By Maggie LaCoste
I cannot believe that it is already the end of the year! This has been a very special year for me, with over 40 days of bicycling overseas, and many great experiences to report on my blog. As I look back at my experiences of the year, one area that I never have the opportunity to discuss enough is the hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts that I stay at. Lodging choices are very important to me, especially when I am traveling by bike. I want my lodging choices to be as authentic as the country that I am exploring. So I spend time looking for special places to stay, which normally means small hotels that are run by their owners. You will rarely read about many of the places I stay in travel books, and that is totally perfect with me. Authentic and French, comfortable and cozy, a good value for the money, wonderful breakfasts and hopefully a good chef for dinner. These are the things that I look for when I choose where I will stay on my French biking adventures.
So as the year comes to an end, I wanted to share with you my first annual list of top places to stay while biking in France. Each of the destinations reflects the unique charm you find when exploring the backroads of France. Each is welcoming to bicyclists, and each will provide you with a unique French experience. Have fun looking at the list and if you ever have a chance to stay at one of my recommendations, I know that you will have a very special experience!
Experience France by Bike’s First Annual Top Places to Stay While Biking in France:
La Maison Pavie located in the medieval town of Dinan in Brittany
This hotel is not only one of the best B and B’s in Dinan, it is one of the best in all of Brittany! How to best describe La Maison Pavie? Charming, warm, historic yet contemporary, located on a quiet, yet centrally located right in the heart of medieval Dinan are a good start. This B and B, only renovated in 2010 is a very special place. Not only is the building and the renovation spectacular, great care was taken to preserve the character of the original 15th century building.
Using Auguste Pavie as the inspiration for the decorating was a stroke of genius, and provides a real sense of history for those lucky enough to get one of the five rooms in the B and B.
Then there are the owners, Jerome and Camille, no ordinary hosts. To begin with, both of them look like they should be in an issue of French Harpers Bazaar. Jerome bears an uncanny resemblance to Simon Baker of The Mentalist, and Camille could easily earn a living as a model.
Appearances aside, they are two of the warmest hosts you could ever ask for, helping guests with information on things to do, where to eat, and where to buy the best wines. If you reserve in advance, Jerome will also prepare a typical dinner for guests, something I was not aware of, but will definitely do when we return.
Hotel Diderot in Chinon on the Vienne River in the Loire Valley
This was my second summer in a row at the Hotel Diderot, as a matter of fact, this year we rode about 60 km out of our way to stay there! Unfortunately the “secret” of this great find has not stayed a secret very long. The Diderot is Trip Advisor’s #1 choice of where to stay in Chinon, and was named a 2011 Traveler’s Choice Award Winner. Despite the accolades, the team at the Hotel Diderot keep working harder to make the hotel and their guests’ experience better.
We were very lucky this year to stay in one of the first two renovated rooms, and what a treat that was: charming appointments in the room, in keeping character with the heritage of the building, flat screen television and updated bathrooms with an incredibly great shower, wonderful towels, and the best thing of all, a fan for warm summer nights.
We love this hotel for its character, its charm and its warmth, and for the friendliness of its proprietors, Laurent, Francoise and Martine. Every guest is greeted warmly, as if they are family come to visit. I’ve never had this treatment at any other 2*, 3*, 4* or even 5* hotel.
Yes some of the floor boards may squeak, and not all of the rooms have been updated, but these are not the things that have made this a top TripAdvisor site. If you are looking for an up to date, thoroughly modern hotel, perhaps you might try an Ibis-type hotel, not a hotel in a 15th century building in the middle of a medieval village. The Hotel Diderot is in the midst of an upgrading of hotel rooms, with 2 completed last winter and another 4 planned for this winter. This is a huge undertaking for such a small hotel, and their effort is just one sign of their interest in making a good hotel even better. And the Hotel Diderot breakfast’s are a bicyclist’s dream: fresh breads and croissants, local cheeses and yogurt, and lots of the famous Hotel Diderot jams!
I would definitely go out of my way to stay here!
