By Maggie LaCoste
Choosing where to stay along the Loire is a bit more challenging this year than last, primarily due to the fluctuating value of the US dollar versus the Euro. Because of this, I’ve taken a bit of a different approach in planning where to stay this summer. There are literally hundreds of small inns and bed and breakfast-type hotels from one end of the Loire to the other, generally in smaller towns or on the outskirts of larger cities. Most of these smaller accommodations are run by the owners who also live there, often the wife running the hotel and the husband the restaurant. Throughout Europe, I have found these small, owner-run inns to be the most reliable places to stay and, more often than not, also the most affordable. If you have a problem with your room, your dinner or anything else, you will generally deal directly with the owner. Needless to say, problems are resolved quickly. These small owner-run establishments are generally very well maintained, meticulously clean, and have the best breakfasts you could want to start your day. This is true not only along the Loire, but also throughout France.
I have spent the last week plotting my bike route, planning what I want to see along the way, guesstimating how far to bike each day, looking at where the daily markets are and where the best chefs are. Now I am starting to make decisions on where to stay. My trip this year will start the last week of July and end the second week of August so it will be a busy time along the Loire. I will definitely make reservations for weekend days, but will probably leave a few “unreserved” days to provide a bit of adventure and flexibility; my husband always loves to find a hidden gem along the route. Once I have chosen all of my hotels for the trip, I will pass this information on to you, but for now, I’m listing the resources that I am using to decide where to stay. These resources are some of the best for finding high quality, very affordable places to stay throughout France. And yes, I will probably throw in a night at a more expensive place, possibly a chateau, just to have the experience, but with the money I will save other nights, I won’t feel guilty at all.
Here are some of my favorite resources for small, affordable hotels, inns and B and B’s along the Loire:
La Loire A Velo: This website is the best overall resource for planning any bike excursion along the Loire. Developed by the Western and Center Loire Regions, this website provides any type of information, general or specific, that you need to plan a bike trip on the Loire. Click on Loire a Velo and you will go directly to the bike stage section. Click on the particular section you are interested in, and you can access information such as attractions, bike rentals, restaurants and accommodations in that specific area, including hotels, guest houses, furnished rentals and campgrounds. The accommodations that are included are those that are “Loire a Velo” accredited. This means that they have adapted their establishments to the particular requirements of bicyclists including a secure place to park bikes, repair kits for emergencies, special breakfasts suitable for bicyclists and where possible, facilities to wash clothes. These accommodations are also located close to the Loire a Velo itinerary or adjoining cycle tracks such as the Pays des Chateaux a Velo. The listings are by no means inclusive, but are a great starting place for a search on where to stay. Generally speaking the lodging costs are extremely low.
Logis Hotels: Formerly called Logis de France, this is one of my favorite resources for finding great accommodations in the Loire or anywhere in France. Most of the Logis Hotels are run by the owners who also live there. You will never find a higher level of quality than at a B and B, small inn or hotel where the owner lives on the premises. I have found the overall quality of Logis hotels to be consistently higher than other hotels at twice the price. And, you will be certain to have a true French experience, interacting with more French and European guests at the hotel than Americans. The website is very easy to use and you can find hotels either on a map or by region. The entire network of hotels can be added to your GPS too, so if you are traveling without reservations, it is very easy to find the closest Logis Hotel.
Gites de France: The French website for the largest guest house network in Europe with over 45,000 holiday cottages and 10,000 Bed and Breakfasts for rent. Gites de France has operated in France for over 55 years, and it’s membership sign is easily recognized by savvy travelers from around the world. When you stay in Gites de France lodging, you are certain to have an authentic French experience, as one of the primary goals of the organization is to preserve and protect the French heritage and countryside. The company offers both long-term furnished rentals as well as overnight accommodations in B and B type lodging. The website is very comprehensive, allowing selections to be made based on a wide range of variables including type of accommodation, rating of establishment (the Gites de France network uses 1-5 epis to rate establishments, 1 being the lowest rating, 5 the highest), budget, type of facilities wanted and theme of stay–fishing, nature, gourmet, garden, just to name a few. You can find a rating of the top 400 gites in France, or for any particular region by clicking on the following Gites de France top 400 list.
Charming Small Hotels: Guidebook publishers of unique and charming hotels and inns. Their featured accommodations are quite selective, but it’s well worth the time to see if there is something to fit your itinerary.
Alistair Sawdays Special Places to Stay: A publisher of guidebooks, this website has a huge amount of information on great, unusual places to stay. Registration to the site is free and enables users to read complete hotel descriptions and also to access any consumer reviews that are posted. I always find at least one lodging possibility on this site that I had not seen anywhere else, so this website is definitely one of my top stops when planning a trip. Of course, they are hoping that you will find the website so useful that you will buy something, which in fact I have done. It was a small price to pay for all the suggestions I have gotten from the website. The emphasis for selections in these guidebooks is just as you would expect from the “Special Places to Stay” description: interesting experiences, beautiful buildings, elegant simplicity, authentic, great food, comfort and environmentally friendly.
Karen Brown’s World of Travel: I have owned Karen Brown guides for years, and I use her website on a regular basis. Many of the recommendations from the French Hotels guidebook are out of my price range for bike trips, the selections in the French Bed and Breakfast guidebook are much more reasonable. I normally always take a look at the website when I am planning a trip, just to see if there are any selections I might not be familiar with.
Bienvenue au Chateau: Bienvenue au Château is a non-profit-making association supported by the five Regional Tourist Boards in Western France. The aim of the association is to help protect and enhance private chateaux, manors and historic houses in Western France through the provision of accommodation with a personal touch to paying guests. The association oversees a set of standards that each participating property is expected to utilize. If you are interested in staying in a chateau, manor or historic home, this is the best resource to look at. Prices are much more affordable than most of the more highly advertised chateau, thus making a special stay more possible. There are 30 properties in the Loire area, providing a wide variety of choices and location for a very special stay.
If you are interested in finding a charming, authentically French place to stay at an affordable price I think that you will find these suggestions helpful, whether you are planning a bike trip in the Loire, or anywhere in France. I will post my final list of choices as soon as I finish making my plans! Just over one month until I leave for the Loire!