MADNESS, I think you will concur. I was up at 4.30am, left home at 5.30am, and arrived at Leeds Bradford airport just after 7.15, over 85 miles north from my home, to catch a British Airways flight south to Heathrow, then another from T5 to Charles de Gaulle, then a train from Paris to Le Mans, and finally an hour’s journey by car to my overnight stop. The lengths we bloggers go to to bring you the best news in travel.

And where am I leading you? To France, clearly… from where I bring you breaking news from the front after my fifteen hour journey. Now, I have stayed in an awful lot of bed and breakfast establishments in my time, from the rough and ready, to the cramped, to the stylish, to the ridiculously expensive, and even to one run by a completely nutty woman who coughed and spluttered whilst dangling a cigarette from the corner of her mouth as she served breakfast, ash showering my fried egg. I digress. Never have I stayed anywhere quite like the Domaine des Hardouinieres, nestled in fourteen exquisite hectares of parkland and forest in the equally lovely Loir Valley. Note, Loir without an ‘e’ on the end.

DSC_6100The magnificent house is owned by M. Gilbert Lefebvre and his charming wife Dominique, who purchased it two years ago, Gilbert having chosen to take retirement two years early from a clearly stressful but rewarding career in industry. The couple opened the bed and breakfast at the turn of 2015, with four guest rooms. I say ‘bed and breakfast’, although the term does the property no justice whatsoever.

DSC_6101Their philosophy for taking on another business project post retirement is nothing short of impressive, either. The house had been a private residence, and the Lefebvres happened upon it whilst searching for somewhere which would prove suitable for guest accommodation. And hereby lies the rub. For the intention was, and always will be, not to run the b&b for profit, but to open the doors to new acquaintances, allowing their hospitality to take the reins. “This property was perfect for us because all the infrastructure was in place,” says Gilbert. “Our target is achieved because it is quiet here and this is exactly what I wanted to do. The aim is to receive visitors from time to time, so we can make ourselves properly available for our guests. If you have too many people at the same time it is not possible to do that. I also like to receive foreigners, because it helps to open your mind to something else.”

DSC_6098I arrived at 9.30pm, accompanied by Véronique Richard. Véronique is in charge of press relations at the Office de Tourisme de la Vallée du Loir, and had awaited my arrival by train at Le Mans. It was pitch black as we drove through the impressive wrought-iron gates and, having hastily dropped my bags in the room, was then downstairs in the lounge enjoying canapes, washed down with a local Saumur Champigny Le Grand Clos white wine from Chateau de Villeneuve. Gilbert, I am bound to confess, could happily wax lyrical about wine all night, his palate having clearly swilled the odd glass or two over the years. He was indeed in his element, and I was enjoying the conversation. I am certainly no connoisseur, but do know a good wine from vinegar, and the white was exceptional.

DSC_6094Véronique headed home whilst Gilbert, Dominique and I moved to the dining-room, accompanied by a new bottle of 2001 vin rouge, courtesy of Gilbert’s cellar, and enjoyed with a four-course meal of foie gras, veal, cheese, and home-made chocolate and coffee cake. At 12.30 I hit the pillow, exhausted yet wholly contented.

DSC_6106My bedroom was immaculate and exquisitely decorated, colour matched and homely. The bed was roomy and extremely comfortable, the duvet thick but not heavy. Toiletries were much in evidence, and large, fluffy towels made post showering a distinct pleasure.

DSC_6099Ah yes, yet another ‘best bit’ was to come, for I had been told that I was to be treated to a spectacular view when I opened the curtains the following morning. Oh my goodness, was I in for a surprise. The sun had risen over a stunning, pristine parkland, where occasional deer wander from the forest and breakfast on the roses which surround the property, and wild boar have been known to charge across the driveway, piglets squeeling in tow.

DSC_6093Back in the dining room, I plumped for a continental breakfast, with croissants, bread, cheese, salmon, ham, jams produced from garden produce, yoghurt, fried eggs… yes, the list goes on.

Gilbert and I then strolled the grounds, bordered by the Foret de Chambiers, the crunch of gravel under our feet piercing the crisp morning air. I was shown the gite, which stands by the impressive gates to the property. Also in the magnificent grounds is a swimming pool for guests to enjoy, complete with an adjacent barbecue area.

If memory serves me well, the last time I was so taken with a property was on a trip to Hay River in Canada’s Northwest Territories, where the guesthouse backed on to the river of the same name. I had arrived early evening. The owners were out fishing, and had left a caribou stew warming on the stove for me to help myself. The next morning I was in the dining-room gazing out the window when a black bear strolled across the grounds, prompting me to think how glad I was not to have taken breakfast on the terrace. For, only the day before I had had an extremely close encounter with a large bear whilst canoeing the river, the animal sliding silently into the flowing water as I rounded a bend, too close to shore for comfort… and safety.

DSC_6104So, should you happen to be visiting the Loir Valley, do make a reservation at the Domaine des Hardouinieres. Although I cannot promise you any black bears, I can assure you of a most delightful stay, with the most charming and engaging of couples.

Domaine des Hardouinieres, 49430 Les Rairies, France

  • All images © Essential Journeys/Michael Cowton


REGION – For more information on the Loir Valley please visit

FLIGHTS – Leeds Bradford-Paris with British Airways – British Airways flies from Leeds Bradford Airport to Heathrow three times a day, giving customers in the Yorkshire region a gateway to the airline’s worldwide network of flights from its flagship home in Terminal Five. There is a choice of up to seven return British Airways flights a day from Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle and up to four flights a day to Paris Orly Airport. Customers connecting to onward flights at Heathrow have a quick and easy transfer through Terminal 5. Return hand baggage only fares from Leeds Bradford to Paris are available for £204 and are available to book on All British Airways fares include free seat selection and on-line check-in 24 hours before departure, complimentary refreshments and drinks on board, and no debit card charges.

TRAIN – Fares from London to Le Mans start at £68 standard class return. All fares are per person and subject to availability. For bookings visit www.voyages-sncf-com or call 0844 848 5848. Personal callers are welcome at the Voyages-sncf Travel Centre, 193 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EU