The first time I checked in to a French hotel with a golden retriever — his name was Gregory, predecessor of the incumbent Douglas — I left him, clearly unhappy, in the bedroom when I went to dinner. Then I realised that every other party already in the dining room included a dog, in some cases a lapdog enjoying morsels direct from its mistress’s plate. So I fetched Gregory, shoved him under the tablecloth and told him to keep quiet. But each time a tasty dish went past, his big hairy head emerged and sniffed the air. Eventually the maitre d’hotel approached. ‘You’re in trouble now,’ I whispered (to Gregory). ‘Ah, quel beau chien,’ said the maitre d’. ‘Would he like to order anything?’
It was a lesson in the dog-friendliness of French hotels, especially those that are stopovers for long-distance drivers rather than destinations in themselves. The Michelin Guide has a ‘No Dogs’ symbol, but if it’s not shown for your chosen auberge, your travelling companion is almost certainly OK — not just tolerated, as he might be in an English country inn, but welcomed even when, like Douglas, he puts his front paws on the counter to greet the receptionist.
The Logis de France handbook is another starting point in the search for the ideal dog hotel — which must of course have a large, well-fenced garden, or adjacent countryside, and preferably ground-floor bedrooms for speedy access to lawns and borders. If you regularly chauffeur your pet to your own or other people’s holiday homes a long way south, you need a selection of congenial, grassy places en route.
The scene of that first encounter was La Bertelière at St Martin-du-Vivier, off the A28 in the northern outskirts of Rouen and a couple of hours south of the Channel Tunnel. If you prefer to cross the Seine by the Pont de Brotonne, heading for Tours and Poitiers, my recommendation is the Auberge du Val au Cesne, just south of Yvetot: cottage bedrooms in a menagerie-garden of donkeys, parrots and exotic poultry; delicious local cuisine. If your ferry crossing takes you to Cherbourg, my tip at the bottom of the peninsula (poised for attacking the western autoroutes the following morning) is La Croix D’Or at Avranches, a bargain-priced, half-timbered coaching inn around a leafy courtyard.
My own journey’s end is the Dordogne, and I have tried out all sorts of routes and stopovers to make the two-day expedition more fun for me and more tolerable for the canine passenger. Le Lanthenay is a simple hostelry with good food just outside Romorantin-Lanthenay in the Sologne. Les Orangeries at Lussac-les-Chateaux is my secret consolation for the tiresomeness of the truck route from Poitiers to Limoges: it looks nothing from the road but is actually a stylish ‘eco-hotel’ with lovely wooded grounds. And the Relais de Comodoliac at St Junien, close to Limoges and the war memorial village of Oradour-sur-Glane, could not have been friendlier. Douglas the dog enjoyed staying in all of them, and looks forward to discovering others to recommend next year.