By Maggie LaCoste
Panic has mildly started to set in as I realize that it is less than two weeks until I leave for France! I’ve heard from a number of you who are also busy planning trips for late summer and fall, and there’s been a lot of interest in my hotel choices and itinerary, so I hope this information is helpful, either now in planning a trip, or perhaps in interesting you to plan a trip to the Loire in the future.
I will be taking the TGV direct from Charles DeGaulle Airport to Tours the morning of my arrival. The 10:28 TGV gives plenty of time to get through customs, collect bags, have some strong coffee and get a snack for the train. There is a Paul sandwich shop right by the train platforms, and that is one of my favorite French fast food choices. The TGV arrives in Pierre St. Corps, a quick shuttle ride from downtown Tours where we’ll pick up bikes, pack our panniers and hop a train to Angers for the start of our journey. After much contemplation and with much sadness, I opted not to begin in St. Nazaire this summer. There is so much biking north and south of St. Nazaire that I was afraid we would never make it off the coast! Instead, I will save the westernmost parts of the Loire for next summer when I travel the Atlantic Coast Veloroute. This summer, my route will go along the Loire from Angers to Orleans, with several side trips to Chinon, the vineyards north of Tours and the Chateaux a Velo trails. I have 12 days and I already know they will go by much too quickly.
The American dollar continues to shrink against the Euro, so I’m using all the tricks I know to save money, yet still be sure that we have a great trip. There’s no doubt that choosing to stay in more rural or out of town locations was a wise choice. Each of our hotels are quite special and unique, yet we will be spending a fraction of the cost of larger, more popular and well-known hotels. Discovering new places to stay is part of the adventure of cycling, and I can’t wait to arrive at each of my selections. All of the hotels that I have chosen are small except for our last night in Tours. Some were chosen because they are so typically French, some because of a famous chef, some because we’d seen the hotel on a previous trip. Some have very good ratings in TripAdvisor, some have no ratings and I will be the first to review. All of our accommodations either have a restaurant on the premises or are in a village with restaurant options. We have found that there are many great options such as castles with rooms to let, but no food service and the closest town beyond walking distance. These are perfect when you are traveling by car, but not so great when you are two-wheeling it. With the exception of one hotel, we will probably be the only Americans there, exactly how we like it.
So without any further delay, here are my hotel choices for biking the Loire:
Hotel du Mail, Angers
I found it interesting that in such a historical town as Angers, so many of the hotels are large, modern chain hotels, which offer a great level of service and get great reviews, but just don’t fit my small and cozy hotel preference. So I was happy to find the Hotel du Mail, housed in a 17th century building on the site of an old Ursuline convent. There is still evidence of this original tenant in the old parlor and charter room. The hotel has a perfect central location, is small and charming, but updated with flat screen TV’s and internet. The basic standard double starts at 62 Euros and the high end rooms are from 82 Euros. Breakfast is 10 Euros.
Auberge La Sansonniere, Saint-Georges-des-Sept-Voies
This hotel was definitely chosen because of the chef, Jean-Francois Delanne, one of just 200 Master Chefs in all of France! The village of Saint-Georges-des-Sept-Voies is located in the Parc Naturel Regional Loire Anjou Touraine, and is a few kilometers off the Loire a Velo route, a deviation I am hoping will be well worth it. The inn is a typical Angevin home, rooms are cozy and simple with rates ranging from 60-75 Euros. There is also a family room available for 95-130 Euro. The star of this selection is the restaurant and Jean-Francois who chooses local products and Loire wines for his showcase menus. Three course menus of the day are priced at 17 or 28 Euros, and the four course Chef’s menu is 39 Euros. As with many French restaurants, it is closed for dinner on Sunday night and all day Monday. Another great option closer to the Loire which was unavailable on the date needed is Domaine de l’Oie Rouge, a charming little B and B in the village of Les Rosiers on the Loire where there are also several great restaurants.
