The Duporterie forest is a fairy-tale setting for a break, not just because its 750 acres of Douglas fir, oak and chestnut trees feels mythical and magical, but because the further in you go the stranger things get. You may see a giant ant or psychedelic cow, or perhaps someone serenading a tree – but don’t fear, this kind of thing is to be expected at Loire Valley Lodges, where art and holism come together in France’s Valley of Kings. You’ll stay in a treehouse styled by one of the art dealer owner’s talented friends (graffitists, photographers, sculptors and singers have all left their mark), and spend days hunting down fantastical installations, recalibrating on ‘lyrical hikes’ and being soothed by singing bowls. ‘Tis a strange adventure, to be sure, but one with happy endings all round.
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Two glasses of Triple Zero pétillant (lightly sparkling wine)
18 stilted lodges set in seclusion deep in the Duporterie forest.
11am. Earliest check-in, 4pm (but on request guests may be able to check in at 3pm, if the lodge is available).
Double rooms from £334.18 (€395), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €4.40 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include breakfast. A basket filled with breads and brioches, yoghurts, granola and a selection of spreads will be delivered to your lodge. A city tax of €4.40 an adult, each night will be added to your bill at check-out.
Next to reception there’s a concept store, which sells house-made oils, books on naturalism, sacred saplings to plant at home, Bon Parfumeur scents and more. If you’re struggling to set your spirit free here, you’ll find encouraging booklets in your lodge with questions to ponder, such as what kind of tree or flower you’d be.
The lodges close annually from 4 January to 10 February; then open on weekends until the 3 March and fully from then onwards.
At the hotel
750-acre forest, arboretum, apiary, kitchen garden, bikes to borrow, Nordic bath, concept store, library with books on nature, rain boots and capes to borrow, free WiFi at the main lodge only. In rooms: private deck with a spa bath, espresso machine, tea-making kit, minibar with hot and cold drinks, flashlight, walkie-talkie, binoculars, board games, chocolates from Maison Richard, candles, bathrobes and Le Labo bath products. Efflorescences also has a sauna.
Our favourite rooms
There’s nothing quite like these treehouse hideaways in the Loire Valley, where hotel rooms tend to be sequestered away in a centuries-old château. All except one are set four metres above the ground and can be accessed by a ladder, and all have a deck with a spa bath sunk into it. And yet, each has a personality of its own – in one graffitist JonOne has scrawled illegible script in rainbow hues all over the walls and furnishings, another is minimal and calm with soothing white accents to reflect the ethereal photo prints of Cédric Porchez. Cédric Marcillac has woven plastic laces around chairs, sewn a quilt and made a lamp from 500 Barbie-doll legs, while musician Tom Goodwing has etched lyrics into the wood, and Aurèle LostDog has splashed his canine-inspired scribbles over various surfaces. It comes down to personal taste if you’d like something that screams ‘look at me’ or something with a quieter voice. Sixtie’s lodge stands out because the owner added her own personal mod pieces and posters of Sixties icons (Jagger, Sylvie Vartan…) to the space, and Lucien, a suite dedicated to Serge Gainsbourg which has a turntable, and Efflorescences, the only hideaway with an entrance ramp, two terraces and a sauna.
Even swimming is a cultured pastime here; the 20-metre pool (open from April to September, from 9am to 8pm) runs by a giant skull swarmed with gilded butterflies, a polar bear and herd of metalwork deer, just some of the hotel’s eye-catching installations. The owners certainly have the eye, because with flourishing perennials, clusters of trees and aromatic shrubs, it's a spot worthy of a painting itself. Swim laps in summer, then come winter get steamy in the 40-degree Nordic bath (sessions can be booked in advance with reception). And be sure to stay awhile and admire the surroundings from one of the comfy chairs on the deck, while sipping a soothing herbal tea or chilled glass of wine; towels and blankets are provided.
There’s nothing so restrictive as a treatment room here; why be confined when you can hear the leaves rustling and feel the cool forest breeze? Masseuse Anne Sophie Dufeutrelle will arrive at your lodge armed with oils made from site-grown plants, trees and herbs, and a strong pair of hands. She's well-versed in Californian-Swedish and Japanese kobido methods and shiatsu, and can bring singing bowls to vibrate you into bliss (not in that way). Or, in the main lodge you can choose from two esthetic treatments involving anti-aging oxygenated masks, soothing serums and heavy-duty hydration, using oak-extracted La Chênaie products. And, to top (or toe) it off, you can get a luxury pedicure.
Lodges are digital-detox zones with no TVs or WiFi, and spotty cell reception (you have walkie-talkies in case of emergency), so unpack any superfluous tech. Instead, bring any books you’ve been meaning to read and paints and paper – the artworks may well spark some inspiration.
The rugged country terrain may be a little challenging, but guests with mobility issues can stay in Efflorescences, which is fitted with a ramp, roll-in shower and two large terraces. And staff can ferry you about by golf cart.
These lodges offer childlike wonder without the children.
There’s a deep love and respect for Mother Nature here, unsurprisingly so considering the leafy setting. Each lodge was built in harmony with the forest, with trees poking through terraces rather than being cut down. And the hotel’s co-friendliness has a holistic bent, with the owners asking guests to truly stop and consider the impact of these natural environs through forest bathing, a touch of tree conversing, talks by activists and an array of enlightening literature. Recycling and use of sustainable materials is duly adhered to, and the hotel’s restaurant is supplied by the kitchen garden, forest, apiary and small local suppliers.
With birdsong and rustling leaves in the background – and no WiFi to distract you – private dinners on your deck let you converse with nature and one another.
Work it like a wood nymph.
The aptly named Ardent restaurant shows its passion for food through its high-concept seven-course tasting menu (with the option to add on a delightfully pungent French cheese plate), which is met with great enthusiasm by lodge guests. Dinner is served from Wednesday to Sunday (for hotel guests only on Wednesdays), when acclaimed chef Gaëtan Evrard performs culinary magic, crafting poetically named dishes, such as Essential (a starter of edible flowers), Fire (citrusy mackerel with squash sprinkled with pine needles), The Hunting (chicken, black salsify and smoked tea), and Forét (chocolate with porcini mushrooms and blueberries). Ingredients are grown or foraged onsite (the aromatics courtyard has a range of berries, currants and herbs which are used in refreshing sorbets), or sourced from trusted growers, farms and artisans. And, characterful food deserves an equally flamboyant dining room; the lodge delivers with statement wallpaper overhung with statement artworks. Or you can sit out on the sundeck where the owners have tamed and trimmed the foliage and prominently placed large-scale sculptures. At other times, the kitchen will happily pack you a pretty-as-a-picture bento box (€35 a person) with ginger-marinated guinea fowl, coleslaw made with pollen mayonnaise and chocolate and praline mousse.
After wandering in the woods, come cosy up by the fire in the main house’s bar. Here hang paintings by and portraits of the artists and creatives who’ve put their stamp on the stay, and occasionally they’re invited back to give talks here as guests sip perfectly crafted cocktails made with herbs and fruits from the garden, fresh juice or a wine from a cellarful of personal favourites. Art and nature documentaries are screened here too. And, chef Evrard hasn’t slept on the bar snacks either, with snackable treats such as a Comté-oozing croque, G&T-marinated smoked salmon and tonka bean rice pudding.
Bar snacks served from 11am to 10pm.
On Monday and Tuesday evenings (between 7pm and 9pm) you can have a specially prepared cocotte (with vegetables or chicken and mushroom) and side dishes delivered for an intimate meal. An €18 charge applies and you’ll need to order 72 hours in advance.
Loire Valley Lodges is a more modern hideaway among the stately homes of the Valley of the Kings. It’s set a short drive from historic Tours in the evergreen enclave of the Duporterie forest.
The closest airport is Tours Val de Loire, a 30-minute drive away, where direct flights from the UK, Ireland, Portugal and Morocco (and other cities in France) arrive direct; the hotel can arrange transfers from €50 one-way. Those arriving from further afield will need to stop over or can fly into Paris; from Charles de Gaulle the drive is just under four hours, and from Orly it’s around three hours. And, once you leave the city outskirts the drive gets gloriously green; to make it more of an adventure, pit stop in the Gâtinais Français Natural Park, see Joan of Arc’s ‘hood in Orléans and see Da Vinci’s château home in Blois, all en route.
From Paris Montparnasse, trains can travel to Tours in as little as an hour and 10 minutes; tickets can be bought from SNCF or Ouigo. It’s certainly less nerve-jangling than tackling Paris’s Périphérique. You’ll pull in at the more central Gare des Tours or Gare St-Pierre-des-Corps (four kilometres from the centre), both around a 30-minute drive from the lodges.
There’s plenty of forest to explore at the hotel, and soul-searching activities to keep you busy, but if you want to castle hop in the valley (after all, there are around 300) and explore historic villages a car will be essential (public transport is sparse, if not non-existent, round these parts). You can hire some wheels in Tours, and there’s free parking onsite, plus charging ports for electric vehicles.
Worth getting out of bed for
When it comes to ways to pass the time here, you’ll be well and truly coaxed out of your tree – although if you choose to stay in it, you can slip into your spa tub, sightsee from your deck using the binoculars provided, play board games or just enjoy the silence in your hammock. Some activities require an open mind, such as ‘lyrical hikes’, where a small group heads out with Vincent Karche, a former tenor who lost his voice and regained it after spending time in nature, on a three-hour hike, where you’ll sing like a bird at the Douglas firs in search of catharsis, or a sensory immersion experience with a doctor and ‘sylvotherapist’, and sophrologist who uses a special method to help you breath easier, keep calm and – well – carry on. Forest bathing, where you simply stay quietly awhile in an embrace of trees, is overseen by a meditation expert (take note, some spontaneous singing and dancing may occur), or you can sit and be still on the bench encircling Sir Oak, the centuries-old tree close to the main barn. All these experiences need to be booked in advance of your stay. If this all seems a bit arbor-trary to you, then follow the art route instead, a literal trail through the forest where you’ll see the impressive works crafted on commission by the owner’s artist friends. You’ll see a monumental bronze by Venetian Matteo Le Greco, Jacques Bossier’s multicoloured cows, Michel Audiard’s 10-metre-long ant, a tricksy illusionary work by Pierre Marie Lejeune, and a giant Lost Dog statue by Aurèle, among others. There’s also hiking routes to lose yourself along and bikes to borrow for whizzing through the trees or jaunts out to dinky and delightful Esvres village, which has timbered houses, a few local shops and a church, or down to the banks of the Indre River for a picnic (the chef can prepare a bento box on request). Spa healing involves globe-spanning massage techniques and some more serious esthetic pampering, or you can seek peace of mind in the hotel’s arboretum, planted with any species from the 21 Celtic astrological trees that are missing in the forest; you can buy saplings for yourself in the boutique. Don’t forget to see if any talks or film screenings are scheduled to be held in the bar, too. Nearest town Tours is worth a visit for its landmark historic buildings, and other antique treasures: Gothic jewel St Gatien Cathedral, St Martin’s Basilica and the Opera house, whose staircase-made-for-dramatically-sweeping-down was inspired by Paris’ Opéra Garnier. Feast your eyes on more wall candy at modern-art museum Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré, or get merry at the Museum of the Vines and Wines just outside the city. And, of course, you can’t come to the Loire and avoid châteaux entirely – the hotel has skip-the-line tickets for some of the area’s grandest and most intriguing, including Chenonceau with its technically brilliant double-helix staircase; Italian-Renaissance-style Azay-le-Rideau; Amboise, where King Charles VIII died after hitting his head on a doorframe; Clos Lucé, where Da Vinci lived and worked (his inventions have been recreated in the gardens); turreted fortress Chaumont sur Loire, medieval wedding cake Chambord; and Cheverny, the inspiration for Tintin’s Marlinspike Hall.
The restaurant at the lodges must be tried at least once, but its tasting menu doesn’t get shaken up too often, so if you’re looking for something a bit different, there are plenty of options close by. Château Belmont’s restaurant has a mightily romantic terrace and dishes plated with delicacy. Flavours are traditional but served in modern style, say snail ravioli with garlic cream, foie gras-stuffed squab, and crème brûlée with Grand Marnier mousse. In Tours, Le Bistrot des Belles Caves excels in both wining and dining; locals frequently frequent it for meals of scallops and sweetbreads, veal-jus-drizzled flank steak with chanterelles and a zingy citrus vacherin, and gluggable bottles to accompany. Michelin-recognised Le Saint-Honoré is housed in an utterly charming beamed 17th-century bakery, has a steady vegetable supply from the kitchen garden out back and serves up dishes that do the picturesque setting proud, say tempting parcels of croustillant de Saint-Jacques with girolles, duck breast with figs and orange vinegar, and pain perdu with caramel and eggnog cream.
Café culture is thriving in this region, although while the brews are top-drawer, they could use a little work on their branding. For example, French Coffee Shop in Tours may sound so obvious as to be a front for something dodgier, but it’s actually a wood-lined retro space where the caffeine hits are strong. While in Orléans, Real Coffee Shop also sounds like it’s trying too hard to convince us, but we can testify that what pours forth from their La Marzocco machines is the real deal; and this is also a part-time rum bar.
Tours’ bar scene doesn’t really set the night alight, so much so that a local favourite is an Irish pub called The Pale; but, with its friendly atmosphere, 40-strong whisky list, live music and darts competitions, you could certainly do worse.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this neo-hippie haven in France’s château central and unpacked their house-made essential oils and planted the sacred Celtic sapling they acquired in the hotel’s arboretum, a full account of their free-your-mind break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Loire Valley Lodges…
When was the last time you danced with a tree? Or sang like only a forest and some fellow guests were watching? Or felt the dizzying caress of a singing bowl on your chakras? We’ll bet it’s been a while… Well, Loire Valley Lodges is all set to blow your mind wide open, with its ‘lyrical hikes’, forest bathing, holistic spa-ing and sylvotherapy practises. Tie a wish to the ‘wish tree’, share stories with the centuries old Sir Oak tree, meditate on the list of spiritual prompts in your lodge such as ‘what kind of tree would you be?’ Wait, come back – we realise that this much communing with nature may be a little too much for those who aren’t dendrophiliacs, but there’s much more to the hotel than tree-hugging. Firstly, it’s owned by very-well-connected former art dealer Anne-Caroline Frey, who’s enlisted the help of her creative friends (dog-obsessed painter Aurèle, singer-songwriter Tara, graffiti artist JonOne, maker of ethereal photo prints Cédric Porchez…) to decorate each of the 18 lodges: graffiti artists who’ve scrawled over the walls and furnishings, singers who’ve carved lyrics into the wood, sculptors who’ve made statement pieces to display, including metal angels, giant dogs and lamps made using 500 dismembered Barbie legs. Some are pared-back, some are proudly loud, but all are unique. And, secondly, there’s really nothing like it in the area, where stays are normally in antique-filled chateau rooms – slumbering in a treehouse in your own private patch of forest teases up some Proustian delight. Also enchanting: the large-scale artworks in hidden glades for guests to come across on their rambles, steam-and-ice shivers in a Nordic bath, and a storytelling tasting menu – get swept up in the fantasy, and even skeptics will be found fandango-ing with a Douglas fir.