Category Archives: Affordable Europe

Affordable Europe: Hotel la Roseraie in Chenonceaux



The town of Chenonceaux has, somewhat confusingly, a spectacular chateau called Chenonceau–without the X. Many people consider Chenonceau the most beautiful chateau in the Loire Valley.  It’s certainly the most unique:  it is actually built on a bridge that crosses the river.  It’s understandably popular. The thing to do is to stay in the little village of Chenonceaux so as to arrive early. The town makes a perfect base for driving around the Loire Valley.


I generally avoid hotels recommended in Rick Steves guidebooks. They’re nice, but occupied by large numbers of Americans.  I would rather be rubbing elbows with Europeans when I travel to Europe, even if I can’t understand much of what they’re saying.  But Rick-recommended Hotel la Roseraie is a winner.  It’s a small hotel, with only 17 rooms.  It’s not the fanciest hotel in town, but it’s surely the friendliest.


Rooms are warmly decorated. Ours had walls that had been laboriously covered with the very same sprigged fabric that made up the curtains. Dated? I prefer the term “faded elegance.”


The bathroom was totally up-to-date, though; it would pass muster any day on HGTV.


The owners, Sabine and Jerome, welcome returning guests as family.  Guests do return again and again to enjoy the leafy terrace and flower gardens.


There’s a charming little restaurant which needs to be booked because it’s popular even with people not staying in the hotel.  I don’t like the feeling of being obligated to eat in a hotel’s restaurant, but this was a delightful experience.  It was traditional but not too formal, the food was fresh and delicious, and no one looked askance at my admittedly fussy vegetarian requirements.


Just outside town, there are Roman ruins.  Julius Caesar is known to have actually slept there–or so the locals say. When I was there, the ruins were partially covered with plastic.  Maybe next time, there’ll be a little visitor center.


The village, like all French villages, has a top-class bakery.  One of those strawberry tarts is waiting for me!


St. Martin-in-the-Fields



After spending a few hours in London’s National Gallery, I’ve had enough of appreciating great art. I’m more than ready to stagger down the steps into Trafalgar Square, navigate through the crowds, cross the street, and disappear down the well-worn steps into the ancient crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church. The church was once literally “in the fields,” far outside the center of London. Now it’s at the epicenter. The day before I visited was May Day, when tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on the square. (In most of Europe, May Day is similar to Labor Day in the United States. In Europe, people march in support of working people on this day). On any day, though, Trafalgar is full of people.


The centuries-old crypt underneath the church has been turned into a cheerful cafeteria and venue for jazz concerts.

Are we walking on top of very old tombs? I don’t think so. I think these are grave markers from centuries past, when the church still had a churchyard around it. I think that tombs once in the crypt were moved elsewhere during one of the many rebuildings of the church over the centuries. Of course, like many British churches, the site of this one dates back to Roman times–or very likely even pre-Roman pagan times. So there’s no telling what is deep underground. If there are spirits of the departed, I think they enjoy the company.

The food is cooked onsite, inexpensive, healthy and delicious.

El Greco, St. Martin and the Beggar, circa 1597, Public Domain

El Greco, St. Martin and the Beggar, circa 1597, Public Domain

Who was St. Martin of Tours? He was a 4th-century Roman soldier who became one of the first conscientious objectors when he decided not to fight. He offered to go to the front lines unarmed, but fortunately the enemy sued for peace and he was allowed to leave the army. He eventually became Bishop of Tours, a post he accepted reluctantly because he preferred to serve the poor directly. He was well known enough in his day to have a biographer who followed him around and wrote about him, so it is pretty well documented that he once impulsively cut his warm military cloak in half and gave it to a near-naked vagrant in the dead of winter. Legend has it that the next morning the cloak was made whole again. The rest of his life was devoted to serving the poor and outcast, and that is the mission of St. Martin-in-the-Fields today. The church’s cafe and its many concerts support its work with the poorest of the poor in London.


I’m happy to contribute to the work of this famous church by joining the lively crowd in the once-silent crypt. Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!


Affordable Europe: The Old Farmhouse, Windsor

I chose The Old Farmhouse because it is close to Heathrow–a good place to unwind after a long flight or to depart without stress. I don’t like paying exorbitant airport hotel rates for rooms that are just OK at best. After three nights in this house, I’m hooked. I’ll go back any chance I get.



