Experience France By Bike’s Best Places to Stay, Part II

I hope you enjoyed reading about the first five of my favorite places to stay for 2013!  I’m sorry for the delay in publishing Part II, but I moved last week…need I say more?  I’m happy to say that I am now back on track and excited about closing the books on 2013 and writing about routes to consider for 2014.  And there is also that small task of finishing the two “in progress” guidebooks on bicycling in the Loire and Provence!  So without any further delay, here are the rest of my Best Places to Stay.

Petit Hotel Marseillan

There was something about the small port town of Marseillan that caught my eye when I was researching last year’s trip along the Canal du Midi.  Located on the Etang of Thau, a very large lagoon, this town looked just like the kind of place I like to visit.  Despite the fact that Marseillan is the southern entrance for the Canal du Midi, not many of the cycling routes mention the town. Regardless, this was a place I wanted to visit.  And I am so glad that I did.  I loved everything about Marseillan:  the port that looks like something out of a movie studio, the slow pace, the blue water and vineyards, the seafood, 17th century houses, the Bouziques oysters…. I think you get the picture!

Marseillan Port

Marseillan Port

There aren’t many places to stay in town, but you need not look any further than Petit Hotel Marseillan.  Don’t be fooled by the plain appearance of this B&B from the street.

Petit Hotel Marseillan

Petit Hotel Marseillan

When you enter the house and go up the stairs, you are instantly transported into a perfectly charming home, the ultimate place to relax while you explore this wonderful part of the Languedoc.

The pool at Petit Hotel Marseillan

The pool at Petit Hotel Marseillan

The B&B is owned by Birgit and Peter Zucker.  They both dedicate themselves to making sure that each guest has everything they need to enjoy their time in Marseillan.  Birgit will provide advice on the best places to eat and the best of the summer markets.  Peter always has several local rose wines chilled, perfect for enjoying on the terrace overlooking the heated swimming pool.  There are only 5 rooms at Petit Hotel Marseillan, originally a winery built in the early 1800’s, and they are booked early in the spring, summer and fall. The rooms are cozy and are air conditioned, a real treat during the Languedoc summers.  Breakfast is served on the terrace and includes local specialties and jams.

The terrace where breakfast is served

The terrace where breakfast is served

Marseillan has more than 300 sunny days each year, making almost every season a perfect time to visit.  Only 3 km away and a wonderful ride by bike is Marseillan Plage, home to some of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen.  There is a wonderful bike path that connects the two towns, making day trips to the beach totally effortless.

Beach at Marseillan Plage

Beach at Marseillan Plage

My stay at Petit Hotel Marseillan was the “splurge” of my summer trip, as room rates were higher than I normally spend on my bicycling trips.  But it was so worth it.  I love this town and I can’t wait to go back.  If you are ever lucky enough to visit this town and stay at Petit Hotel Marseillan, do yourself a favor:  save up over the winter so you can stay for more than one night.  You will regret it if you don’t!

L’a Propos in Orange

Please note:  As of January 2017, this B&B is undergoing an ownership change, so is currently not available for reservation.  I will update as soon as there is additional information.

You would never guess what a beautiful oasis lay behind the simple front door of L’a Propos.  The mid-18th century building is the former home of wine traders that was lovingly renovated in 2008 by Estelle Godefroy-Mourier and her husband Thierry.

Entance to L'a Propos

Entance to L’a Propos

The result is a gorgeous B&B with 4 large suites and one room with terrace.  Rooms are very chic and contemporary, with plush towels and bathrobes and Nespresso coffee makers.

Bedroom at L'a Propos

Bedroom at L’a Propos

Little has been missed in providing a comfortable and relaxing environment for guests.  And that carries over to the large public areas which includes several comfortable salons, a gorgeous landscaped outdoor dining area and heated pool and solarium.

Garden with outdoor dining and pool

Garden with outdoor dining and pool

Everything is understated and elegant, making L’a Propos a real standout in the town of Orange.

Terrace dining

Terrace dining

But the real attraction at L’a Propos are the owners Estelle and Thierry Mourier.  We feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to meet this couple and to have stayed in their home.  Estelle makes every guest feel as if they are part of the family, and Thierry is right behind her.  I became ill when we were in Orange, and I will never forget the kindness that this couple extended to me.  So if you are bicycling through Orange, and you are looking for the most charming place in town to stay, look no further than L’a Propos.

Roman artifacts on the streets of Orange

Roman artifacts on the streets of Orange

Rates are typical of those in the town of Orange, with specials offered occasionally on the website, particularly in off-season.  The discounted rate for a basic room is 115-144 Euro, while the suites run from 182-234 Euro.  Credit cards are accepted.

L’Eveche in Vaison la Romaine

Where better to stay in this famous Roman town than L’Eveche in the medieval quarter of Vaison la Romaine?  L’Eveche, almost hidden under the vines is about as authentic of a French B&B you could ever imagine!

