I have a confession: I like fancy hotels.
I wish I were the type of person who didn’t care where I spent the night, someone who viewed hotels simply as a “place to sleep.” But I’m not. I love thick towels, luxurious bath soaps, marble bathrooms with heated towel racks, and beautiful, over-the-top, they’ve-coordinated-the-pillows, I-even-covet-the-wallpaper hotel rooms.
Well, mes amis, I am happy to report that hotel nirvana is alive and well at Domaine des Hauts de Loire (photo above), located about 5 miles from the château-town of Chaumont in the Loire Valley.
This former hunting lodge, which dates to 1860, has been plumped to a sumptuous coziness. The lovely salon — strewn with antiques — features a roaring fireplace, and a waiter who pours champagne from a magnum and brings you delicious bites of unidentifiable but precious amuses-bouches. The property also features a swimming pool (too cold to explore), 180 acres of wooded forest hiking trails (too rainy to explore) and a 2-starred Michelin restaurant.
Of course there’s one guaranteed way to soften me to a place: upgrade. We had initially booked a modest, 130€ room, located in the adjacent coach house. It was very pretty, with terracotta tile floors and a glass door that opened directly onto the charming gravel yard. Yet we had scarcely hung up our coats when the bell-boy returned. “Since it’s raining, would you like to stay in the chateau?” he asked. “That way, you won’t have to go out again this evening.” Well, we had our coats back on faster than you can say “surclassé.” And that is how we came to stay in this sweet, attic room (photo above), with its ancient beamed ceiling and fresh blue-and-white wallpaper. (It’s hard to discern from the website, but I think this was a superior room, which usually books from 265€-290€ per night.)
Here is the menu from our wonderful meal. Side note — as we sat in the salon sipping our aperitif, the waiter approached us with menus (mine didn’t have prices — so old-fashioned!). CK and I both decided on the 4-course menu and then the sommelier approached us to discuss wine and water. When we finally sat down in the dining room, we had already ordered everything. And when we left for the evening, no bill was presented — we settled when we checked out the next morning.
First course: filet of eel, with young leeks and potatoes, shallot vinaigrette and a stroke of parsley. I tasted something else, tarragon, I believe. I’m not usually a fan of eel but this had a rich, earthy flavor that was delightful with the tender poached leeks and tang of vinaigrette.
Second course: Organic chicken “renewed” with “cake” of blonde liver, sauteed wild mushrooms, thighs prepared as white sausage. Very restrained dish, chicken breast stuffed with herbs, tied and roasted, very moist, drizzled with pan juices (too salty). Liver was like a rich flan, but had an overly liver-y, metallic flavor and I skipped most of it.
Third course: Pastry leaf with topped figs and local, Ste. Maure goat cheese, served with salad of frisée and enoki mushrooms, raspberry vinaigrette. Our favorite course (both CK and I agreed). Delicate, feather-light pastry, topped with slivers of figs, and then thin slices of goat cheese. Very elegant, light, refreshing, perfect balance of sweet-tart-savory.
Fourth course: Warm lime souffle. Exquisitely light and delicate, like scooping up a lime-scented cloud, again with a delightful balance of sweet and tart. Alas, I am not a lime enthusiast.
After dinner we took a brief, brisk, chilled stroll around the chateau and then tucked ourselves next to the fire for a few minutes, before retiring to our cozy attic room to dream of our next stay at Domaine des Hauts de Loire.
Prix fixe dinner (four courses): 75€ per person (there was also a 95€ menu). (Prices very reasonable for two Michelin stars, I think.)
Domaine des Hauts de Loire
Tel: 02 54 20 72 57