La Louviere

near Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon, Normandy, France Book from Eur95

Reviewed by Abi Dare
An elegant and relaxing country retreat in the gentle hills of southern Normandy, with fabulous food, gorgeous gardens and a heated outdoor pool
The approach to La Louvière is delightful. A long driveway sweeps past lime groves, before tapering out into a path that weaves its way through rambling roses and clematis to the ivy-framed front door. But what really caught our attention as we arrived at this little 18th-century manor, set just outside sleepy Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon, were the enticing aromas of baking and wood smoke, and the wonderful welcoming party formed by smiling owners Alain and Isabelle, their dog Venus, and Shadow the cat.

Stepping inside, we were told to make ourselves at home. It certainly wasn’t difficult: the couple run the B&B as an extension of their own house, without any hint of formality. The 5 cossetting bedrooms are decorated with rustic florals and personal heirlooms, fires flicker in the salons, and delicious dinners await in the candlelit dining room (the baking, it turned out, was an excellent pear crumble). In summer, life spills out to the fragrant gardens, where a heated pool, a tennis court and a fishing lake hide among clusters of trees and flowerbeds bursting with lavender. Beyond lie meadows, forests and some of the prettiest villages in France. It’s an enchanting slice of rural escapism - hard to fault, and even harder to leave.

Highs

  • A handy location near the Normandy-Loire border - ideal for stopovers or as a romantic base for exploring Alençon, Le Mans and the beautiful Orne and Perche regions
  • Great for families, too, with a laid-back ambiance, interconnecting rooms and an 8-acre garden to run around
  • Charming, multi-lingual hosts, who are genuinely delighted to share their home; you feel as if you’re staying somewhere with real soul
  • Isabelle’s cooking is lip-smackingly good. Expect breakfasts piled high with croissants and cakes, and dinners (available Tuesday-Saturday) made using fruit and veg from the garden
  • Plenty of peaceful spots where you can unwind - lakeside deckchairs, hammocks swinging from trees, a shaded loggia by the pool

Lows

  • You’ll need a car, especially as you’ll have to drive out for lunches, and for dinner on Sunday and Monday nights
  • Some rooms (Aurélie’s Room, Yves’ Room and Françoise’s Room) have bathrooms which are private but not ensuite
  • Credit cards aren’t accepted (and ATMs are few and far between in this part of France); make sure you bring plenty of cash
  • TVs are provided on request only, though chances are you won't miss them
  • It's closed annually from the end of November until the end of March

Best time to go

This quiet little corner of southern Normandy is glorious in summer, and far less crowded than the northern coast. Spring is also gorgeous, as is autumn when the leaves turn. We visited in October and loved wandering around the gardens, which were overflowing with plump pumpkins and ripe fruit, then curling up in front of the fire. La Louvière is normally open from March until the end of November.

Our top tips

Ask Isabelle and Alain to show you their photo album charting the house’s renovation. They spent 2 years restoring the manor, originally built for a sea captain and then used as a school, uncovering some fascinating features (centuries-old terracotta tiling, reclaimed beams, ancient stone hearths) along the way.

Great for...

Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique B&B
  • 5
  • Breakfast (+ dinner by arrangement)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Heated Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Tennis Court
  • Bicycles Available
  • Fishing lake
Room: Alexandre’s Room

Rooms

A grand oak staircase, worn smooth by centuries of footsteps, sweeps you up to the 5 bedrooms. Each is different, reflecting the taste of the family member it was originally designed for, but all have a charming mix of antiques, heirlooms and homely comforts.

Tucked into the eaves at the top of the house are the biggest rooms, and our personal favourites. Aurélie’s Room is decidedly romantic, with soft taupe walls, delicate floral fabrics and a canopied double bed; its bathroom sits off the landing and has a tub and shower. Alexandre’s Room is more contemporary, with slate-grey walls, a leather sofa, spotlights suspended from exposed rafters, and a slick ensuite with a bath and handheld shower.

We stayed on the floor beneath in Aurore’s Room, a pretty double decorated in shades of plum and lavender. Its large ensuite has a tub and walk-in shower, and we slept soundly under the snuggly duvet, soothed by the distant hooting of owls outside.

At the other end of the first floor sit Yves’ Room and Françoise’s Room - the most traditional in terms of décor - which can interconnect to form a family suite for 4. The former is a rustic double or twin with parquet flooring, chunky beams and floral wallpaper. The latter is a double done in elegant 18th-century style, with duck-egg blue walls and a marble fireplace; it’s the smallest of all, but we’d still happily lay our heads there. These rooms share a bathroom (with a quirky curtained tub and shower) across the landing, but as they’re never booked at the same time (unless you opt for the suite), you’ll get it all to yourself.

All rooms come with a few toiletries, piles of thick towels, hairdryers, free WiFi, and views out over the gardens to the hills beyond. TVs are available on request, but we much preferred flicking through the books and magazines (in French and English) dotted around the house.