Watch carefully for the entrance to L'Eveche

Watch carefully for the entrance to L’Eveche

First of all, there’s the building, a former bishop’s residence from the 17th century that has been renovated into a series of lovely sitting rooms with 3 bedrooms and 2 suites and a huge dining room and study.

Library at L'Eveche

Library at L’Eveche

Sitting room at L'Eveche

Sitting room at L’Eveche

Then there are the owners, Aude and Jean-Loup who could not be more charming and dashing if they came right out of a book.

Jean-Loup and Aude, owners of L'Eveche

Jean-Loup and Aude, owners of L’Eveche

Jean-Loup is intent on making every guest feel perfectly at home and will provide just the right amount of help that you need during your stay.  When he gave us a tour of the house, I paid strict attention to the directions to get to/from my room as I envisioned being lost in the endless labyrinth of rooms at L’Eveche.  Our room was small, basic and simple, with million dollar views of the Luberon and the old town of Vaison la Romaine.

Views of the Luberon hills from our room

Views of the Luberon hills from our room

Charming Provencal colors decorate each room

Charming Provencal colors decorate each room

Prices at L’Eveche range from 85-93 Euro for a regular room to 120-160 Euro for a suite.  There are fans, but no air conditioning in the rooms.  Vaison la Romaine is a wonderful town that begs to be explored.  When I return, I will plan to spend a long weekend here and explore the surrounding hill towns and the Roman ruins.  Life is slow here, with market day the highlight of the week.  Exactly my pace.

The street outside of L'Eveche

The street outside of L’Eveche, medieval quarter

Chateau Franc Pourret in Saint Emilion

Where to begin with Chateau Franc-Pourret?  I first stayed here about 10 years ago on one of my earliest bike trips to the Dordogne and it has been a favorite of mine ever since. This summer I had the opportunity to finally bring my husband to Franc-Pourret.  This perfectly charming 18th century chateau is located just outside of Saint Emilion, a 20 minute walk through the vineyards to town or a 20 minute bike ride from the train station.  If you have the opportunity to visit Saint Emilion, there is no place better to stay than in a chateau in a vineyard, and no place fits this bill better than Franc-Pourret.

Welcome to Chateau Franc-Pourret

Welcome to Chateau Franc-Pourret

There are only 2 rooms here, and word of mouth has made it quite a popular place to stay.  I have missed staying here several times because there were no vacancies, so if you are interested, be sure to book as early as possible.  If you are lucky enough to secure a room, you will sleep among antiques in the very large rooms that overlook the vineyards.  Every time I stay there, I marvel at how they got some of the very large antiques, like the 15′ tall armoire into the house!

My favorite room, with the giant armoire in background

My favorite room, with the giant armoire in background

Chateau Franc-Pourret is run by Catherine Ouzoulias and her son Francois, who overseas the vineyards.  Catherine is one of the most amazing women that I have met in France.  She runs a very successful B&B, is a mom, a very active grandmother, maintains gorgeous gardens around the estate, runs a totally organic kitchen, and makes some of the most incredible breakfast cakes and pastries you can imagine.  It was Catherine who first introduced me to the local specialty canale.

Meet Catherine

Meet Catherine

From my first canale over 10 years ago, they have become one of my favorites, and I have enjoyed introducing them to my kids, and this summer to my husband.  Last fall, Catherine tackled a new challenge:  English.  She decided that she wanted to be able to read and speak better English, so she took an intensive English course, just to be able to serve her customers better!  Amazing since when I first met Catherine many years ago, she hardly spoke English and I hardly any French.

The vineyards at Franc-Pourret

The vineyards at Franc-Pourret

Catherine’s personal mission is to make sure that every person who stays at Chateau Franc-Pourret has a perfect experience.  She is the consummate hostess and will provide any type of assistance she can to make a guest’s trip more enjoyable.  She will pick you up at the train station, drop you off at dinner if it is raining, help you with travel plans and vineyards to visit.  Nothing ever seems too difficult for her.  A visit to the vineyards and the wine cellar with Catherine is a very special treat, as is sharing a bottle of Franc-Pourret wine with her.  The Franc-Pourret organic wines are difficult to buy in the US, so drink them here, there’s nothing better!

Franc-Pourret wine served with winegrower's breakfast

Franc-Pourret wine served with winegrower’s breakfast

Breakfasts at Chateau Franc-Pourret are a very, very special treat:  everything is local, most of it home made and all if it is organic.  The jams are so delicious it’s difficult to not eat the entire container, the juices are fresh squeezed, and then there is the pastries.  Suffice it to say that rarely will you ever see any pastries left on anyone’s table after breakfast.  Another one of my favorites are these gingerbread thin crisps.

