This week I will be justifying the hours I have spent looking at photos of some of my favourite parts of France and digging out old travel diaries from when I have travelled to those regions by answering a question asked by one of my children in an email to me. The question – Brittany or the Loire Valley? – is only five words long and looks pretty straightforward, but I have spent the best part of every evening last week pondering it! The brief is that the property needs to be affordable enough to book it on a whim and head off right away. As with any either/or choice we must investigate both options thoroughly, so here are my findings:
In the north are sandy stretches of the Côte d’Emeraude and the Côte de Granit Rose, with their chic seaside resorts and fishing villages with vast oysterbeds. Then around Finistère the landscape gets more rocky and dramatic. But if you head south to the Golfe de Morbihan and the Côte d’Amour the sand returns, in long golden stretches with soft shelves, perfect for families. Inland are the hilly, forested regions of the Parc Naturel Régional d’Armorique, which are also soothed by their journey south, into wooded valleys with market towns surrounded by delicious things growing. So, there’s really a vista to suit every penchant.
Nantes is probably the region’s cultural and transport hub. This pretty city on the Loire river has an impressive cathedral and some great museums. If you’re arriving by ferry it will probably be into St-Malo: notorious for its history of piracy, or Roscoff: the picturesque port village known to many because of its onion sellers. But there are plenty of charming options if you want to stay in a town.
Where to Stay in Brittany?
The Château du Pin is a truly picturesque B&B in the rural heart of the Broceliande Forest, which is just back from the Emerald Coast. The château has just five rooms, all of them elegantly and individually decorated with antiques and Baroque furnishings, and there’s a self-catering gite converted from one of the courtyard barns, which is perfect for families. Breakfast is served in the dining room or outdoors, and they will do a light supper on request. The room rate starts from less than £90 per night.
Practical Details: St-Malo and Rennes are the closest major towns, and, if you’re flying, Nantes is probably the best airport to come through – it’s comfortably connected to London City, Gatwick, Manchester, East Midlands and Leeds-Bradford Airports. You could also travel by rail or ferry, and again, Nantes is probably the easiest hub to aim for.
In the charming village of Pornichet, the Hotel Sud Bretagne is a small hotel with individually decorated, and quite varied, rooms, suites and apartments – including some suitable for families. The restaurant has a reputation for being creative and inventive and there’s an Asian-inspired spa. Romantic yet family friendly. Rooms start from around £105 per night.
Practical Details: Pornichet is on the coast close to La Baule, Saint-Nazaire and the Parc Natural Regional de Biere, and again, Nantes is probably the closest major transport hub to head for.
For Romantic Rural Chic
La Ferme de Kerscuntec is a gorgeous farmhouse B&B converted from a 17th century cider works, surrounded by beautiful gardens. There are just five bedrooms, decorated in an elegant, contemporary style – all with huge bath tubs and private terraces opening out onto the lovely gardens. You’re close to a stunning white, sandy beach and some charming market towns. Rooms start from around £75 per night.
Practical Details: The town of Benodet https://www.thehotelguru.com/best-hotels-in/france/benodet would have benefitted most from this property when it was a cider works, but as far as your journey to the farm is concerned Quimper https://www.thehotelguru.com/best-hotels-in/france/quimper is the closest larger centre, and Brest is your best bet if you’re travelling by air: it’s directly linked to Luton, Southampton and Birmingham.
The Loire Valley
Once upon a time the picturesque Loire Valley was the playground of the French Court, where royalty went to get away from it all, staying in gorgeous châteaux surrounded by vineyards producing the wine which must have helped fuel the good times. Today the Loire Valley is still beautiful, and, in some places, extravagantly so. It’s still well loved by wine buffs: there are more than 70 different appellations within the region. And, of course, still the place to come for châteaux lovers: this is where you’ll find some of France’s finest, including Chenonceau and the Château de Chambord. As well as being a great place for foodies and anyone who loves poking round a produce market – there are markets every day in the Loire Valley – this is a great place for anyone interested in Roman history, or in walking or cycling for miles and miles through gently undulating and postcard-perfect scenery.
Tours, Saumur, Orléans and Angers are just some of the Loire’s sophisticated centres, all easily reached by rail, and all packed with sights of interest, beauty and flavour. But there are numerous charming towns and wine-producing centres, plus châteaux-turned-hotels and rural maisons you can stay in. And all this splendour, history and tummy-blowing gastronomy is only around an hour from Paris.
Where to Stay in the Loire Valley?
The Hotel Diderot is a classically French and very charming, family-run townhouse hotel in pretty Chinon. There are 27 rooms, all with sash windows and decorated with chintz prints and nice antiques, a very pretty terrace, lovely gardens and a cosy breakfast room. They do a hearty breakfast and the preserves are home made. Rooms start from around £75 per night.
Practical Details: Chinon is very close to both Saumur and Tours, which Ryanair currently runs direct services to from Stansted and Dublin. If those aren’t convenient starting points, Chinon is also a short distance from Nantes. Chinon is well connected on the French rail network too.
For a Proper Rural Escape
Built as a Carthusian Monastery, the Château Monastere de la Corroirie is surrounded by an organic garden, the produce of which is served to guests in a very atmospheric dining room. There are just five rooms available to guests – two of them are particularly authentic with, let’s call it, monastic rustic chic style – all of them with fantastic original features. Rooms start from around £110 per night.
Practical Details: The Château Monastere de la Corroirie is wonderfully located for an escape, but it does make it a little hard to get to without a car. Tours is your nearest large centre, again, and you’ll probably need to arrange a car or taxi from there, or from Loches, which is closer, but smaller.
I don’t know if this has helped anyone deciding between these two French regions. They’re neighbours, but quite different in character, and I hope I have given a sense of the character of each. It’s a tough choice though – have you thought about doing both?
Lots more holiday ideas where these came from. Just click here to see some