My Facebook page is crammed full of photos: friends and family off travelling the globe, looking happy and relaxed. It all appears so effortless to dash off to the airport, walk the less visited pathways and stay in the exotic hotels yet these photos never illustrate the effort and time put into the planning of these marvellous excursions. When a friend recently posted an enquiry seeking advice about accommodation in Barcelona I reflected on the hours I spend reviewing accommodation and flights in an effort to match my impecunious budgetary constraints with my desire for wandering.
My friend’s question made me realise we should share the places we have stayed in around the world. Whenever I read the hotel reviews and holiday articles a small part of me wonders what commercial incentive was involved with the review and thus I much prefer a referral from a friend than one out of a magazine with its attendant implications of commerce.
So here are the places, Chambre d’Hôtes, B&Bs, gîtes and self-catering that I booked and stayed in during my recent visit to France in 2016. Generally when I am booking a gîte, I look for those with two bedrooms because the living areas tend to be more spacious but all the ones listed below have one bedroom and generous living spaces.
In brief, they were all comfortable and clean, and the hosts were friendly and helpful. Wifi was free and easy to access with good downloads in every place I stayed. I felt safe travelling on my own at all locations and I would return to any of these places again and hope I will. Other than Paris of course, you do need your own transport to get to all the places I stayed on this trip.
Le Clos de Fay, Fay les Étangs, Normandy:
I stayed in a Chambre d’Hôte and B&B called Le Clos de Fay in Fay les Étangs, a very small village about an hour north of Paris. There is no boulangerie or other shops in the village, with only a baguette machine standing sentinel on a side road. The village is very quiet but
there are lovely busier villages nearby. Why there? I was picking a car up from Charles de Gaulle airport after flying from Australia and didn’t want to have to drive very far at the end of a long flight. The converted farmhouse encloses a pretty courtyard garden with onsite parking although you can safely park outside on the street. My room on the ground floor was large enough to fit
a table and two chairs with tea making facilities provided. There is plenty of storage with a chest of drawers on which sits the TV and bedside tables with lamps to read by. The bed was comfortable, the
shower had lots of hot water and there was a heated towel rack. Philippe and Chantal, speak English and were lovely hosts and had lots of maps and ideas for sightseeing. Philippe took pride in cooking local dishes so that he could tell me how they were cooked and what regional produce he had used. He also makes a fabulous coffee. It is a popular place to stay as they have many regular guests who commute to Paris during the week for work and cyclists who are doing the London to Paris route. Fay les Étangs is within driving distance of Giverny, Gerberoy classified in the ‘most beautiful villages of France’, the Armistice memorial and railway carriage in the Forêt de Compiègne and Chantilly with its glorious gardens and chateau. www.leclosdefay.com
Appleton’s Farmhouse B&B, Bonnilly, Argenton-sur-Creuse
Appleton’s Farmhouse B&B run by Malcolm and Edward is in a 19th Century farmhouse that they converted into a very comfortable home. Natural attractions in the region include the La Creuse river used for canoeing and forests for trekking plus interesting villages such as Gargilesse-Dampierre,one of France’s ‘Most Beautiful Villages’ as well as the home of the novelist, George Sand. Why there? I was driving by myself between Normandy and the Dordogne and this was halfway there.
