L’Auberge du Centre, Chitenay (near Blois)
(Route 5, Down the Loire)
A country-village hotel of the sort that you expect to find all over France, but rarely do: good value, good food and a warm welcome; and in a great location to use as a base for cycling tours in château country. Watch out for the loose gravel, and expect to be among (my) compatriots.
Price band **
After a quick tour of Blois, which was tuning up for a rock concert, we rolled back over the Loire and headed for the quiet village of Chitenay, proud birthplace of Denis Papin, a Huguenot and inventor in exile of the pressure cooker (1696). If only the French had been more tolerant, they might have hosted the industrial revolution.
We may have taken a few wrong turns on our bicycles, but the creeper-clad Auberge du Centre at Chitenay was a resounding hit. The rooms are not the last word in 21st century chic, and the price is not spectacularly low, but this is château country, not one of France’s bargain basement zones. The trump card is the management. They are charming, helpful, interested, well-informed, fun. Busy yet relaxed, they seem to enjoy their work. They have the intangible and priceless knack of hospitality.
Oenology lessons are among the attractions listed on the hotel’s entry on the Logis de France website, and we were treated to an informal one – a medley of local wines to accompany dinner – the crisp, the aromatic, the fizzy and the sweet. Well, who wants glass after glass of the same thing, when the Loire offers such delicious variety? We may have guessed the colours right, but not much else. It didn’t matter. Supper in the garden was a complete pleasure, marred only by the sight of wet underwear flying from our bedroom window.
When we tried to get our revenge for the wine-tasting challenge by testing the waiter, he explained the Amboise Conspiracy with seamless erudition.
Price bands: from * (B&B for less than 50 euros per person in a shared room) to ***** (expect to pay at least 175 euros)