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The Châteaux-Hotels of the Loire Valley

October 27, 2008 By: Mary Winston Nicklin Travel Agent
 

Accommodations fit for royalty in the “Valley of Kings”


A trip to France is not complete without a visit to the Loire Valley, the fertile playground of 16th- and 17th-century monarchs, overflowing with châteaux rising from the vineyards around the mighty Loire River. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the “Valley of Kings” is the most opulent of French tourist destinations. The region is rich with architectural treasures such as the Château de Chambord, so grand in scale that the Venetian ambassador, Girolamo Lippomano, was utterly dazzled upon seeing it in 1577 and wrote that his coterie “departed thence amaz'd, nay, open-mouth'd...” The extravagance of Chambord inspires gasps, and the gardens at Villandry and river-spanning perch of Chenonceau are likewise impressive. It’s only fitting to book a stay at one of the many châteaux-hotels that dot this regal region so that your clients can live like royalty—for a few days, at least. We’ve scouted out some impressive hotels that can serve as a home base for your clients while they tour the Loire countryside.

Le Château d’Artigny

A Junior Suite at Le Château d’Artigny overlooks part of the 65-acre estate

One of the grandest of all is Le Château d’Artigny, the ambitious dream of perfume magnate François Coty, constructed in the 20th century to rival the extravagance of castles from a bygone era. Lording over a 65-acre estate in the Indre Valley just south of Tours, Château d’Artigny is graced with marble statues, formal gardens and a trompe l'oeil fresco painted on the rotunda’s ceiling. Managed by Director Patrice Puvilland ([email protected], 011-33-0-2-4734-3030), the castle is positively indulgent and radiant with bucolic charm. It is owned by Grandes Etapes Françaises, a family-owned company responsible for 10 châteaux-hotels and four-star residences celebrated for their architectural and historic patrimony.

Housed in the castle and outlying annexes, the 65 guest rooms and suites span five different categories from Standard Rooms to the palatial Junior Suites and Duplex Apartments. Request a Junior Suite with a terrace overlooking the perfectly landscaped grounds. There are two apartments with interconnecting rooms, perfect for a family.

Surrounded by opulent furnishings in the gilded restaurant, your clients can tuck into locally caught fish (sandre from the Loire), regional cheeses (chèvre de Touraine) and meats like géline de Touraine. Executive Chef Francis Maignaut finds inspiration in local ingredients, and also has a penchant for exotic flavors discovered on his travels. To complement the sophisticated dishes, your clients can choose a bottle of wine from the cellar, stacked with more than 20,000 bottles. The Château d’Artigny can arrange guided tours of the Loire vineyards and châteaux with local tour operators, though heading off to sightsee may require a concerted effort, considering that the hotel’s grounds beckon for exploration. There are complimentary bikes available at the hotel, tennis courts, a pool and a small health and beauty center with a hammam, sauna and Jacuzzi.

Domaine des Hauts-des-Loire

The grounds at Domaine des Hauts-des-Loire offer guests a peaceful retreat

Rooms With a View

Nestled in a 180-acre private park is another sumptuous château-hotel, the Domaine des Hauts-de-Loire. This former hunting lodge is halfway between Blois and Amboise in the village of Onzain. The hotel is owned by the Bonnigal family; managers Marie Noelle and Pierre Alain Bonnigal ([email protected], 011-33-0-2-5420-7257) exude a genuine savoir-faire. A member of the Relais & Châteaux Collection, the Domaine is postcard-perfect, both inside and out. The graceful grounds allow opportunities for walking and complimentary biking, and your clients can even try their hand at fishing in the ponds. There is a beautiful heated pool and a tennis court. We recommend rooms and luxury apartments with balconies/private terraces—specifically, numbers 8, 35 and 40. Choose room number 18 for a family of four, as it has two bedrooms and bathrooms. For seductive views, book room numbers 10 and 12 (second floor), 2 and 3 (first floor) and apartment numbers 7 and 8. The views from the carriage house are just as nice; choose room numbers 36, 37 or 39, or apartment numbers 27, 35 or 40.

Domaine des Hauts-des-Loire

Luxury apartment number 35 at Domaine des Hauts-des-Loire

Awarded two Michelin stars, the chateau’s restaurant is renowned as one of the top in the region. Note: It is closed both Monday and Tuesday. Recommend one of the chef’s specialties like beef poached in crème de raifort, sumac-encrusted pigeon and the eel filet, fresh from the Loire River, served with young leeks and new potatoes. Wild game and locally foraged mushrooms (including white morels and cèpes) mark the menu in autumn. A hot-air balloon tour of the Loire Valley is highly recommended, and the friendly hotel staff is happy to arrange a dusk or dawn departure. Helicopter tours can also be organized from the onsite helicopter landing pad.

Château de Noizay

The Château de Noizay, in the village of Noizay, is a 16th-century mansion furnished with authentic period pieces

Agent Advice

A travel agent for 28 years, Liliane Merrill started her home-based business, Island Travel, in Marco Island, FL, and now works out of Irvington, VA. Originally from France, Liliane specializes in foreign independent travel, exotic tropical island vacations and small-ship cruising. “A barge trip along the Upper Loire Valley is a wonderful vacation,” she says. “Visitors are attracted to the Loire Valley because of the magnificent châteaux, scenery, local wines and gastronomy. To really absorb the history and culture of the Loire Valley, I highly recommend that my clients stay in a château-hotel, preferably one with an outstanding restaurant.”

Merrill has quite a few recommendations for lodging. “The 17th-century Château Colbert near Cholet has the look of a small Versailles. The cooking is sophisticated, with the emphasis placed on local produce. The magnificent Château de Pray in Amboise was built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 16th. The chef also offers cooking lessons.

“A visit to the Loire Valley should be enjoyed at your own pace,” she adds. “Self-drive tours and bike tours are available throughout the area. Sightseeing should, of course, include several châteaux, among them the architectural masterpiece of Chenonceau and the romantic Château de Montsoreau, which is the only château along the Loire built with its ‘feet in the water.’ People visiting the Loire Valley should enjoy a glass (or a bottle) of Muscadet, the authentic Loire wine.”

Trip Back in Time

In the nearby wine-making village of Noizay, between Amboise and Tours, the Château de Noizay is another Relais & Châteaux property, actually dating from the 16th century. Managed by Directrice Cécile William ([email protected], 011-33-0-2-4752-1101), the hotel has 19 rooms (Standard, Superior and Deluxe) located in both the castle and the adjacent Pavillon de l'Horloge. Each is individually decorated with authentic period furniture in the style of Louis XIII, Louis XV or Napoléon III. Deluxe room #5 represents the château’s quintessential accommodations, with its Louis XIII furniture. For the best views, choose the valley-facing rooms in the Superior and Deluxe category. Request one of two Deluxe rooms in the Pavillon for their private terraces, Balneo bathtubs and showers and four-poster beds. There are many activities to be enjoyed: a round of golf at the nearby 18-hole course, a dip in the outdoor pool (heated from May through October), a canoe trip on the Loire and strolls through the manicured gardens and neighboring Vouvray vineyards.

Read about châteaux hotels in the Dordogne and Quercy regions of France here.


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