We were driving in the Alps, about twelve miles south of Chambéry, looking for a quiet place to spend the night. Having left autoroute A41, we passed through several small busy towns with convenience hotels near the autoroute. It was still early. We could do better. We followed signage for a château hotel into the town of Challes-les-Eaux. We passed Belle Époque architecture, the casino and the thermal baths, ensconced in an inviting park. A few signs later and we were headed up a steep side road to Château des Comtes de Challes, a splendid structure constructed in the 15th century. Lucky for us we got a room though not in the château. That may have been a blessing.
Two annex buildings, along with the château, house 54 rooms. We were on the third floor (yes, there is a modern elevator) in l’Orangerie. We had a commanding view of the spacious property and beyond. We gazed at mountain peaks in the distance and a heron nesting at the top of the pine tree in the foreground. The following morning we saw several gliders circling the sky, having taken off from the small airport we could see in the valley below the château.
Our room wasn’t small, though not exactly spacious. It was well decorated, quiet and comfortable. The bathroom made up in size for the bedroom. As it was a corner room, the window from the shower also offered tantalizing garden views. A grand exit stairway was just outside our door so we opted to use it for exercise and as our excuse to indulge in the gastronomique restaurant. The dining room is lovely old world French décor. There was wonderful service and food, highly recommended by the Michelin guide. Dining on the terrace was possible but with a spring storm brewing, we stayed inside, though a few brave souls were set up beautifully outdoors to watch the lightening show while they dined. Petit déjeuner is served outdoors in a canopied patio garden setting. The choices were abundant and delicious.
We requested to stay another night and thankfully our room was available. With time to explore, we visited the small Chapelle in l’Orangerie dedicated to St-Jacques de Compostelle. We admired the large heated pool on the grounds, tucked out of sight from the rooms and garden. We saw two buses and several vans with logos of cycling teams pull into the overflow parking lot. Pre-Tour de France, these cyclists were staying at the hotel and participating in the Critérium du Dauphinè, scheduled to begin the following morning a short distance away. A marriage was also taking place in the garden yet the place never felt busy or crowded. We walked down the steep hill into the town to meander in the park, discovering a casual bistro where we went back for dinner that evening.
All of the château staff were exceptionally helpful and welcoming, even with all that was going on. We were sorry to have missed the tour of the cellars under the château where apparently 17,000 bottles of wine are stored. Hopefully next time. With its excellent location, charming ambiance and proximity to many attractions, it would be easy to return to Le Château des Comtes des Challes.
The Château des Comtes des Challes is part of the Châteaux & Hôtels Collection, 247 Montée du Château, 73190 Challes-les-Eaux. Tel: +33 4 79 72 72 72. Rates at this three-star hotel start at 94 euros/night.
Jo Anne Marquardt is the author of My Trip Around the Hexagon: Meandering in France  and Falling in Love with France , both available at Amazon.com. Her first published book, Falling in Love with France, offers responses to the various questions friends and family have asked her over the years about why she visits France so often. The second book includes illustrations and descriptive notes from her travel journals.
Visit Jo Anne’s website to check out her art: www.joannemarquardt.com.