The Energy of QuiberonBy Emmanuelle DE BOYSSON Sofitel Quiberon Thalassa Sea & Spa
“We’re going to Louison Bobet’s.” The words echoed through my head. I heard my grandfather’s voice, with its Midi accent, issuing the invitation to all and sundry. Louison Bobet. The name was a key that opened up a world of legends. I imagined the triple Tour de France champion to be a warm, good-looking man: a charmer, storyteller, bon vivant, daredevil, sweating through the race, his calves lean like cured ham. In the car that took me through Auray woods to the wave-battered Quiberon peninsula, I felt as if I was joining a country house party; returning to where I belonged. My grandmother, Catherine Daniélou, had grown up in Locronan, in this Breton landscape at the edge of the earth. I was floating between sea and sky. It was October, and chilly. “A stay at Sofitel Quiberon Thalassa Sea & Spa to prolong the summer,” was what the the charming young woman who had asked me to sign my latest novel, Blanche’s Revenge , had said. That summer, our
house had been invaded by friends, children and cousins. I was exhausted; running on empty. For this one autumnal weekend, I was finally going to have some “me” time and pamper myself. The taxi driver, a pale-eyed rogue, announced, as if it was an exclusive, that Gérard Depardieu would be here. Johnny Hallyday had just spent a few days here with his clan, as had Gad Elmaleh, Arthur, Roger Hanin and Mireille d’Arc. In the lobby, I was welcomed by a smiling brunette called Claire who took me to my room, number 285. It was eight o’clock in the evening. I was so tired that I struggled to find the slot to insert my keycard and turn the light on.
A wonderfully comfy bed, luxurious mattress, chocolate brown sofa, flowers and fruit: a real haven. From the balcony, the lighthouses of Houat and Belle-île swept across the inky black sea. A strong gust of air, redolent of kelp and sea spray, invigorated me. I went down to dinner at the restaurant, La Presque Ile . On the menu were oysters and steamed cod on tomato coulis – delicacies by Patrick Barbin, master of the Paris-Brest pastry. That night, I fell asleep as if I was on a boat, rocked by the rolling and murmuring of the waves. In the morning,
after a breakfast of fruit salad served in glass verrines, Gwenaëlle gave me my treatment plan for the three days. At ten o’clock, relaxed in a fluffy dressing gown and flip-flops, I was making my way to the Sofitel Quiberon Thalassa Sea & Spa when my attention was caught by a symbol on the red carpet.
What was the meaning of the two spirals, interlinked to form a sort of cross? Claire told me it was a quadriskell, a cosmic Celtic symbol representing the sun, earth, fire and water. Marc Hertrich and Nicolas Adnet, the French architects who transformed the two hotels side by side, chose it as the emblem. Their idea was to open the space to the sea and blend sea colours with warm, natural ones. The maze of the Thalassa Sea and Spa , was adorned here and there with ganilles, pebbles and driftwood, and flooded with light. I slipped into a cubicle where a therapist covered me with hot seaweed mud. Cocooned, I closed my eyes and forgot everything. Before my relaxing jet shower session, I sank into a chair and sipped verbena and cinnamon tea. Nearby, a little man with blue eyes, salt and pepper hair, and the elegant
air of an old charmer, smiled at me maliciously. A therapist called a lady for her treatment. “They never used to call you by your name when it was your turn,” my neighbour remarked. His innocuous comment suddenly evoked the old-fashioned style that must have been de rigeur at the old thalassotherapy centre. “I’ve been coming here for thirty-four years, always to the same room,” he added, a little impishly. “This time, I’m accompanied by five ladies.” Was he a polygamist? A nabob from the Emirates? I wanted to find out more, but the therapist interrupted us. With a firm hand, she aimed a powerful jet at my ankles, which made me shiver all the way to my shoulder blades. Feeling more relaxed than a koala in eucalyptus, I met Claire for lunch at the Delight.
The chef, Patrick Jarno, came to greet us. An inventor of gourmet and health food, he’s a culinary genius. His fillet of sea bream on a bed of vegetables and mango and pineapple mille-feuille , light as an August cloud, are irresistible. Gwenaëlle knew all about Louison Bobet. In December 1961, after being involved in a serious road accident, he was treated at Roscoff thalassotherapy institute. The healing properties of seawater inspired him to create a health and leisure centre. He set his heart on Goulvars Point, and opened Quiberon Thalassotherapy in 1964. The world of arts and politics flocked there. It was so successful that Louison had another centre built in Marbella and another in Biarritz, the Basque region where he died, in 1983, at the age of 58. Claire talked about his wife, Marie-José: “She was elegant, organized …
the soul of the place. She also had a house in Saint-Tropez.” Saint-Tropez was where my grandfather used to spend the summer. Did he used to play boules with Louison at the Place des Lys? It was possible. Did he take him fishing for scorpion fish? The manager drew me out of my
daydreams. He spoke enthusiastically about his teams, run by the head of HR: “A family atmosphere prevails here. Beauticians, hairdressers, lifeguards, sports coaches, hydrotherapists, nutritionists … everyone who works with us started at a very young age. Our clients have their habits. Jean-François, our star physiotherapist, is renowned for his legendary underwater shower combined with palpé-roulé massage. Johnny Hallyday only comes if he’s here.” A few tables away, Gérard Depardieu, aka Cyrano de Bergerac, was tucking into king prawns. I had an appointment at the Blue Bar at five o’clock to present my novel. The atmosphere was warm, the shades of colours enticing, and the
audience present. To my surprise, on the front row I saw the little man from earlier, in a taupe grey three-piece suit with a camellia in his buttonhole. One of his ladies was with him; she had a silver bun and was dressed in a slightly outdated mauve suit and white blouse with a lace collar and a long pearl necklace over it. While the guests’ questions concentrated on Émilie and Blanche, my heroines, this distinguished couple’s questions revealed their culture and passion for literature. They looked as if they came from another time – Louison’s and my
grandparents’. That night, I dreamed of little men in red coats emerging from the sea.
The next day, I was immersed in a bath while Jean-François unknotted my back with his expert hands. Then, like a rag doll, I let myself drift away as a thousand underwater jets massaged me luxuriously. Before dinner, the manager introduced me to his staff.
Over a glass of champagne, I spoke of the route of the Locronan druids, which became the route of Troménie. The stone that sterile women used to rub themselves on. The legend of Keban the witch, and the legend of Ronan, the Irish bishop in front of whom wolves used to lie down and sleep. One of the hosts was from Quimper. He remembered Job, sculptor of the miraculous fountain in the forest of Brocéliande. I was elsewhere: transported back to the time when, as children, we spent a summer at the family’s country manor.
Before the meal, the little man, flanked by his five ladies, offered me a Bloody Mary. With a mysterious air, he added: “I’m going to tell you a secret. The quadriskell is a rose window found in the chapel of Saint-André, near Trégourez. It’s an occulus that represents life revolving around an unmoving centre, like the heavenly vault around the pole star. The quadriskell was recovered by separatist Breton parties. But there’s more: it’s a reproduction of the cross called the swastika, one of humanity’s oldest symbols. It means “that which brings luck” in Buddhism. If you call upon the quadriskell in certain sacred places, you will discover its magic power.”