26 June, Riding through Saumur
Our plan for the day was to bike to Fontevraud l’Abbey via Saumur. It made for a nice round trip and we noticed that most of the organized tours go through Saumur, so we wanted to see what it was all about. As we first approached the outskirts of the town, we came across this building, pictured below. I was surprised to learn that it is a private school, the domed building is a church.
It was an extremely hot day so we took a break in Saumur’s main square to enjoy an ice cream. The town square was decorated with colorful umbrellas hanging from wires overhead. I’m not sure if it was for a special event, but it made for a festive atmosphere as we enjoyed our ice cream.
Having cooled down a bit, we continued on to Saumur’s Château. It started as a defensive castle to protect against a Norman invasion back in the 10th century. Since then they upgraded it a bit, but not to the extent of other chateaux we visited on this trip. With so many chateaux in this area, we had to choose a select few to spend time touring, and this one did not make the cut, but walking around the grounds was nice and offered pleasant views of the town and river.
The best mistake I ever made.
So first some background. Our original route had us turning around at Chinon to go back to Blois. Kathrin saw that most of the routes continued to Saumur and included a stop at an abbey south of Saumur called Fontevraud l’Abbey. She wanted to include that in our tour. So I found a nearby hotel to stay in for the night. A few days later I was telling her about my trip planning progress and she pointed out that the abbey isn’t far from Chinon and would make for a day trip and that it would be easier to stay in Chinon for two nights. Very true, so I looked into canceling the reservation. Unfortunately, the reservation was not cancelable. We were stuck with it.
So we saw what was to be seen at Château Saumur and moved on to this unwanted hotel. We rode further into the country and were getting a little concerned. Were we lost? Did we have the right address for the hotel? Hmmm. But then we saw a sign and found it.
I would describe Le Domaine de Mestré, The Originals Relais as a former farmhouse turned hotel. When we arrived, the hostess, Christelle, greeted us like we were old friends. That she didn’t speak English was lost on us by her genuine friendliness. She said she had reserved a special room for us and she wasn’t exaggerating. It was huge, with a fireplace. The bed was the size of a California king bed – with rose petals sprinkled on the comforter. Needless to say, the first impression was fantastic. We felt like royal guests of the Queen in the VIP suite.
Dinner is an event prepared by the family. The dining room had an 18th century feel to it and was nice, but we chose to sit outside. The entrée (what Americans call the appetizer) is a buffet with salads, cold meats, and vegetables all grown on the estate farm or from local producers. Guests can have as much as they want and it was all delicious. Once done bring your plate to a family member and they will bring the main course. We had a choice between two items. We chose a lamb stew with couscous and a regional wine to go with it. Once done we traded in our dinner plates for dessert plates. Another buffet with a choice of cheeses and fruits and one choice of cake or pie. To describe this meal as luxurious and delicious would be an understatement. It was a “lifestyles of the rich and famous” event. Throughout the meal, Kathrin told me more than once that booking this hotel was the best mistake I have ever made.
After dinner, Kathrin relaxed in a chair in the garden and I walked around a bit to get some pictures. We wanted to soak up some of the abundant serenity this place offered. Once our tranquility gauge showed full, we retired to the bedroom. When my head hit the pillow, I never saw Kathrin again. That bed was enormous! We had the best sleep of our trip, and possibly the best nights sleep for a really long time in that bed.
Breakfast the next morning was in an outbuilding, the Orangerie. It looked to me like it used to be a small barn, although it was very nicely remodeled with stone walls and exposed beam ceiling. Turns out it used to be the estate wine press. When we arrived the youngest daughter got up and with a big smile proudly welcomed us and told us about breakfast, what was on offer and where things were.