L’Ange est Reveur in Langeais on the Loire River
Langeais was one of my favorite towns on our two week bicycle trip on the Loire, and L’Ange est Reveur was our favorite place to stay of the trip. L’Ange est Reveur and its owners, Fabrice and Stephan and the town of Langeais are so special that you should go out of your way to visit! From the moment you enter this small, charming town overshadowed by one of my favorite castles on the Loire, you are transported back in time. The imposing castle is perfect, complete with a working drawbridge. And then there is L’Ange est Reveur. The home decorating part of the business faces the castle, but you would never guess there was such a lovely gite further behind the store.
Around the corner and behind stone walls, lies a gite that has been lovingly restored by Fabrice and Stephan. The moment that the iron gate opens, you become aware that this place is very special. To begin with, the courtyard is so welcoming with large tables for entertaining, and cozy chairs for reading, all overshadowed by the Langeais castle.
The owners have missed nothing in their renovation of this place. I loved their design so much that I wanted to bring them home with me to decorate my house! The magical location, the charming town, and the wonderful hospitality of Fabrice and Stephan made this another hotel worth a detour to stay at!
La Rocheliere in the beautiful wine village of Vouvray on the Loire
Nestled in the rock cliffs over the charming wine town of Vouvray is the peaceful La Rocheliere, part of the Gites de France network of private homes with rooms for rent. Under the watchful eye of Anneli Tulkki, this gite is perfect, and oozes charm for an authentic French experience. Located in the heart of the troglodyte cave region, La Rocheliere even has its own troglodyte room, aptly called, La Cave.
Guests have use of a swimming pool, located seemingly on top of the world, overlooking the town and the church steeple. Since the Tulkki’s are Finnish, there is a sauna available too.
Our room was Au Chant des Oseaux and was perfect: spacious, impeccably clean, with a large bathroom and a great view. Breakfast is a treat with fresh jams and pastries, and, if you are lucky, time with Anneli, listening to stories about the town and the region, and the caves of the area. Anneli is the perfect hostess, happy to provide suggestions of things to do and vineyards to visit. The physical location and layout of La Rocheliere is fantastic, but it is Anneli who really makes this home a perfect place to experience the best of France.
There are numerous public places to pass the time enjoying the fantastic Vouvray wines: a library with free internet, TV, books and tourist information. There is a lovely patio in the courtyard for warm sunny days, a huge kitchen table where you can play games with your kids, and also the lovely pool. One funny side note: first-timers are usually shocked at the fact that the church bells ring all night, that’s right, all night. I think we all ask Anneli about it as we enjoy a second and third cup of coffee in the morning. Ask Anneli about the custom, and then if you are lucky, she will share some great stories about the town and its caves with you.
Hotel La Roserie in Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley
Chenonceaux is the perfect Loire castle village: several small hotels, a few gites, a boulangerie and small grocery store and a huge castle. Chenonceau is one of the most visited castles in the Loire Valley, and Hotel La Roserie is one of the best hotels in the Loire Valley.
This hotel, located in an 18th century home just oozes charm, from the ivy covered building to the comfortable lobby and common areas, to the vine covered terrace for summer dining. And did I mention that the castle is a mere 400 meters from the hotel, making it possible to beat the crowds and be the first one to visit in the morning?
But charm aside, it was Laurant and the staff who made our experience much more than a normal hotel experience. From the moment we stepped in the door, tired and dirty from a 65 km bike ride in 95 degree temperatures, we were treated like family. That’s just the way it is at La Rosarie. The hotel is larger than most of my top picks, 15 rooms including one large family room that will accommodates 4-5 people.
If you stay at La Roserie, you have to eat at their quite famous restaurant, specializing in local French cuisine and Loire wines. Our dinner on the terrace was one of our favorite dinners of our trip and the breakfast croissants were positively heaven! The gardens in August were gorgeous, the pool lovely, but a bit too cool for us. We sat on the terrace watching the hot air balloons fly overhead, it was incredible! Perfect, perfect hotel in the perfectly charming town of Chenonceaux.
Side note: the town of Chenonceaux is spelled differently from the castle, which is spelled Chenonceau. I don’t really understand it, but thought you might like to know!
So these are the first five of my best picks. Stay tuned next week for the rest!