Loire Valley: Domaine des Hauts de Loire

September 29, 2011

The kings of France ditched Paris for the Loire Valley during the Renaissance, leaving the region littered with glorious châteaux. And who could blame them? This lush valley is a regal backdrop for elaborate castles, its fertile vineyards and farmlands supplying royal feasts. Local pears and goat cheese, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé still end up on restaurant tables in Tours.

Tuck yourself in at Domaine des Hauts de Loire, a fairy tale of a hotel whose antiques-filled rooms overlook 178 acres of forest.

Domaine des Hauts de Loire is one of the best classic French châteaux hotels in a region known for the extravagance of its châteaux, an ivy-covered manor house just outside the village of Onzain, just two hours from Paris. Some of the castles in this region date to the middle ages - this one, though, is relatively recent, having been built as a hunting lodge in 1860. The atmosphere, then, is more luxurious than feudal, more picturesque than protective.

The hotel is surrounded by 180 acres of parkland, complete with tennis courts, pool, wooded paths for exploring, and a pond where swans float by as though posing for postcard photos. Hot air balloon rides and helicopter tours of the château-studded Loire valley can be arranged.

The château rooms are elegant, restrained, with a tasteful sprinkling of antiques and large modern bathrooms — rooms in the carriage house, by contrast, are bigger and more contemporary, if ever so slightly less charming. The restaurant, under the direction of chef Rémy Giraud, serves traditional French country cuisine with a modest international influence (wasabi replacing horseradish, for example), and features a large collection of the region's wines.

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