Experience France by Bike’s 2012 Top Places to Stay, Part I

By Maggie LaCoste

A great place to stay can provide a perfect ending to a hard day of bicycling.  Likewise, a mediocre lodging choice can ruin even the most perfect day of bicycle touring.  That’s why I spend so much time researching places to stay when planning my bicycling itineraries. To me, the perfect place to stay is not necessarily expensive, but rather fulfills my desire for an authentic French experience and a charming, welcoming environment for bicyclists and access to great local food.  Sometimes my choice is a small hotel, sometimes a bed & breakfast, sometimes a gite, and this year for the first time, a campground.

In 2011, I debuted my first list of top places to stay when bicycling in France with the hope that the information would be of help to you as you plan your bicycling trips to France.  I can’t believe that it is already time to publish my top choices for 2012!  To make it easier to access the information, I will be including the “best of” choices in a new section on my main page.

With the exception of one hotel, all of my choices from 2012 are on or near Eurovelo 1, the Atlantic Coast Route/La Velodyssee where I spent three weeks in the Spring.  Each selection greatly enriched our French bicycling experience in some way, which is exactly what I hope for in a lodging choice.  Here are my selections for my top places to stay for 2012.

Villa Chaleemar, Bordeaux

Our first and last place to stay during our trip this year, Villa Chaleemar is the perfect place to enjoy the French experience.  Located in a quiet residential area in the Chartrons quarter near the Jardin Public, this villa is welcoming, sophisticated and comfortable. Built in the beginning of the 20th century, the house has a warm and cozy feel, and is the perfect place to come back to after a day of sightseeing or bicycling.  The small B&B has only three rooms, each filled with minute details that insure an ideal experience for its fortunate guests.

The breakfast and sitting rooms at Villa Chaleemar

Under the watchful eye of owner Leena Negre, guests are able to experience Bordeaux as an insider, with perfect suggestions of where to eat, special wines to buy and attractions to see.  She is a wonderful resource on the region, and will provide as much or as little advice as a guest wants. Definitely take advantage of her restaurant recommendations if nothing else as you will enjoy secret finds enjoyed by a very select group of tourists.

Leena Negre, the charming owner of Villa Chaleemar

Bicyclists are welcome at Villa Chaleemar and overnight storage is available.  We were also able to store extra baggage at the villa while we were bicycling throughout the region.  Depending on the time of year, rooms at Villa Chaleemar run from 80-95 Euro, a bargain for a large city like Bordeaux.  With so many bicycle itineraries located near Bordeaux, this is a perfect place to begin and end a trip, if you are lucky enough to secure one of the three rooms.

Patio, cocktail area at Villa Chaleemar

Hotel La Jette, St. Martin de Re

Many of the words that I would use to describe my favorite French overnight destination–charming, warm, inviting–are not words that I would use to describe La Jetee.  What this small hotel has that made it a must on my list of 2012 top places to stay is a location on the port at one of the most picturesque towns on the Ile de Re at an affordable price.

History and charm make St. Martin de Re a top destination along the Atlantic Coast

Make no mistake about it, there are much more charming places to stay if price is no object, but if only for location alone, La Jette is at the top of my list for the Ile de Re.

Front entrance of La Jetee

La Jetee is a three star hotel with 24 rooms/suites ranging in price from 98 Euro for the room that I had to 190 Euro for a harbor-view suite.  Prices at La Jetee are a bargain, one of the many reasons that the hotel is always filled with French tourists preferring its premier location in one of the most charming villages along the Atlantic Coast.

The sight from premium rooms at La Jetee, and the view when you walk out of the hotel

Despite the fact that I rented the cheapest room in the hotel, one step out of the hotel and I had this million dollar view of St. Martin.  The hotel is clean and comfortable and after a full day of bicycling on the island, you can easily walk to restaurants, shops and wine bars.

Local products for sale in St. Martin de Re

 Hotel Roca-Fortis, Rochefort

When we arrived into Rochefort during our recent bicycle trip along the Atlantic Coast, I had my heart set on staying at a small bed and breakfast across the street, but with only three rooms, it was full. Little did I know when the B & B owner suggested we stay at Hotel Roca-Fortis that it would be one of the best lodging decisions of our trip!

In front of Hotel Roca-Fortis

Hotel Roca-Fortis is everything that I look for in accommodations in France: small, with only 18 rooms, it is more like a boutique hotel, charming and warm, including the building and the welcome upon arrival, and run with tender loving care by the owners, the very personable Jean-Marc and his lovely wife Fanny. Jean-Marc literally came out on the street and took the panniers off of my bike and carried them up two flights of stairs to our room. Once we got our bikes unpacked, Jean-Marc made sure that we had dinner reservations.