Features include:

  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Honesty bar
  • Internet access
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

Isabelle is a deft hand in the kitchen and does most of the cooking herself. She also grows many of the ingredients in the garden, so expect plenty of seasonal fruit and veg. Meals are normally served at a lace-covered communal table in the pale and pretty dining room, where candles sparkle in crystal chandeliers, though a private table can be set up in one of the salons if you’d prefer to dine à deux. In summer, things often move outside to the garden.

Dinner, available Tuesday-Saturday by prior arrangement, is a laid-back, sociable affair. Start with an aperitif around the fire, before tucking into a 4-course feast washed down by copious amounts of wine. We were treated to velvety carrot and coriander soup, a spicy Moroccan tagine with melt-in-the-mouth lamb, and a fantastic pear crumble topped with Normandy cream (which, Alain assured us, is the best in France). Rounding things off was a wonderful cheese board with Rocquefort, Comté and - of course - the local star, Camembert.

Breakfast, included in the rates, is equally tasty. Wander downstairs and you’ll find the table laden with baskets of baguettes, heaps of croissants, cakes still warm from the oven, and dainty little pots of homemade jam. There’s also fruit and yoghurt, plus cafetières of coffee and glasses of just-squeezed orange juice. On Sundays, you can pay a little extra for an extensive brunch of savoury tarts, cheeses, meats and fruit.

When it comes to eating out, there are plenty of options in Alençon, 15 minutes away. Alain and Isabelle recommend Rive Droite, a trendy lounge-like restaurant with Michelin Bib Gourmand acclaim. There are more rustic options in Saint-Céneri-Le-Gérei, where L'Auberge des Peintres gets particularly good reviews.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Communal dining
  • Dinner by arrangement
Eating: Dining room
Activity:

Activities

  • Hire a bike (Isabelle can arrange) and potter around the pretty Orne countryside surrounding the B&B. Make sure you stop off in Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei, 8km away - it's officially listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, and has been the inspiration for many an artist

  • Pop into Alençon, 10km down the road. It’s famous for its exquisite lace, which you can learn about at the Musée des Beaux Arts et de la Dentelle. Also worth a peek are the stunning stained-glass windows inside the church of Notre Dame, the arboretum, and the circular Halle au Blé (old wheat market), where temporary exhibitions take place under a magnificent glass dome

  • Head east to Le Perche, an unspoilt area of Normandy that’s famous for its majestic Percheron horses. The historic town of Mortagne-au-Perche, with its ancient houses and crumbling convent, is less than 40 minutes from La Louvière

  • Ramble around the Forêt d’Ecouves, a dense swathe of trees at the heart of the Normandy-Maine Regional Park. It’s criss-crossed by trails, and you might see deer or wild boar

  • Visit the little town of Camembert (an hour away) to see the cows that make the milk that goes into the eponymous cheese. A couple of producers run little museums and tasting rooms on the main square

  • Head to Le Mans, 50 minutes away, for a spot of shopping and a race around its famous Bugatti Circuit (you can pre-book a range of driving experiences)

  • Just beyond Le Mans is the Loire Valley. Several of its châteaux and vineyards are within easy driving distance, including Vouvray and Chinon

  • Back at La Louvière, fish in the lake, take a dip in the pool, hit a few balls on the tennis court, or book a massage from a visiting therapist

  • Or just grab a book and sprawl out on a deckchair in the garden, as birds flit in and out of the flowers around you

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Well being
  • Wine tasting

Kids

La Louvière’s relaxed charm and interconnecting rooms make it ideal for families, and Isabelle and Alain welcome kids of all ages with open arms. Their young grandchildren are frequent visitors to the house, so there are plenty of books and toys to entertain little ones, as well as huge gardens that are pefect for games of hide and seek. Children will also enjoy meeting Venus the dog and Shadow the cat, who are gentle, inquisitive and used to being petted and patted.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Yves' Room (a double or twin) and Françoise's Room (a small double) interconnect to form a suite for up to 4 - ideal for families. All other rooms can fit a baby cot (free) or rollaway bed (small charge), with Aurélie's Room and Alexandre's Room offering the most space to spread out. There's a tub in every bathroom.

Babysitting:

Babysitting can be arranged on request.

Children's meals:

Isabelle will happily tailor meals for fussy eaters, and breakfast includes plenty of child-friendly options (croissants, cakes, yoghurt).

Kids Activities on site:

  • Heated swimming pool

  • Tennis court

  • Large garden to play in

  • Fishing (older children only)

  • Bikes to hire

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Ecouves Animal Park (a 30-minute drive)

  • Kayaking and boating on local lakes and rivers

  • Horse riding
  • Go-karting in Essay (a 30-minute drive) and Le Mans (a 50-minute drive)

Families Should Know:

Keep a close eye on youngsters near the lake, and on the stairs, which have become a little slippery with age.

Distances:

  • Airport: 2 hours (Rennes)
  • Hospital: 15 minutes (Alençon)
  • Shop: 5 minutes (Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon)
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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