For the final stop on our France trip, David and I drove north to the Loire Valley. One of France’s most beautiful regions, the Loire is commonly referred to as “the garden of France” and is home to over 3,000 châteaux built or heavily modified during the Renaissance period (15th and 16th centuries). The region is also renowned for its vineyards yielding wines such as Bourgueil, Chinon and Vouvray (a personal favorite of mine). Only a 2 hour drive from Paris and a popular addition to trips to the city of light, we had heard so much about the area’s castles and towns, and we were excited to finally explore them for ourselves.
We checked into Les Hauts de Loire, a former hunting lodge turned hotel and a member of Relais & Châteaux. The 19th century treasure is nestled in the heart of the Loire and provides a perfect launchpad to explore the surrounding castles and towns. The moment I started sharing pictures of Les Hauts on Instagram many of you messaged me to share memories from this beautiful place and while our visit was in November, it seems Les Hauts is magical in every season! Our room was in the main lodge, and I loved the charming floral wallpaper, antique writing desk and dresser and the big window that faced the sunset. As is true of many Relais & Châteaux properties, each room is uniquely decorated, so there is a space for every taste.
On our first night we had dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant simply called “The Restaurant” perhaps because it is the platonic ideal of French fine dining – the perfect mix of rustic and refined. We asked to be seated and were lead to a couch by the fire in the lounge to enjoy champagne and hors d’oeuvres first. So magical! When we were ready to be seated we carried our champagne into the main dining room and tucked into a corner table. I love when tables are arranged so couples are seated next to each other sharing the same view in contrast to being seated across from each other, and the room was rimmed with tables that did just that. Every detail was beautiful and I was especially impressed by the Raynaud porcelain from Limoges which decorated the table – so much so I’ve started collecting it for myself! Chef Dominique Pépin crafted a gorgeous tasting menu and we dined on wild mushrooms with fried quail eggs, bresse chicken and truffle, and a whimsical dessert with citrus and what looked like candy cigarettes – all of which were delicious and perfectly paired with a local Loire Valley wine for each course. (If you don’t book in for dinner, the hotel serves a wonderful buffet breakfast in the same gorgeous room!)
The next morning, we made our way to Château de Chenonceau, one of the most famous and beautiful castles in the Loire Valley. We were utterly speechless as we stood at the edge of the moat (a real moat!) taking in the expansive castle and grounds. Henry the second built this marvelous property not for his wife, but for his favorite mistress, Diane de Poitiers. This move meant that Chenonceau was no longer considered a part of the Crown Lands – a fact that saved the château from the ravages of the French Revolution centuries later. I especially loved the Grand Gallery which spans the river and has many stories to tell including how it provided safe passage for Jews escaping Nazi tyranny in World War II. Even the servants quarters were incredibly beautiful with beautiful cabinetry and walls lined with copper pots and pans. Château Chenonceau is not to be missed.
We also visited Chateau de Cheverny but I would not recommend it. I was originally drawn to it because it’s still a family residence enjoyed throughout the year and thought seeing a chateau that was lived in would be interesting, but between the over-the top-tacky seasonal decor and pound full of miserable looking hunting dogs we left feeling a bit bothered.
Back at the hotel we changed and made our way over to dinner at “The Bistrot“, a convivial spot for homey, traditional french cooking. Our server had a great sense of humor (and also make excellent wine recommendations) and was a highlight of the evening. The perfect spot to unwind after a full day.
Leaving for the airport the next morning we knew we had only begun to explore this beautiful region. I can’t wait to come back soon!
Oscar de la Renta Dress (old)
Thank you Les Hauts de Loire for such a memorable stay!