Owners Jean-Marc and Fanny

Our room was nothing less than spectacular and the bed was one of the most comfortable of the trip.

This room was a steal at 75 Euro/night

All rooms were renovated in 2011 when Jean-Marc purchased the hotel after a long career in marketing with the international company Quicksilver. Jean-Marc takes an interest in every hotel guest and together with his wife, provide nothing less than 5 star service. There is no doubt in my mind that it is young professionals like Jean-Marc who are returning Rochefort to the “must see” list of attractions along the Atlantic Coast.

Rooms overlooking the courtyard are the most quiet

This hotel is perfectly located for exploring not only Rochefort and the region, but also for day trips to the islands along the Atlantic Coast. Also, a pleasant surprise to us as bicyclists, breakfast the next morning was one of the best of our trip-ham, cheese and eggs with bread and fresh jam. Our overall experience at this hotel: A++, one of the best of our trip. I would wholeheartedly recommend this hotel, and I would definitely recommend that you follow Jean-Marc’s suggestions for dinner!

Hotel Roca-Fortis is a treasure of a hotel in the very underrated town of Rochefort.  My only disappointment is that we did not have longer to stay to explore the town and the many, many bike paths around the town.  This is definitely a wonderful place for families, with lots to do, great historical buildings to explore, bike paths to discover, and very affordable restaurants.  Depending on the season, rooms begin at 59 Euro for a standard room, up to 99 Euro in high season, July 4 to August 31.  There is a family room that accommodates up to 4 people for 79-104 Euro, depending on the season.  This is a town and a hotel that I will definitely visit again soon!

Logis du Canal, Marennes

The small town of Marennes is warm and charming and is perfectly located for exploring the coastal areas and islands of the Charente Maritime. Le Logis du Canal is the perfect place to stay while touring the area.

Main entrance of Logis du Canal

The main house is a renovated 1900’s mansion, with two detached cottages. Under the watchful eye of owners, Alexander and Florence Winkler, Le Logis is a comfortable and cozy place to stay right in the heart of the city of the oyster. Perfectly located midway between the town of Marennes and the port, across from the Cayanne canal, Le Logis offers comfortable accommodations and gorgeous surroundings. The house has five rooms, three in the main house and two in detached cottages, all surrounded by beautiful gardens with fountains and a swimming pool.

Our room was in one of the detatched cottages

There is a family room that will accommodate 4 and one room that will accommodate three. There is also a small gite with kitchen and living room that can be rented by the week.  If you are there in late spring or summer, you will enjoy relaxing in the beautiful outdoor common areas.

The beautiful gardens at Logis du Canal

What makes Le Logis such a standout is the hospitality of Alexander, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his wife Florence who purchased the property several years ago. Alexander is a terrific host and enjoys showing guests around the property. Florence goes out of her way to welcome guests and make them right at home. She spent almost an hour on the phone at dinner time trying to secure us a reservation at our next stop during a busy holiday weekend!

Breakfast room at Logis du Canal

This part of the Charente Maritime is amazing with the salt marshes, oyster farms, the beaches of the Wild Coast, and Logis du Canal is a charming place to stay while you explore.  Rooms are 68 Euro for two people, 90 Euro for three, 120 Euro for the family room for 4, and the small cottage with kitchen is 390-500 Euro/week, depending on the season. All rates include a lovely breakfast.

The port of Cayenne is a 5 minute bicycle ride from Logis du Canal

If you are traveling along La Velodyssee, do yourself a favor, and take the side trip to Marennes.  It is a charming and inviting town with amazing things to discover around every corner.  Stop by one of the many oyster shacks and buy a dozen oysters for a picnic. Better yet, buy several dozen from different shacks and have your own oyster feast!

Residence du Rohan, Vaux sur Mer

If you have to be stuck somewhere during a horrendous weather front while bicycling, I can’t think of a better place that Residence du Rohan.  We were less than 10 days into our trip this spring when the perfect storm enveloped the Atlantic Coast.  With heavy rains and strong winds predicted for at least 48 hours, we decided to find a place to ride out the worst part of the storm.  We had stayed at this hotel almost 15 years ago, and I remembered how charming and cozy the hotel was.  As I looked the hotel up on my i-pad, I wondered if there was any chance that it would still be like we remembered it.  Lucky for us, when we arrived I discovered that it was even better!

