A Very Special Petrolhead Hotel
The Hotel de France in Chartes sur le Loir almost needs no introduction, but that’s not going stop us writing about it!
In most respects it’s a fairly unassuming building in a quiet but not private location in a small but lively town square. In fact it’s not the only hotel, nor is it necessarily a holiday location, except for its proximity to Le Mans… and that’s the key.
Back in 1955 a certain John Wyer identified the hotel as an ideal base for his racing team as they prepared for the famous 24-hours endurance race for sports cars. He was in charge of David Brown’s Aston Martin challenge for the coveted 24 Heure du Mans trophy. It would take 5 attempts to succeed in doing so in 1959, but along the way they made the hotel famous amongst the racing car fraternity and fans.
In the 1960s Wyer continued to use the Hotel de France for his further successes leading the Ford GT40’s domination of the event following their famous battle with Ferrari, as recently made famous to a new audience through the exploits of Mat Damon and Christian Bale in Le Mans ’66 (or for the USA audience Ford v. Ferrari).
The Hotel’s film association commenced with Steve McQueen’s patronage during shooting of his homage Le Mans in 1971. The film was an expensive flop but has since grown into a cult classic.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the hotel morph from team HQ to the location of reunions. Famous drivers have queued to attend numerous retrospectives, from gatherings celebrating Aston Martin’s 1959 success (including Sir Stirling Moss and others) to the more recently retired heroes Sir Jackie Stewart, Derek Bell, Jackie Ickx and countless others. If you stay at the hotel, you will be allocated a room name rather than a room number. The names are, of course, racing drivers.
In 2013, the hotel changed hands after four generations of the Pasteau family’s ownership since 1905. The new owner inherited hundreds of photos of motor racing’s presence at the hotel arranged along the wall of the bar. They took on the task of preserving the framed photos by recreating them as wall paper and then hanging some of the framed originals over the printed background. The original photos can be rotated to help preserve them without losing the authenticity of the wall’s historic appearance. Nice touch!
In charge of the bar is Christophe Lefevre who has worked at the hotel since 1981. He has met every famous face and served many more fans who have made their way to soak up the history that oozes from the walls and the various artefacts that adorn every available surface. He’s also photographed every ‘special’ car that’s visited. Christophe jokes that has has enough material of his time there to start his own museum and intends to do so when he retires. As he lives only a few yards from the hotel, doing so would create another reason to visit Chartres sur le Loir.
If you haven’t yet been, add it to your list of places to take your special car. You might end up featuring in Christophe’s museum!
The Hotel de France is indeed a very special Petrolhead place.