French leave: fun places to stay on four routes to the south of France

ROUTE 1

From the north-west ferry ports (St Malo, Cherbourg, Caen, Le Havre) down the west of France, via Nantes and Bordeaux, to the south-west

La Chouette Cabane, near Laval, Pays de la Loire

These three luxurious treehouses and a wooden gypsy caravan make for a peaceful rest from the road between Rennes and Angers. Eat dinner and breakfast on the sun-dappled terrace, after winching the hamper up by a pulley. And before hitting the road for the onward journey, let the kids meet and feed the animals on the farm.
Treehouses €105.50-135, caravan €81-110, both B&B for two, chouettecabane.fr

Terragora Lodges, south of Cholet, Vendée

This quirky glamping site, surrounded by fields and meadows, has a range of accommodation options, from a chrysalis-shaped cabin to clay mud huts – none of which could be described as “standard”. There is an on-site restaurant serving meals using fresh and seasonal produce, as well as a communal lounge space and large terrace. It’s also just 15 minutes’ drive from the Puy du Fou historical theme park – where a historical extravaganza features some 1,000 animals and costumed actors – and 60km east of pretty Nantes, home of the bonkers but brilliant Les Machines de l’île and its 12-metre-high mechanical elephant.
Doubles start at €61, room-only, terragora-lodges.com

Demeure Valeau du Rivage, Luçon, Vendée

There’s a friendly welcome at this B&B, just 15 minutes off the A83 autoroute, where hosts Isabelle et Olivier Cline have transformed a historic mansion with 15th- and 17th-century features into a fantastic place to stay with three spacious rooms, each with unique features and decor. A highlight is the generous breakfast served either in the garden or stately dining hall, which includes breads and pastries, fresh fruit juices, cheese, charcuterie, yoghurts and home-made jams, as well as 15 choices of tea.
Doubles from €100-120 B&B, valeaudurivage.com

La Palombière, Gironde, near Bordeaux

Just south of Bordeaux, the welcoming Château Lestange has an enchanting treehouse that makes a great overnight adventure if you’re travelling further south. Perched in a huge tree in the idyllic grounds, the red cedar cabin is decked out with fresh flowers, fairy lights and vintage finds for a magical atmosphere. It can host up to five, with kids sleeping on the mezzanine level, and breakfast served in the chateau itself (or delivered to the door in peak season).
Treehouse from £155-£233 for two plus up to three kids B&B, canopyandstars.co.uk

ROUTE 2

Calais to south-west France, via Rouen and Le Mans

Hôtel Les Hauts de Montreuil, Montreuil-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais

Just an hour south of Calais, Montreuil-sur-Mer has reinvented itself in the last couple of years as a destination gastronomique with local food boutiques, restaurants and hotels signed up to a joint venture to promote their gastronomic prowess. Stock up for the onward or homeward journey, then check into the three-star Hôtel Les Hauts, with 27 pleasant rooms set in a 16th-century building in the centre of town.
Doubles from €79-102, room-only, leshautsdemontreuil.fr

Château de Montaupin, Oizé, western Loire

Don’t be intimidated by the grand title or imposing facade of this virginia creeper-clad manor house in the rolling countryside between La Flèche and Le Mans. You couldn’t wish for a more laid-back place to rest your head. Owner Marie David’s dog comes to greet you on arrival, and from there it’s like being welcomed into the family home rather than a gilt-edged chateau, which is why so many guests return year after year. After the long drive, guests can cool off in the swimming pool, then sit down at a communal table to enjoy a five-course homemade dinner of pâtés and rillettes, local lamb, beef or pork, and carafes of wine. There are five bedrooms, all decorated in eclectic style; for families who want to stay for longer, the gîte in the garden sleeps up to eight (€450-580 a week).
Doubles from €75-80 B&B, dinner €22.50pp with wine (€10 children up to 12), chateau-de-montaupin.e-monsite.com

Hôtel de France, near Le Mans, Pays de la Loire

For many, Le Mans means only one thing – car racing, and those who thrive on the history of the world-famous Le Mans 24 will adore the Hôtel de France. The charming three-star hotel is famous for having hosted many of the racing teams over the years, and each of its 25 en suite rooms is named after a famous driver and decorated in tasteful floral or classic prints. The restaurant is worth a pit stop of its own – there’s an excellent menu and a convivial atmosphere between the many regulars who stop here every time they head south.
Doubles from €91-118 room-only, lhoteldefrance.fr

Hôtel les Orangeries, Lussac les Châteaux, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

If you’re Dordogne-bound, or thereabouts, then head south at Poitiers towards Brive-la-Gaillarde and make a beeline for the lovely Hôtel les Orangeries, where food-lovers will be well rewarded with chef David Royer’s superb, organic-led cuisine, using local produce. He’s also won prizes for sustainability. The hotel itself is set in an 18th-century maison, with decor that blends contemporary style with rustic features such as natural stone walls. Outside, the inviting pool is overlooked by orange trees.
Doubles from €85-135 room-only, sawdays.co.uk