Hotel Le Bussy, Montsoreau
We have wanted to stay at this Logis France hotel ever since we rode past it last summer! About 15 km past Saumur, an overnight here meant passing up staying in Saumur, but Montsoreau is one of the most charming towns of France, and who could pass up staying at a charming hotel right across the street from a beautiful castle? Dominique and Thierry Roi have worked hard to transform a 17th century building into a warm and inviting hotel, but it is the building’s location just steps away from the castle and the Loire that is the attraction here. Breakfast is served either in a troglodyte cave in cool weather, or on the terrace overlooking the Loire in summer. The brasserie on the river is open from June 1 to September 30, weather permitting. A room with a view is 74-84 Euros, and a family room 99-124 Euros. In addition to being part of the Logis chain, Hotel Le Bussy is also a Loire a Velo Hotel and it is right on the Loire a Velo route.
Hotel Le Diderot, Chinon
This is the only town and hotel that we are returning to from last summer. Chinon is a perfectly charming small town and we did not have enough time last year to explore it. The Hotel Diderot was one of our favorite hotels of last summer and a large part of that was due to the hospitality of Laurent, Francoise and Martine. My review of the hotel on TripAdvisor was just one of many that earned Diderot a “TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice” Award for 2011. That together with being named as Rick Steve’s top choice for Chinon is making it more and more difficult to get a reservation at this small hotel with 27 rooms. Why all the to do about such a simple hotel? The two-star Diderot is a perfect, quaint, homey hotel with friendly owners and one of the best breakfasts in town with over 50 home made jams served daily, all at a very fair price. Room rates run from 55-82 Euros a night, with breakfast another 9 Euros per person. The hotel is also part of the approved Loire a Velo accommodations list, so you can expect special bike support should you need it, as well as a breakfast that will get you powered up for the day’s ride. Should this hotel be booked, another hotel on my list is the Hostellerie Gargantua. Much more updated than Hotel Diderot, the Gargantua is housed in a 15th century building with all modern conveniences, and offers rooms with a view of Chinon castle for 55-81 Euros a night.
L’Ange est Reveur, Langeais
At the foot of the 15th century castle of Langeais, this small inn has just five rooms over a decorating shop run by owners Fabrice and Stephane. This inn, just a few kilometers from Villandry, is part of Gites de France and has earned three ears of corn. It is also part of the Charming Hotel Group, and one look at the website and you will see why! Rooms have all the modern conveniences, and there is free internet. Rooms are a great bargain at 65-75 Euros, including breakfast. Suites for up to four people are 105-115 Euros including breakfast. This is one hotel that I can’t wait to see!
La Rocheliere, Vouvray
This trip, I will take a small deviation off the Loire a Velo route east of Tours, picking up the Wine Route on the north side of the Loire. The north route is a bit more hilly than the south route, but provides the opportunity to ride through the famous Vouvray vineyards, an opportunity I don’t want to pass up. This area is full of troglodyte caves and cellars and many lovely, and very expensive places to stay. I think I have found a totally charming, unique and very affordable place to stay in the B and B La Rocheliere. With only 5 rooms, this Gite de France inn is rated 4 ears of corn, making it a very special place indeed. Run by Anneli Tulkki, parts of this B and B are practically built into the hillside. As a matter of fact, the newest room is actually called the Troglodyte room as it is built into the stone. There is a pool here and you just need to climb inside of a rock staircase to get there! From the pool it is possible to see along the Loire for miles on a clear day. There is also a sauna for guests that has been built inside one of the caves. The B and B is surrounded by the Vouvray vineyards, so we will plan on an afternoon of wine tasting while we are here. Now for the best part, the price: just 85 Euros/night, including breakfast. While the B and B does not have a restaurant, there are several highly rated ones within easy walking distance.
Just 5 km north of Amboise, L’Aubiniere is another hotel chosen for its chef, Jacques Arrayet. Room rates in and around popular Amboise can be expensive, so it’s no surprise that L’Aubinere is one of my more expensive choices. But for the quality of the hotel and the services, rates are still far below a comparable accommodation in Amboise. Located in the small village of Saint-Ouen-les-Vins, L’Aubiniere is part of the Relais du Silence chain, and has a Touraine Gourmande designation. The rooms are bright and spacious, peaceful and quiet, with all modern conveniences including internet and flat screen TV. As befits the “Relais du Silence” membership, this is a place where you can come and relax and just enjoy the beauty of the Touraine. An added benefit is a pool, which may be a welcome attraction in early August. Rooms run from 105-135 Euro/night and breakfast is 12 Euros per person. Dinner menus are available for 24, 34, 44 and 48 Euros.