Front entrance of Residence du Rohan

The hotel is located in one of the most gorgeous parts of the Charente Maritime, sandwiched between the small, charming village of Saint-Palais-sur-Mer and the busy tourist town of Royan.  Despite the fact that the hotel has 44 rooms, you never have the feeling that there are more than just a hand full …except perhaps at breakfast.  Rooms are divided between those in the main building and those in the annex, added since our previous stay.  This visit, we were lucky enough to get a room in the annex with a large private terrace.  All rooms have either a view of the beach or the gardens.

Our terrace at Residence du Rohan before the storm

While technically a “hotel”, the Residence du Rohan seems much more like a good friend’s home.  There are several common areas where you can sit and relax on rainy days.  When the weather is good, the back lawn, terraces and pool are full of guests, at least guests who are not at the beach, immediately adjacent to the hotel.

The beach adjacent to the hotel

While only rated a three star hotel by the French government, Residence du Rohan scores much higher with its guests and with TripAdvisor.  The hotel received a Certificate of Excellence from the popular rating service in 2012 and consistently scores high on customer reviews.  Residence du Rohan is the perfect place to immerse yourself in everything French:  a perfectly restored 19th century mansion with Belle Epoque style furnishings, fine french linens and perfect French breakfasts, all layered with the right amount of French charm.  If we had to have a major storm event during our bicycle trip, this was the perfect place to take cover!

View of the hotel from the rear

Breakfast is the only meal served at the hotel, but there is a bar which is open all afternoon and evening.  There are three restaurants within a 5 minute walk of the hotel, perfect for bicyclists without a car.  Saint-Palais-sur-Mer is about a 15-20 minute bike ride, and there is a large open air seafood market where you can buy supplies for a picnic lunch or dinner.  We ate like kings on fresh oysters and langoustines for a fraction of what it would cost in a restaurant!

Oysters and seafood for a picnic

Depending on the time of year that you visit, this hotel can be very difficult to get a reservation at as it is very popular with French tourists from Bordeaux and Paris.  It was one of the more expensive places that we stayed.  In May, our terrace room on a holiday weekend was 135 Euro, the same rate as during July and August.  Classic rooms are the most economical and they run from 85-11 Euro during the low-mid season, rising to 125 Euro during the busy summer season.  Breakfast is 12 Euro per person.  If you are planning to go cycling into Royan or Saint-Palais-sur-Mer, you can wait to get breakfast at a small cafe in town.  Otherwise, the breakfast, which includes fresh juice, great coffee, eggs, fresh yogurt, cheese, meat and pastries is worth the price.

These are the first five of my Top Places to Stay for 2012.  Stay tuned for the remaining five.  Please let me know if you have any favorite places along the Atlantic Coast.

©2013 Experience France by Bike.  All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way….by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.

  1. Experience France by Bike's 2012 Top Places to Stay, Part I … | Bicycle News Gator December 31, 2012 at 10:36 pm

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  2. I doubt that I will be cycling in these areas in the foreseeable future, but I enjoyed reading your hotel recommendations. May I suggest you plot the places you have stayed on a Google Map, preferably with a comment and your star-rating? I’m sure people would find it useful when following in your cycle-tracks.

    Could you perhaps also comment on how you go about doing your hotel research? I have found that my 2009 edition (which is in English) of the Michelin Red Guide is very reliable, and then I cross-refer its recommendations with TripAdvisor for more up-to-date and detailed information, and alternatives. But maybe you have other books / websites / techniques you’d be willing to share?

    1. Thanks so much for your recent comments on my Top Places to Stay for 2012! I really appreciate your suggestion about putting the hotel choices on a Google Map, and I will think about the possibility of doing this. All of my hotel choices are along major routes that I discuss, so I actually assumed that most people would already have an idea of where the towns are located along the route. But it’s always a good idea to have information available in several different formats. Needless to say, there is a vast amount of information on bicycling in France and I am constantly trying to get more information on my website. I also am in the process of starting to publish a series of e-guides on bicycling in France, so that will be another way of presenting information such as where to stay.

      Regarding your question on my process for investigating where to stay on upcoming bike trips. The best answer that I can give you is exhaustive! I think that I have mentioned in several blog posts that I probably spend more time researching places to stay and places to eat that any other part of trip planning! I think I captured my thoughts best in Part I of Top Places to Stay when I said that nothing can save a terrible day of bicycling than a perfect place to stay, and the opposite, nothing can ruin a perfect day on a bike more than a bad choice in where to stay. A good meal and a great night’s sleep are essential to keeping me happy when I am bicycling. So I spend the time in advance to try to make the best selections I can.

