Live Your Royal Fairytale at this French Country Escape
It may not be happily ever, but at Les Sources de Cheverny, I was able to live out my version of a French countryside fairy tale.
Escaping to the Valley of Kings as the hot European summer snaps into a crisp fall is a dream, especially as someone who dreamed of being a prince when they were little. The Loire is just under three hours from Paris and counts more than 300 castles in its domain, some of which are the most beautiful and spectacular in France and the world. Which makes sense given that this was the region where French royalty built their castles for a few centuries.
The French royalty are long gone, so visiting a handful during the day is now possible and are some of the region’s main attractions. And at night there are a number you can actually temporarily call home, ranging from down-at-heel, bare-bone rustic piles to over-the-top luxury retreats. One of the newest options in the region is a perfect fusion of French countryside charm and high-end details, Les Sources de Cheverny, and the latest selection for Beast Travel’s series on exciting new hotels, The New Room with a View.
While the ease of train travel in France is one of the country’s best modern attributes, getting to and around the Loire from Paris is best if you rent a car. Many of the chateaus are 30 to 40 minutes apart from each other, and there are also a number of vineyards you can visit.
Our first stop was one of the region’s most popular, the former hunting lodge of King Francois I, the gargantuan Château de Chambord. Built in the early 16th century in the Renaissance style, it’s a gobsmacking mountain made up of limestone silos balanced by a roof turned into a skyline of fanciful dormers. But its inside is cold, spare, and, to be frank, underwhelming.
My mother and I were only going for two days, and so while there are a number of others like the chateaus de Montsoreau, d’Amboise, d’Azay-le-Rideau, de Valençay, and de Villandry, we didn’t want to overdo it and so picked one I had long imagined visiting, Chenonceau.
You’ve likely seen photos of it, stretched across the Loire river on a series of arches culminating in a square manse surrounded by manicured gardens. It was built by the mistress of Henry II, Diane de Poitiers, and upon his death seized by his wife Catherine De’ Medici, becoming her favorite domain. From the gardens to the (relative) restraint in its size to the simple yet alluring black-and-white-tiled hall that stretches over the river—every detail was impeccable.
“It is as if there are lacing details on everything you see,” my mother observed, which probably made more sense when she said it to me in French.
The last chateau I was able to visit also ended up being where I stayed for my short trip in the region, Les Sources de Cheverny.
It might sound cringeworthy to some, but so many of us are looking for that fairytale experience when we travel—especially in the French countryside. At Les Sources, I finally had mine.
It starts right when you arrive, greeted by a graceful gated entrance, the doors opening to a narrow road between a forest of stately trees. After coursing through this enchanted forest, the road opens up to a spectacular view of the Château du Breuil, a structure from the 18th century. The main castle exterior is of historicism chateau-esque design with a stucco and stone quoins facade topped by classic slate pitched roofs.
The castle is the first part of the estate and where you can find 13 rooms and suites. They’ve been restored with the goal of, as the owners put it, “combining the historic and cultural heritage with a modern version of hospitality.” Alice and Jérôme Tourbier, the owners and creators, made sure to source a lot of the decorative elements, like 18th century tables and chandeliers, in antique stores in the Loire region. But the bathrooms (thank goodness!) are modernized.
In this same building you can also find the spa, which has been added to the original building. The modern architecture surprisingly melds well with the rest of the space, and its wooden slats and large glass windows gave it a therapeutic natural vibe. Just down a tiny road, in the middle of the trees, sits a gorgeous pool and jacuzzi.
The rest of the rooms can be found beyond the chateau in the heart of the estate among a series of former farm buildings. The traditional exteriors have been retained, but the insides are completely overhauled and decorated with 20th century furnishings. (One nice rustic touch is that many of the rooms have exposed ceiling beams.)
While you’ll probably find yourself cycling to some meadow for a picnic during the day, at night the hotel has the Restaurant Le Favori by Frédéric Camels, an intimate space in one of the former farm buildings with classic farm-to-table dishes made from the region’s produce with an option for wine pairing, giving you an opportunity to try some of the region’s prized wines.
Happily ever after is probably too tall an order for any hotel, but at least for a few days at Les Sources de Cheverny I was able to live out my version of a French countryside fairy tale.