out at the Loire River, loll about on that lavish bed and draw open those heavy velvet curtains in the morning to catch the sunrise. Staff at the property know my name from the moment I arrive, appearing at the perfect time to offer an espresso in the opulent lounge, lavished with crystal chandeliers, or an aperitif and some jewel-like hors d'oeurves on the spectacular terrace.
It's delightful, after a day of touring the Loire's famous castles, to sit down in my very own castle-- at least for a night -- enjoy a glass of Champagne and feel like a queen.
That is exactly what Zaya S. Younan, Chairman & CEO of La Grande Maison Younan Collection, intends. The American real estate magnate has been buying up historic properties in France -- and one in Portugal as well -- and renovating them into four-and-five star experiences since 2016, quickly growing a luxury hotel brand. His intention is to become the largest luxury hotel operator in France within the next three years, and expand into other parts of Europe as well.
"I have been a student of history since my youth, and the castles of France truly have intrigued me," Younan, who earned his fortune through assembling a portfolio of Class-A office space, told me via email. "They are timeless reminders of royal luxury living hundreds of years ago."
The idea to launch La Grande Maison Younan Collection was born while Younan and his family were living in France about 20 years ago, watching properties that had been around for nearly a millennium fall into disrepair. "Many private owners had neither the resources nor the will to renovate these historic structures, and the government was struggling to maintain the castles that were under their domain," Younan recalls, noting that Alexandra Palace -- the most recent addition to his group, which opened in June not far from Niort, was being used to house chickens. Now the property is a study in chic elegance, with a terrace overlooking a lush pond and golf course, and plans for a renovated chapel and new spa in the works.
While Chateau Le Prieuré never housed chickens, the hotel had been shuttered for a few years and required extensive upgrades before Younan reopened it in 2018. Originally a Benedictine Monastery dating back to the 12th century -- with some beautifully preserved 800-year-old windows -- Younan's team carefully retained the property's original details and longtime staff, many of whom had been with Le Prieuré for decades, while adding sleekly modern white marble bathrooms, luxe details throughout and upgrading the food and beverage.
Adding value to these historic properties while preserving their unique qualities is at the forefront of Younan's agenda. "The biggest challenge we initially faced was learning about each castle; its place in history, the culture of the time and how each castle was initially built," Younan wrote to me. "These were imperatives, so that we could restore these castles to their glory days."
Château Le Prieuré is one of ten castles the Younan Collection has purchased in the past three years, with seven already fully restored, including Château de Beauvois, located just outside of Tours, and Château de la Perrière, near Orleans. That's more French castles in than any other company in the world -- and it's attracted the attention of the French government, which recently awarded the California resident the Gold Medal for Tourism (La Médaille d'Or du Tourisme), recognizing "outstanding and valuable professionalism in developing tourism in France."
This is just the start, Younan says, noting they currently plan to add another 15 hotels to their portfolio. "Keeping this important period in history is not a challenge. It is a privilege," Younan says. "The craftsmanship of these castles ... is extraordinary. The decor and pastoral settings are remarkable."