ROUTE 3

Calais, via the Paris Périphérique, then down the backbone of France known as Le Méridienne, A71 and A75, Clermont Ferrand, and on to the Mediterranean coast

Villa du Châtelet, Compiègne, Picardy

This historic villa was built for the composer Léo Delibes in 1886 and is now the pride and joy of owners Alix and Philippe de Lauzanne and their family. The house also has a fascinating history from the first and second world wars, and the Armistice Museum is just a short drive away. Accomplished cook Alix’s gourmet evening meals and generous breakfasts are worth the stop alone.
Doubles €120 B&B, villaduchatelet.com

Hôtel Villa C, Bourges, Centre-Val de Loire

If you’re cutting through the heart of France, the city of Bourges makes an excellent pitstop, thanks to attractions such as its magnificent Gothic cathedral and timber-framed buildings. In the evening Les Nuits Lumière show, several of Bourges’ most beautiful buildings are lit in exquisite technicolour lights accompanied by stories from the most interesting periods in their history. The bijou Hôtel Villa C has just 12 modern bedrooms and its city-centre location makes it a great base.
Doubles from €95-160 room-only, hotelvillac.com

Le Bois Basalte, Manzat, Auvergne

A short drive from the motorway before Clermont-Ferrand, the architecturally striking, eco-friendly cabins at Le Bois Basalte offer a superb view of the Chaîne des Puys volcanoes and Auvergne countryside. The wooden cabins are basic yet very stylish and well equipped, making the most of the natural environment and views around them. Breakfast is delivered in a hamper to the door each morning, and if you have time for a hike before the onward journey, they can pack you a picnic too.
Cabins for two from €76-101, room-only, cabanes-auvergne.fr

Château de Creissels, Millau, Aveyron

One of the highlights of the A75 route is the incredible Millau Viaduct, an amazing feat of engineering designed by Norman Foster; it is the world’s tallest bridge at 343 metres (that’s 19 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower). Spanning the Tarn valley, it is close to the Grands Causses natural park, with its limestone cliffs, deep gorges and dense woodland. The Château des Creissels has an excellent vantage point from which to admire the bridge a little longer. It dates from the 12th century, has its own fairytale tower and 26 modern rooms, an excellent restaurant and a swimming pool, making it a fantastic pitstop.
Doubles from €86-112, room-only, chateau-de-creissels.com

ROUTE 4

Calais to south-east France, via Champagne and Burgundy

Hôtel Le Marius, Les Riceys, Champagne-Ardenne

Reims and Troyes make a good stopover en route down to south-east France, but for a more rustic champagne experience get off the beaten track in the Aube department, where family-run champagne vineyards sell delicious and very affordable fizz. Meanwhile, the village of Les Riceys is known for its unusual rosé wine. The Hôtel Le Marius is a fantastic little bolthole, with its own cavernous restaurant and bar.
Doubles from €65-95, room-only, hotel-le-marius.com

Le Cheval Blanc, Langres, Champagne-Ardenne

Although Langres’ mighty fortifications once saw off the English during the hundred years war, the town now provides a warm welcome to Brits motoring south. It makes for a brilliant 24-hour or even 48-hour stopover, with plenty to see and do: walk around 4km of ramparts; visit the beautifully curated Maison de Lumières, which celebrates the town’s famous philosopher son, Denis Diderot; and in July and August catch the nighttime street theatre. Stay at the three-star Hôtel Cheval Blanc, set in an ancient priory but where its 23 rooms are bright modern décor. There’s also an excellent restaurant.
Doubles around €75-110 room-only, hotel-langres.com

La Ferme de Marie-Eugénie, Bruailles, Burgundy

In the heart of the Bresse countryside, famous for its chickens and coq au vin, this bucolic farmhouse is the pride and joy of Marie-Eugénie Dupuy. Her welcome makes you feel like you’ve come home, while her delicious evening meals and generous breakfasts might tempt guests to cancel the onward journey altogether. There are five bedrooms, beautifully decorated in soft grey tones, some with four-poster beds.
Doubles €135 B&B year round, dinner €35pp, bnb.lafermedemarieeugenie.fr

Valsoyo, near Valence Drôme

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d driven further than France on arrival at Valsoyo, for their kooky apartments celebrate worldwide destinations with decor themed around countries such as Mexico, Japan and Canada. And their wonky trapper cabins look like they were designed by children and are just as enchanting inside, with rustic features such as sinks sunk in an old wine barrel. There’s also a gypsy caravan. If staying more than one night, explore the dramatic Vercors Massif range, with its precipitous roads and mysterious caves.
Stays from €95-130 for two room-only (most rooms sleep up to four, valsoyo.com

For more articles on travelling in France by Carolyn Boyd, visit carolynboyd.net

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