A Sparkling Hotel In France’s Alsace: Villa René Lalique
By Ann Abel
The traditional villa and glass dining room at Villa Rene Lalique | RETO GUNTLI
For 100 years, Lalique has been admired for its exquisite jewelry, perfumes and collections of crystal and glass—the cactus tables, the Bacchantes vases, the colorful cabochon rings—which is still produced by a team of highly skilled artisans in its original glassworks in Alsace, France. What is less known is that Maison Lalique is also skilled at a particular kind of jewel box hospitality.
That’s most on display in its flagship hotel, Villa René Lalique, which was built by the original artist and founder in 1920 as a sometimes family home near his factory. (It can also be said to be celebrating its centenary, if you figure that the pandemic years didn’t really count.) After a lavish renovation, it opened as a six-suite hotel, and was quickly welcomed into Relais & Château and awarded one and then two Michelin stars.
There is no forgetting that you’re in the home of Lalique. The design was done with absolute commitment—there is stylized glass and crystal everywhere: the cactus tables in the lounge, the closet handles and drawer pulls in the bedrooms, the spirits decanters in the bar, the gorgeous chandelier in the dining rooms. In the hands of a less skilled designer, it could have been tacky, too over the top.
But designers Lady Tina Green and Pietro Mingarelli nailed it. Each of the suites is different, both in layout and in design, inspired by one of Lalique’s signature pieces. The Rose Suite has a pastel color palette and various incarnations of the flower. The Dragon Suite is outfitted in midnight blue and has a large balcony with a view over the park, and the Hirondelles Suite (French for “swallows”) is clad in a ruby red that matches the iconic birds and bunches of grapes on the decorative panels in the bathtub.
There’s enough Lalique that you almost don’t need to visit the nearby Lalique Museum. But you do. The museum displays pieces from the artist’s entire career, from the nature-inspired Art Nouveau jewelry to recent collaborations with contemporary artists like Arik Levy and Damien Hirst.
It’s striking to notice how at-home glassware from the 1920s and ’30s would be at a 21st-century dinner party. It’s also worth considering how René Lalique always committed to making pretty things accessible to as many people as possible, not only aristocrats. That’s why he used glass as a primary medium, and why he liked to say, “Better to seek beauty than flaunt luxury.”
That said, the hotel isn’t shy about being luxurious. The lounge is anchored by an Art Deco bar with signature exotic-leather barstools and a display of carafes that Lalique has developed in partnerships with Hardy cognac, the Macallan whiskey, Beluga vodka and Patrón tequila.
The wine cellar, under the direction of award-winning sommelier Romain Iltis, is a soaring space designed by Mario Botta with more than 12,000 bottles on display in artfully lit cabinets. Damien Hirst’s crystal butterflies line the corridor, and the cellar itself is looked over by a large-than-life bust of René Lalique, with sugar flowers behind, made by pastry chef Nicolas Multon in collaboration with Josiane Ruez, a lost-wax model maker and designer at the Lalique factory.
Botta also designed the dining room, where Austrian chef Paul Stradner presents his inventive, colorful tasting menus. Like almost any two-star chef these days, he draws heavily on seasonal vegetables from the kitchen garden—the vibrant freshness of his carrot dish is impressive—in front of the hotel and very local ingredients from nearby producers.
In the spirit of doing things with absolute commitment, the nine-course signature menu, named for René Lalique, includes such dishes as a “perfect egg” with nut-brown butter, caviar and salmon trout with dashi mousse, and a tempered carabinero prawn with cream, fir buds and white turnip. The equally lavish, vegetable-forward Terroir Menu, can be fully vegetarian, gets just as much care—he says he particularly enjoys creating the dish of chickpeas with lemon, yogurt and curry.
Just as Stradner knows that they robust flavor of a vegetable plucked straight from their earth can be their own luxury, the owners understand that sometimes nature can be the greatest luxury of all. They emphasize the hotel’s forest surroundings and its location near the Northern Vosges Regional Nature Park, with its hiking and cycling trails.
And they recently introduced forest sophrology, a sort of souped-up version of forest bathing, which also includes exercises like walking barefoot and blindfolded through the trees, mindful tasting and outdoor meditation. It’s an excellent complement to the precision that emerges from the factory and decorates the hotel.