Secret Hotels of the Loire Valley

Just a two-hour detour from Paris, the Loire was once a playground to Renaissance royals. Now its vaunted châteaux are attracting enterprising young couples and artists who have remade them into captivating—and surprisingly affordable—inns.

A 15th-century castle rising over the Loire River in Chaumont-sur-Loire
A 15th-century castle rising over the Loire River in Chaumont-sur-Loire (Jörg Brockmann)
(Map by Newhouse Design)

Hôtel Diderot
"If you've never eaten a brioche with fresh Ste. Maure goat cheese, honey, and walnuts for breakfast, then you haven't been to the Loire," says Laurent Dutheil, who is justifiably proud of the simple breakfasts he serves at his 23-room hotel in the western corner of the valley. Dutheil also produces dozens of fragrant artisanal jams such as apple-lavender and quince-cinnamon. (Sadly, they aren't for sale, but you can buy Dutheil's recipe book, Jam in the Cupboard.) The traditional foods fit well with the hotel's venerable atmosphere: Diderot is housed in a sprawling 15th-century home that the Chinon-born Dutheil, along with his two sisters, Martine and Francoise, bought and renovated six years ago. Dutheil tackled structural issues, taking care to keep the exposed oak beams and original stone walls intact, while his sisters refurbished the rooms with cheerful striped wallpaper, toile bedding, and 19th-century armoires they scavenged on trips to Paris. The largest room, which sleeps four, has double windows with views of a courtyard. In the distance lie vineyards full of the red Chinon grapes much loved by 16th-century novelist and satirist François Rabelais. 4 rue de Buffon, 011-33/2-47-93-18-87,, rooms from $72.
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Le Moulin de la Renne
A tunnel of towering fir trees leads to the entrance of this converted 19th-century mill in Thésée, on the banks of the Cher River. Guests are greeted by an enormous Bernese mountain dog named Alpha and his equally friendly owners, Véronique and Christophe Villanfin. There are 13 guest rooms, decorated with items such as embroidered quilts and framed puzzles of boats assembled by jigsaw fanatic Véronique. Jazz enthusiasts, the Villanfins host occasional concerts featuring local groups, including Les Bras'Coeurs, a quartet that performs Georges Brassens standards. The soirees are held in the restaurant, known locally for its coq au vin: rooster stewed in cabernet bottled at Le Chai des Varennes winery next door. 11 route de Vierzon, 011-33/2-54-71-41-56,, closed Jan. 10Feb. 10 and 10 days in Nov., rooms from $76, entrées from $15.75.
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Château de l'Isle
The Château de l'Isle is quiet to the core—unless you count the chorus of quacks coming from the duck pond on the 35-acre grounds. The 18th-century manor house had been abandoned for 10 years when Denis Gandon bought it in 1986 and transformed the place into a 12-room hotel. Still, the château somehow feels like a private home: A portrait of Gandon's grandfather hangs over a 100-year-old antique table in the dining area, and an amiable Jack Russell terrier entertains guests with endless rounds of fetch. The stylish bedrooms have exposed wood beams and beds draped with coverlets in shades of crimson and marigold. In the summer, breakfast is served in an expansive glassed-in terrace overlooking the garden. A nearby potager (or kitchen garden) supplies produce for some of chef Fabrice Cherioux's breakfast treats, such as a zesty tomato confiture. 1 rue de l'Ecluse, 011-33/2-47-23-63-60,, rooms from $69, breakfast $13.
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La Roseraie
This 18-room hotel in Chenonceaux was a must-stay on the itineraries of political notables after World War II, when the Allies were trying to figure out how to piece Europe back together. Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Eleanor Roosevelt all, at one time or another, laid their heads at La Roseraie. (A letter from Roosevelt still hangs in the breakfast room.) In 2000, Sophie and Laurent Fiorito acquired the property and completed a top-to-bottom renovation. There is no such thing as a standard room here—tiny singles have just enough space for a twin bed, while one suite fits a family of five. The decor is equally varied. One room has a Louis Philippe-style dresser and a crystal chandelier; another shows off a modern pink-checkered sofa. The hotel's best asset is its proximity (a five-minute walk) to Château de Chenonceau, which Henri II gave to his beloved mistress, Diane de Poitiers; the massive 16th-century building hovers over the River Cher. 7 rue du Docteur Bretonneau, 011-33/2-47-23-90-09,, closed Nov.Jan. and Mar., rooms from $85.
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