How do I get to a French castle hotel?
The majority of French castle hotels are in the countryside or just a few kilometres outside of town. The towns are easy to reach on public transportation, and a taxi can always be found to take you the remaining distance. The hotels are usually well signposted; however, it is essential to have a good map since many hotels are located on country roads not indicated on large-scale maps and not all cars are equipped with GPS devices. Michelin maps are the best, and they can be found throughout France or at specialty travel and map bookstores.
If not on strike, the state-owned French rail service, SNCF, is one of the best in Europe. With speeds of 300 kph (190 mph) on the high-speed TGV, train travel is often much faster than flying. Apart from the TGVs, express trains connect main cities, while rural lines reach smaller towns and villages. In addition, excellent suburban train services in the larger cities will help you reach your destination.
If you plan to travel around the country, look into a rail pass to save money. Some passes you must buy at home before you leave for Europe such as the France Railpass, and others you buy in France from SNCF at any rail station. Many discounts and passes available in France are valid only on certain dates and times—blue periods. Be aware, that even with a pass, you must book seats ahead on many of the trains—always on the TGVs, and it’s certainly advisable to do so on any train during high season.
If traveling by train, SNCF’s website is an excellent resource to begin laying out your trip. At the bottom of the page you’ll find some small language flags to surf their site in the language of your choice. You’ll find schedules, booking information, and SNCF bus connections. TER Regions is a great place to begin if you intend to stay within a single region.
SNCF operates buses into towns and villages that aren’t serviced by rail. In some cases, non-profitable rail lines have been replaced by buses. Buses are practical only for short distances within départments, and are just about non-existent from one region to another. Local buses run from a town’s Gare Routire, usually found at or near the SNCF train station. It’s a good idea to speak some French to navigate around by bus.
Seriously consider a rail-and-drive package available through SNCF. French cities aren’t much fun to drive in, and you’ll never be able to park; you just go round and round. Plus, the cost of gasoline and toll roads is exorbitant. The optimal way to reach a castle hotel and explore its surrounding region is to take the train to nearest city and rent a car there. The French countryside is a dream to drive in—on the secondary roads that is; driving like a lunatic on the autoroutes and paying the cost of a small mortgage at every toll booth for the privilege is a huge waste of money.
If possible, book a car rental before leaving for France; it will be cheaper. Once in France, the smaller, less-expensive rental companies are an option, but don’t look for big savings. Consider leasing a car or what they call a “purchase-repurchase” plan if you need a car for over three weeks. Renault and Peugeot have special vacation plans.
Never, ever, leave anything in your car.
If you’re fit and can do it, riding a bicycle on France’s traffic-light rural roads is an ideal way to enjoy the divine French countryside. Rental bikes can be found at many SNCF stations and in most towns. Some biking experience is probably a good idea since bike lanes are few and roads seldom have shoulders. In the Loire Valley, biking is one of the most popular ways of visiting the sights. Highly recommended!