      How do I go about doing this? When I am narrowing down the possible alternatives for my summer/fall trips, I do some preliminary research on the availability of small B&B’s and gites along the way. This information helps me make my final selection of the year’s itineraries. This is a process that I am now beginning for 2013. Once I have zeroed in on my specific routes, I start researching places to stay in earnest. I would estimate that I use 10-15 sources, perhaps more for every selection that I make. I definitely look at Michelin and tripadvisor, but normally only after I have already made my selections. I like to stay in very small owner-run B&B’s, hotels and gites, many of which are not in larger guides. As a matter of fact, many of the places that we stay in have not been reviewed by the US version of tripadvisor. I refer to many French listing services, recommendations of local bicycle groups, and a lot of very specific google searches. So far, I have only made one choice that was really bad, and it was a 4 star hotel in Tours that I didn’t want to stay at in the first place.

      I want my hotel choices to be part of the total experience of bicycling in France, so the less well known it is for me, the better. Generally I try to avoid staying in large towns, finding very nice places in smaller villages for a fraction of the cost. That gives me more money to splurge on a great dinner and bottle of wine. There will be much more information on places to stay in my e-guide series, with options at the budget, bargain and splurge levels. I think this is a very fun way to look at the overall bicycling adventure. One of my best experiences from 2012 was staying at a French campground. For 20 Euros it was a priceless experience.

      I hope that this information helps answer your questions! Thanks again for reading Experience France by Bike. I hope that you will continue to comment and to read it! Best wishes for a great year ahead.

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike
      http://www.experiencefrancebybike.com

  3. Pamela James-Martin January 7, 2013 at 12:52 am

    I am doing a self guided cycling tour in May 2013 in the Dordogne area and am planning a few days cycling along some area of the Atlantic coast, hence I have found your blog very informative. I am thinking of stopping in one spot, but the choice is difficult. La Rochelle sounds good? Do you have any accommodation recommendations for there? Would you have any recommendations for a town to stay to do daily rides from?

    1. Dear Pamela,
      As you said, choosing one place to stay for a short period of time in the Charente Maritime is very difficult! This is a gorgeous area with well over 2500 km of bicycle paths, so there are many different options available to you! Some of the best answers may depend on how you will be traveling from the Dordogne to the coast. Will you be renting a car, will you travel to Bordeaux from the Dordogne? The answer to this question may help you determine where to go.

      I would definitely recommend somewhere between La Rochelle and Royan. This area is one of my favorites along the coast and there are many many bicycling options. La Rochelle is a gorgeous town and definitely one that you would want to visit if you have not been there. It is not my favorite place to stay.

      I would choose to stay on the Ile de Re or in the beautiful town of Rochefort. Depending on the amount of time that you have to spend, you could easily spend 2 days bicycling on the Ile de Re and/or there are plenty of bike rides in and around Rochefort including the Ile d’ Aix, a car free island famous for its Napoleon connection, as well as bike rides to the area nature centers and bird sanctuaries.

      I would suggest that you take a look at the tourism website for the region at http://www.france-atlantic.com and read a bit about the area, and also possibly take a look at the Bike Hire Direct website. Natasha and Neville Wright run one of the best bike rental companies in the Charente Maritime and they have a lot of information on their website about the region. You can find them at: http://www.bikehiredirect.com/cyclingincharentemaritime.html

      Once you have made some decisions about where you are thinking about going, I will be happy to send along some suggestions on places to stay. You can read a review about the small hotel I love in Rochefort at:http://experiencefrancebybike.com/discovering-history-and-new-friends-in-rochefort/

      So follow up with me and let me know more about what you decide!

      Thanks for your interest in Experience France by Bike!

      Maggie LaCoste

  4. Dear Maggie,

    Thanks for this full reply — but I think you should turn it into a separate blog post so that more people see it!

    One of the problems I find with online reviews is that someone may say “Definitely worth a visit” having got an of-season discount rate of €40, and someone else will say “Terrible place” having paid €120 for the same experience. Also, someone who has only stayed in three places in France is not likely to have a very good perspective of what is good / average / bad for that country. That’s on way in which a printed guide like Michelin can be so useful.

  5. On my route- Canal du Garrone and Canal du Midi- can people camp wild alongside the canal and on the beach on the Mediterranean side. I am sure my innocence is coming from the fact that I am Canadian and we can practically camp anywhere we want as long as it’s not in someone’s yard- and sometimes even then!

    1. Hi Sharon!

      I do not know if it is possible to just pop a tent and camp along the Canal du Midi. Even if you could, I don’t really know that it would be very safe. I do know that there are wonderful simple campgrounds along the route, but they do fill up in the summertime, so you should be sure and make your plans in advance, or stop early in the day to be sure you get a spot. All the local tourist offices have directories of campgrounds, but if you need any additional suggestions, please let me know. Hope you have a great trip!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike