Cycling a beautiful, well-loved path along the river in France’s famous Loire Valley, it was just as stunning as I imagined it would be…long, quiet stretches of shimmering water, beautiful stone towns, arched bridges, river birds, happy cycling families and castle after magnificent castle.
While cycling through a small, forested area, it suddenly started pouring down with rain—and so I stopped to wait out the storm in the next town I reached…the beautiful waterfront city of Beaugency.
The first hotel I stumbled upon was a large stone building on the waterfront called Grand Hotel de l’Abbaye and, though I didn’t know when I parked my bike and retreated into the warm reception area, it is a high-ranking hotel in a converted abbey.
The interior was fully restored, but had kept its castle-like charm, with grand statues, an enormous stone staircase worn smooth in the centre from so many years of foot traffic, high-ceilinged rooms and antique furniture.
I thanked the gods for the rain that had driven me into this special place.
After a hot cup of coffee, the sun started peeking through the clouds, so I set out to explore the town—a place full of winding streets, excellent bakeries, a very pretty square or two, incredibly friendly people and, of course (because it’s the Loire Valley), a lovely castle.
The next morning, I awoke to another wonderful surprise: the buffet breakfast at the abbey-turned-hotel was not only delicious and expansive, it was also unique. Every single product at the table—from the palette-cleansing liquor to the range of fruit jams to the fresh baked bread—was made by French monks and nuns. Here in the old abbey overlooking the river and just steps away from a castle, I would be feasting on goods made in similar abbeys around France.
This is the magic of the Loire Valley—a place where tourists flock every summer to take in the famous, elaborate castles, the light, fluffy croissants, the old stone streets and hopefully some of the tiny magical extras, like hotels in old converted abbeys and breakfasts made by monks.
I spoke to an expat couple living in Amboise, another pretty town in the Loire Valley, and they enthusiastically agreed that it is a magical place—not only because of its castles and abbeys, but because of its kind-hearted people, its year-round mild climate, the exceptional French healthcare system and its excellent food.
Even better, though, they said, the magic is affordable.
I can attest to that, as nights in the old abbey start at just $99 and baked goods cost just a few euro. My meals out in the region usually ranged between $20 and $25. And, according to my expat friends, telephone (mobile and landlines), internet, and basic TV package costs just $57 per month and a small house, in need of some renovation, could cost as little as $217,000.
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