The farmhouse is off the main road and very quiet with a large garden and terrace which is a perfect place to sit and enjoy the last of the day’s sunshine. Malcolm is a terrific cook using home-grown produce and regional foods. The bedroom I slept in was very comfortable and warm as Malcolm had lit the fire in the adjoining living room. The bathroom is light and airy with a rain shower and lots of hot water. We shared a delicious curry dinner on the night I arrived and I was offered free-range farm eggs for breakfast the next morning. Malcolm and Edward are English. www.appletonsfarmhousebandb.com
Chez Neymard, St Pardoux la Riviere, Dordogne
Atelier Chez Neymard is a basket weaving company located in a farmhouse set in the hills above St Pardoux la Riviere. Adrian and Ruth own and manage the Norfolk Basket Company selling their beautiful hand woven-baskets in addition to running basket-weaving courses. I stayed in their one-bedroom gîte which sits next to the farmhouse that the couple are renovating while running their business. Why there? I did a one-day garden-weaving course with Adrian and Ruth. The gîte has wood-burning fire-places in the kitchen and sitting room which
has comfortable couches and a large dining table. The bedroom opens onto a garden terrace where I would have a glass of wine in the late afternoon and knit while listening to the cows in the next field. The bed is comfortable, with side tables and good lighting, plus a chest of drawers and a wardrobe for storage. The bathroom is spacious with a heated towel rack and the shower has it’s own hot water supply. Adrian and Ruth are busy working parents running their basket business but they always have time to stop and chat. I self-catered and enjoyed the beautiful home-made raspberry jam that Ruth left in the kitchen along with fresh sour dough bread for me. The location is not far from Nontron and Brantôme which has a mix of medieval and renaissance architecture. www.norfolkbaskets.co.uk
Le Figuerier, St Jean D’Angle, Charent-Maritime
Le Figuerier is the name of a gîte set in the lovely grounds of Susie and Roddy Ellis. Located in the Charente-Maritime it is one of the sunniest locations in France which is why this English couple and their five children relocated themselves and their business. Why there? Because it was a part of France I hadn’t visited. Roddy runs a fishing lure business and Susie is busy writing for a number of French blogs and magazines in addition to managing their home and children. Susie has a great eye for design and the one bedroom gîte has a large sitting dining room with a kitchen that
would satisfy even a French chef. She has gone to a lot of trouble to make the gîte comfortable even placing an electric blanket on the bed, which for this single traveller was a total and welcome luxury on the cold nights. Roddy looked after me so well, making sure the fire was stacked and lit each night. They are happy to share their organically grown fruit and vegetables and their cage-free eggs with their guests. The local region is popular for its marias and birdlife, plus interesting historical towns including historical Brouage with its fort designed by Vauban, and La Rochelle.www.ourfrenchoasis.com
Moulin de Lonceux, Garnet
This mill is a B&B and gîte located in a remote valley just 30 minutes from Chartres. The countryside is agricultural and while I was there covered in yellow rape flowers. The small rivers lacing through the heavily forested valleys had many mills scattered along their banks, some including the Moulin de Lonceau can still operate. My hostess, Isabelle delighted in giving me a tour of the mill where she grinds her own flour that a local baker uses to make delicious bread. The mil is set in a lovely garden often used for weddings, and the rooms surround a courtyard that Isabelle fills with roses and potted plants in warmer months. Why there? I wanted to visit Chartres and see the ongoing renovation of its magnificent cathedral. I stayed in the Miller’s room which was a large bedroom adjoining a common living room where breakfast is served. The bedroom had underfloor heating and there were cupboards and chests for storage. The ensuite bathroom has a separate toilet and modern shower with copious hot water. There are no shops or cafés within walking distance but the nearest larger village is only a few kilometres by car. www.moulin-de-lonceux.com
Villa d’Éstrees, Paris
I have stayed in a number of hotels and this is one hotel I keep returning to because it is comfortable, the room is a good size and the location is within walking distance of many sights, shops and cafes. It is also just around the corner from the Saint Michel metro on rue Gît-le-Coeur. The staff who speak English are very helpful with making restaurant bookings and assisting with other enquiries. Why there? I was travelling on my own and didn’t want to drag my suitcases too far between the metro and the hotel, plus I could catch the RER from Saint Michel making it convenient to get to the airport or major attractions outside Paris. In the room, I appreciate the brighter than usual lighting that makes reading a book or magazine a pleasure rather than a challenge. The hotel is located opposite a cinema which means it isn’t noisy late at night yet it is just around the corner from many great cafés that abound in the Latin Quarter and is walking distance to the Louvre, the Cathédral Notre-Dame and the Jardin du Luxembourg . www.villadestrees.com