Hello there! I’ve just returned back to Fontainebleau after a fabulous weekend in the Loire Valley. It’s quite a mission to get to the airport from where I am, so we’ve been doing more road trips within France. It’s such a beautiful country and there’s lots to see, but I’m slowly making headway.
This weekend was a quicky- we drove just 2 hours to the beautiful Loire Valley region. The whole area (spanning 280km!) is one big UNESCO World Heritage Site, mainly because of the hundreds of chateaux in the area, as well as the surrounding vineyards and agriculture.
I’m a huge fan of Downton Abbey, and my weekend felt like I stepped into an episode of the show. The Loire gives you a taste of how royalty lived hundreds of years ago, with a lot of the history being really well preserved.
I chose Chateau de la Barre as my base, which was a magical experience. I’ve become somewhat blasé about hotels which is sad, because nothing really impresses me anymore. I’ve stayed in $5,000 a night rooms and $100 a night rooms and it all blurs into the same thing after a while- the experience outside of the accommodation is where I try to find my story, or my magic.
In this case, the accommodation was as much a part of the experience as the sightseeing was. The Chateau is a privately owned boutique hotel, family owned and operated. The property has been in the same family for more than 600 years! I’ve done “home stays” a few times now, most recently in New Zealand, and it always feels a little strange and intrusive to share the space of another family. Previously, I haven’t felt comfortable sharing in the public spaces, and usually retreat to my room as soon as possible.
In this case, I felt as if I was a friend of Marnie and Guy’s, who was visiting for the weekend. They were really hospitable, without being fake or overbearing. You could tell that they really love sharing their home with others, and a stay at Chateau de la Barre is really more an experience than just a place to rest your head.
Each room is different, featuring antique furniture, family portraits, beautiful paintings and the utmost attention to detail. Granted, the style of the room is very traditional and some would say, “old fashioned”- but in a chateau like this you really can’t have it any other way. I generally prefer a modern style of accommodation so it was a bit of a mental shift for me to get used to the colourful walls and linen, but I soon started appreciating this, and noticing the intricate details of the furnishings.
In the morning, Guy took us on a tour of the home which was spectacular. I’m still in disbelief that everything is maintained that well. He shared some family anecdotes and because of the family portraits all over the house, I was able to get a true feel of what life was like centuries ago.
The nice thing about the rooms is that many of them adjoin to a smaller room, making family travel ideal. Marnie prepares a delicious breakfast (eggs, croissants, baguette, fruit) in the morning, which is included in the room rate.
Marnie is also better than any concierge I’ve come across. She sent me itinerary options before I arrived, including tips on where to go en route to the hotel. This saved me so much time researching, and I was able to fully maximise our time. She also booked restaurants for us which were all fantastic. It was just such a relief not to have to do all of that research myself (I usually don’t trust concierge recommendations because they’re often touristy), and Marnie was an absolute gem because she totally understood that I was trying to get a local experience and recommended restaurants in line with this.
The chateau was quite far away from most of what we did- so it was at least a 30 minute drive to get anywhere, meaning that we didn’t come home for a break and spent the entire day out, until after dinner. That could get quite tiring if you’re travelling for a long period of time- something to consider.
We spent day 1 visiting Chenonceaux, a gorgeous chateau with spectacular gardens. It’s the second most visited chateau in France after Versailles, but it was way less touristy than Versailles, albeit less glamourous. I liked the fact that it was liveable- we were able to visit the kitchen and the house seemed more of a home than a palace.
After that, we headed to Leonardo Da Vinci’s home, where he spent the last 3 years of his life. This was also a great experience, and very authentic.
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In general, the villages where these sites are located are super quaint and interesting, so it’s lovely to just walk around and stop at whatever you think is interesting.
Day 2 was spent at Le Mans, a stunning medieval town with a lot of character. We had a guide take us through the inner city, where we strolled through the cobblestone streets and took an endless amount of photos.
We ended off with a delicious lunch at Le Tablier de Jaures where we feasted on lobster and rose wine 🙂 It was Mother’s Day and both our families were having big lunches back home, so we did feel a little lonely, but also tried to celebrate the fact that we’re in the French countryside.
Incidentally, Marnie also has a travel agency where she organises bespoke trips throughout France- think lunch with an actual Countess in her chateau, a visit to Chanel’s atelier, Porsche driving in Le Mans.. and the list goes on. This lady is connected! She can work out trips for varying budgets and also does group trips. Check out her site here. Feel free to drop me a note if you need any advice on travelling in France. To end off, here are a few of my favourite shots from the weekend. Have a great week!
A photo posted by Hasmita Nair (@jozilicious) on