At long last, the lovely Loire Valley is enjoying a reset with the opening of a new generation of relaxed and charming hotels that put paid to the stuffy and often over-priced faux-châteaux idiom of lodgings that’s prevailed in this region for many years.
A perfect example is the 49-room Les Sources de Cheverny hotel, which is near Blois and almost equidistant from two of the greatest Loire châteaux, Chambord and Chenonceau. Having opened last autumn, it’s the latest address by accomplished French hoteliers Alice and Jérôme Tourbier, who coined a winning new form of stylish wine-country tourism in France when they opened Les Sources de Caudalie near Bordeaux 20 years ago. Now they’ve done the same thing in the Loire Valley.
“The famous châteaux are magnificent,” says Jérôme Tourbier, “but the Loire Valley is also a stunningly beautiful place that’s one of the great wine regions of France, so we wanted to put this forward at our new property, which also features a large luxurious spa, just the thing you want at the end of a day out sightseeing.”
Well, yes – first a nice long massage and then a soak in the pool, and then a really good dinner. That was my agenda during the weekend I happily spent at the hotel last October.
Arriving in the vaulted, beamed dining room of L’Auberge, my expectations of a good feed brightened as soon as I spotted a rotisserie slowly turning in the big, glazed white tile hearth. I was spot on, too, since chef Frédéric Calmels, who previously worked as sous-chef to Jérôme Banctel at La Reserve in Paris, understands exactly what it is we’re hoping to eat in the Loire Valley, which is fresh, local, seasonal produce deftly prepared to show off its flavours and textures.
Both of the meals I ate here were stunningly good. On a cool night, pumpkin soup garnished with grilled bacon and a poached egg perched on a bed of roasted chestnuts and hazelnuts was as luxuriously consoling as a cashmere sweater, and the juicy roasted lamb sausage from a nearby butcher was outstanding, too.
The following night, I ordered a dressier meal, starting with an exquisite tourte de canard et de foie gras, a fine pastry case enclosing rosy duck meat and a lob of foie gras, with a racy side of pickled vegetables tempering its richness. Next, I chose the paleron de boeuf (chuck steak) braised with shallots in a ruddy but silken sauce of wine and cooking juices with a side of sautéed potatoes.
Desserts were excellent as well, including light choices such as a coconut and passion fruit meringue and lustier ones, such as a superb Paris-Brest pastry filled with praline cream, and a perfectly made Black Forest gateau with kirsch-imbibed cherries.
They pour an exceptional selection of wines by the glass, too, and the one not to miss is Les Sources de Cheverny’s own vintage, La Vigne, which is made with rare Romorantin grapes, which are native to the Sologne district where the hotel is located.
Les Sources de Cheverny, Chemin du Breuil, Cheverny,
Tel. (33) 02 54 44 20 20,
Prix-fixe menu €34
From France Today magazine