Auberge du Center, Chitenay
Perfectly located between Chaumont, Cheverny and Beauregard, the two-star Auberge du Center is a great home base for exploring the Chateaux a Velo itineraries. Located south of Blois, Chitenay is in the heart of chateaux bicycling country and a perfect country alternative to staying in Blois, especially if you will be spending more than one day riding the Chateaux a Velo itineraries. Auberge du Centre is part of the Logis chain and is rated with three lamps and three pots, insuring that you will have a great place to sleep and a great dinner too. The renowned local chef is Gilles Martinet who cooks his local specialties with foods grown and raised in the local area. There is a beautiful outdoor terrace used for breakfast and dinner time in the summer, and of course, access to the bike paths is right along the hotel. Rooms are 76-120 Euro for 2 people, and breakfast is 8.50 Euro per person.
Hotel Grand St. Michel, Chambord
Note: This hotel is scheduled to undergo some major renovations in the fall of 2015. I’ve not been able to confirm if the hotel will be totally closed during this time, but as of mid-August, the website is not functioning. Stay tuned for updates on this very special place to stay!
The two-star Grand St. Michel probably won’t win any awards as the chicest, most up to date hotel, but it is the only hotel where you can be the last person to see Chambord castle at night, and the first person to see it in the morning! That was more than enough reason for me to stay here. With 45 rooms, this is one of my larger hotels but size wasn’t really part of the decision-making process for this selection. The opportunity to sit outside on the terrace at dinner, watching the sunset over Chambord is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that I am really looking forward to. I am also looking forward to being one of the first people to visit the castle in the morning, since this is one of the busiest attractions on the entire Loire river. An added benefit is that we will be able to store our bikes and bags at the hotel while we tour the castle. Rooms run from 58 to 104 Euros for the most expensive room facing the castle during high season. Most rooms average from 61-74 Euros, breakfast is 9 Euros. Menus at the hotel restaurant are 19 Euro, 27 Euro, 35 Euro and a kids menu at 10.80 Euro.
La Maison d’ a Cote, Montlivault
The opportunity to stay and eat at a Michelin starred restaurant was another opportunity too good to pass up, and that is what led me to this hotel in Montlivault on the Loire. This hotel has only 8 rooms, but then most people come here to eat, not sleep! Michelin Chef Ludovic Laurenty runs the restaurant in this renovated 19th century former village inn. With a contemporary look, rooms are fully modern with AC, internet, a large queen size beds. Rooms are 90 Euros during the season and 75 Euros after October 1 and before July 1. But the major attraction here is Chef Laurenty and his cooking. There are a number of choices each day, but the Sampling menu normally runs about 35 Euro and the very special Chef’s Choice Menu is 45 Euro. These menu prices are roughly 25-30% less than Michelin starred restaurants in neighboring Blois.
Hotel Abbaye, Beaugency
Few accommodations in the Loire get as much attention as Hotel Abbaye in Beaugency. Established in the 12th century, rebuilt in the 17th century, the former Our Lady of Beaugency abbey has great historical and architectural significance to the Loire. At the beginning of the 20th century, this vast abbey was converted into a hotel overlooking the historic Beaugency stone bridge which stretches across the Loire. I have some mixed feelings about staying in a hotel that appears to be so commercial, but then how can I pass up the opportunity to stay in a building steeped in history, in one of the best medieval towns on the Loire? So I will stay at Hotel Abbaye, another Logis hotel as well as La Loire a Velo hotel. Rooms run from 99 Euros/night up to 149/night, and breakfast is 16 Euros per person, one of the highest I have encountered. Fortunately there are many other breakfast options in Beaugency, so I may take a pass on this breakfast, unless it has something very special!
Hotel L’Univers, Tours
Rates at this 4 star hotel are a bargain this year compared to last, with a weekend rate as low as 99 Euro and weekdays at 114 Euro. These new discounted rates were the main reason I chose this as my hotel in Tours. Normally I would stay at a favorite B and B just north of the river. But this year, I wanted the convenience of a central hotel where I could keep my bags for the day until my train back to Paris. This hotel is a favorite of all the expensive bike tours, so it will be fun to stay here and see what it is like. It will also be great to be in central Tours with easy access to all the shops, bars and restaurants.
I will follow up after my trip and tell you which hotels really met my expectations and which didn’t. Please send me any “finds” that you make on your trips so that I can add them to my list and give them a try also!