Friday, 17 October 2008

French hotel pick - the Loire

"Looks a bit close to the motorway", warned my wife, inspecting the map as we drove south from Chartres - and she was right. The Auberge de la Brenne at Neulle-le-Lierre was indeed only a stone's thrown from the autoroute which links Paris with the Loire Valley.

But in early evening, as we checked in we could hear only the faint rush of traffic, and from inside, nothing.

Our rooms, in a large, renovated village house 50 metres or so from the building which houses the restaurant (part of a former railway station), were adequately spacious and charming. Bathrooms had modern showers which you didn't need to squeeze into. Our relatives from New England, who were unfamiliar with provincial France, and for whom this was a first taste, were impressed. "Don't be fooled", we advised. "Not all the rooms you stay in will be this elegant."

Maybe not all the food, either. Dinner was excellent. The choice of starters on the 31 euro three course menu we chose were a wonderful tart of delicate pastry with sun dried tomatoes, onion compote and local goat cheese or a terrine of rabbit in a sauvignon jelly. Mains included a dish of the day of confit de porc cooked a second time in a jus. Among the puddings was a sable with light apricot cream and home made yogurt with raspberries.

As we breakfasted on croissants, fresh baguette and home made preserves - including green tomato jam - we mentioned we would have stayed another night if Tuesday hadn't been their day off. No problem, said the owner. If you don't mind eating what I decided to cook, you can. He produced a similarly balanced three courses, including a delicious main of guinea fowl.

If you go via Rouen and Chartes. the Auberge de la Brenne is a good 5hr drive from Calais. To get there in time for diner you need to take a crossing departing from Dover at around 9am.

The hotel is well placed for visits to Amboise, on the Loire, and that most stunning of chateaux, Chenonceaux. where it is possible to make a gentle walking circuit. This takes you beneath the much photographed arched galleries of the chateau which span the River Cher. You can find details currently on the web site of Sigma Press, which publishes Judy Smith's guide Holiday Walks in the Loire Valley

A double room with breakfast and a three course dinner for two ranges between approximately £112  and £140 at the current exchange rate. Drinks extra.

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