My favorite: Catherine's gingerbread crisps

My favorite: Catherine’s gingerbread crisps

I forget what Catherine calls them but they are incredible, and I always wish I could just buy several pounds of them to bring home.  I actually wish I had some right now!  A special treat for guests, if you order in advance is the winemaker’s breakfast which consists of charcuterie, eggs of any type, cereals and home made granolas, breads and croissants and home made breads, pastries and Franc-Pourret wine!  Unbelievable.  The morning we enjoyed this splurge, I didn’t eat again until dinner!

Rooms at Franc-Pourret are very reasonable for the Saint Emilion area, 109 Euro/night for 2 people including Catherine’s spectacular breakfast.  Credit cards are not accepted.  If you have the opportunity to stay here, do yourself a favor, and spend two nights.  You will be happy that you did!

Leaving Franc-Pourret

Leaving Franc-Pourret

Le Clos du Buis in Bonnieux

Bonnieux is one of the most perfect towns in Provence. It’s the perfect base for exploring the hill towns of Provence by bike, and Le Clos du Buis is the perfect place to stay.  Le Clos du Buis is the largest of selections from my top 10 list, with 8 guest rooms.  Despite the fact that it is larger, the owners Pierre and Lydia Maurin have successfully created an environment that is charming, warm and cozy.

Front entrance to Le Clos du Buis

Front entrance to Le Clos du Buis

Rooms are disbursed throughout this former grocery and bakery so that you never have the feeling there are many other people there.  My room was located in a small hallway next to the restored baker’s oven, and, with the exception of breakfast, I never really saw any other guests.

Restored baker's oven

Restored baker’s oven

Le Clos du Buis is perfectly located in the center of Bonnieux, an easy walk to practically everything in town.

View of Bonnieux

View of Bonnieux

It also is a short 3-5 minute walk to the home of Sun-e-Bike, my favorite place to rent e-bikes in the Luberon.

Sun-e-Bike in Bonnieux

Sun-e-Bike in Bonnieux

This is definitely the type of place that you want to unpack your bags and stay for a while.  From the Provencal furnishings in the rooms, to special touches like purified water for guests, a guest kitchen, washer and dryer, beautiful grounds with plenty of areas for relaxing to a swimming pool, Le Clos Buis is comfortable, charming and friendly. We stayed here for three days and it definitely was not long enough.

Pool at Le Clos Buis

Pool at Le Clos Buis

Breakfasts were a special treat, a very large sweet and savory buffet with a wide assortment of local specialties.  Breakfast was served in a large dining room overlooking the Luberon mountains and the neighboring hill town of Lacoste.

Breakfast room

Breakfast room

We had the opportunity to see the view on clear, sunny days but on our last day there, the fog enveloped the hills, creating a very special, eery view of the hills and Lacoste.

View of Lacoste on a rainy morning from dining room

View of Lacoste on a rainy morning from dining room

Provence isn’t an inexpensive place to stay in the heart of the summer, especially a popular town like Bonnieux.  But the proximity to a larger town means more affordable choices for dinner.  Our room at Le Clos Buis was 125 Euro/night for 2 including breakfast, but most nights we ate at small cafe’s where dinner was under 20 Euro for 2.

So that’s it!  A review of my favorite places to stay for 2013.  This post officially ends my 2013 adventures and kicks off my 2014 planning.  Stay tuned in the next week for the top 5 France cycling destinations I will be writing about in the upcoming weeks!  If you are planning a cycling trip to France in the upcoming year, send me a note and let me know where you have decided to go!

 

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. Thank you for writing. Taking my first adventure to France this Fall. Starting in Carcassone leaving from Paris. Very difficult in narrowing the journey down to ten days. Plan to rent bikes often. Will stay tuned to your posts.

    1. Thanks so much for the nice note. If you do a search on my website, it should provide you with all of my posts from our trip along the Canal du Midi. The Canal du Midi is a challenging itinerary for your first bike trip to France: very poor signage, very irregular surfaces, some good, some bad, so be sure you have a really good map with you. Lots of comments online about the route, so be sure to read up on the area so you are well prepared! Thanks for reading Experience France By Bike!

      Maggie LaCoste

      1. I think after more research about Canal du Midi. We will do a day bike trip around Carcassone and then save extended biking for canals around burgundy and Loire. Tried to book a room at Marseillan but no availability. Maybe next time.
        Your site is extremely helpful.

        Kathleen

        1. Hi Kathleen!

          I think you’ve made a very smart decision. I am worried that if you do the Canal du Midi as your first bike trip in France, you may never do another! Please understand that there are parts of this itinerary that are lovely, but compared to the other options in France, I would rate it 3 on a scale of 10. Both the Burgundy Canal and the Loire are wonderful choices with many many deviations and adventures. Let me know what you ultimately decide on and if I have any suggestions, I will send them your way.

          Maggie LaCoste