The Old Farmhouse is a destination in itself–peaceful flowery grounds, just three guest rooms, and a cooked-to-order breakfast that comes with a huge fresh fruit plate. No one actually lives in the house–the very professional staff arrive in the morning to bustle around making breakfast and cleaning, cheerfully answering questions and generally being friendly. They’re on call the rest of the day and night.


It’s actually a 14th and 15th century house, modernized over the centuries but keeping the historic charm that brings Anglophiles like me to England. It’s not rock-bottom cheap, but it’s about a third of the price of a comparable nice hotel in the town of Windsor–and way less than anything in London.  I spend my trips to England using my National Trust pass to visit historic houses.  It’s a real treat to stay in one.


My bedroom had ancient beams–complete with original wood pegs from the days when there were no nails.



The entry has a beautiful and very old fireplace, decked with flowers in spring.


There’s a pretty lounge downstairs with comfy sofas and a piano. Wifi is free and fast.

Is there anything I didn’t like? Well, I have to say that flights out of Heathrow begin at around 6:30 in the morning. But Heathrow planes fly over all of Windsor. And there are not that many flights. The Old Farmhouse must be on one of many flight paths.

When we left, it took about 25 minutes to drive to the rental car return at Heathrow–which I had saved as a location on my GPS, because finding it is confusing. Heathrow is huge, and the car rental is not only at Terminal 5, but way outside the terminal. I think a taxi ride to the Heathrow departure level for a specific terminal would be a lot faster. I understand there is also a bus.

The location makes for an easy daytrip into London. An inexpensive train ride from Windsor to Paddington Station takes about half an hour, including an easy change at Slough. Trains run every 10 minutes. We had a rental car to drive to the station, less than two miles away. But the location is so close to Heathrow and Windsor that it would also work with taxi rides, kept pretty inexpensive by following the advice of staff and calling a particular company.


Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII kept everybody shaking in their boots in the 1500s, is a 30-minute drive from Windsor. Henry’s Great Hall is intact, complete with some wood carvings of Anne Boleyn’s initials. Most of the marks of Anne’s time as Queen were removed along with her head, but even Henry VIII was not able to control every detail.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!

Affordable Europe: La Ferme du Chateau


Over the years I’ve grown more adventurous in places I find to stay.  The internet has made it easier.  When I first started traveling, I used to pore over guidebooks, trying to read between the lines of outdated reviews.  Of course there were rarely pictures.  Now, a huge selection of lodging is easily accessible to anyone with a computer or even a smartphone.  And I haven’t yet even dipped into Airbnb.



A few years ago, I needed a place to stay in Versailles.  You couldn’t drag me back to either of the two places I’d stayed before.  One time, I scored a halfway-decent last-minute rate at the very grand Trianon Palace Hotel.  My room, in a modern annex, was a lot like like an elevator shaft: tall and narrow, cramped, with a sliver of window looking out at the parking lot.  True, there was a luxurious spa with a pool, and the breakfast buffet (included) was spectacular. But I was not sorry to leave. Another time I stayed at one of the better older hotels in town, and found it dated, cramped, noisy, and still pretty expensive.  Plus the employees were surly, even for France.

Third visit was the charm:  I reserved a couple of nights at a 16th-century farmhouse which had been in the same family for several generations. It was only a few minutes’ drive outside Versailles, in the little farming community of Garancieres.
Me, room

I found myself in an enormous room under hand-hewn ancient beams.


There was only one other guest room.  Service was personal and the room had everything I could want.


Breakfast was served in a charming farmhouse parlor. The lovely owners spoke very minimal English, but breakfast was delicious and efficiently served up..  A friendly dog and cat wandered past.  Outside, the air smelled of fresh-mown hay.

I guess I could get used to 5-star hotels, as easily as the next person.  But there are downsides: snooty fellow guests, snooty employees looking for tips, a lot of time spent waiting for waitstaff to get on with the business of feeding impatient tourists like me. When in Versailles, I want to beat the crowds into the palace. I guess folks willing to pay 5-star prices like to linger and enjoy the expensive ambiance.

I just looked up La Ferme du Chateau–it’s still in business, and I’d stay there again in a minute. In fact, maybe I will! Time to start dreaming of France.