A hotel in a small village in the Loire Valley is home to one of the most beloved and legendary French desserts, tarte Tatin.
The history of the hotel, originally named Hotel Terminus, begins in 1830 when it was first built just across the street from the La Motte Beuvron railroad station to accommodate travelers coming to and leaving the town. In the late 1800s, two sisters, Caroline, and Stephanie Tatin took ownership of the hotel. They installed a restaurant that served French cuisine using a large array of locally grown products.
Soon their patronage grew, and it became one of the most popular restaurants in the area. The ultimate prize for the hotel and restaurant was being listed in the first Michelin guide, which was published in 1900 by the Michelin brothers, Edouard, and Andre. Over 35,000 copies were printed and handed out free to motorists and travelers and the guide included road maps, hotel, restaurant, and gas station listings, and mechanic shops.
Similar to the discovery of the chocolate chip cookie in the U.S., the tarte Tatin was another culinary accident. On a Sunday during the hectic hunting season in September, the restaurant was overflowing with hungry hunters. One of the sisters started preparing her apple tart and put a frying pan with apples, butter, and sugar to cook. Things got busy and when she returned to the stove the apples were overcooked almost to the point of burning. Rather than throwing it away, she tried to salvage the mixture by adding a crust on top, then putting it in the oven to bake. After it was baked, she turned it upside down, and voila! a classic dessert was born.
Nowadays, almost every French restaurant or brasserie lists tarte Tatin on the menu, and it’s served with either whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It’s also a staple recipe in French cookbooks.
After the Tatin sisters, the hotel had various owners in the 20th century and in 2019 a group of investors purchased it. Renovations began the same year and the hotel was slated to open in early 2020 but because of COVID restrictions, it finally opened in June of 2020. The new owners wanted to convey a sense of home rather than just fixing up the hotel and renamed it Maison Tatin.
I visited the hotel in July from Paris and took an early morning train from the Austerlitz train station, arriving at La Motte Beuvron a little after 9:30 a.m. The hotel was conveniently located just across the way from the train station, and as I departed, I noticed a sign in big block letters that spelled out “PAYS DE LA TARTE TATIN” (tarte Tatin country), which meant the town was seriously promoting its legendary discovery.
The front of the hotel, embellished with navy blue awnings, bricks aligning the window frames, and a dark wood entrance door with swirls of wrought iron on the glass panel, invoked the quaintness of an old-fashioned inn.
There’s no formal check-in desk, so the courteous management checked me in at the bar. Fortunately, I was able to settle in my room without waiting for the customary afternoon check-in time of 2 p.m. The hotel has 14 rooms laid out on three floors, and my room was an attic room on the third floor. Although the room was small (177 square feet) and had slanted ceilings, it was cozy and quiet, overlooking a garden. It had a comfortable, queen size bed, with attractive bed linens and pillows in jewel-tone colors.
One of the big differences I find between hotels in France versus the hotels in the U.S. is in the quality of air conditioning. In the U.S., the temperatures in hotel rooms are often so cold that I raised the temperature on the thermostat so I don’t freeze. Most of the hotels I’ve stayed in in France have never been sufficiently cooled and I find myself sweating during the night. The day I arrived at Maison Tatin, it was in the high 80s Fahrenheit and quite humid, so I was delighted when I settled in my room, it was icy cold.
Other room types include the family room, which sleeps four people with a queen-size bed and a convertible couch which sleeps two, plus a living room with a large screen TV, and the superior category rooms have king-size beds, with an optional single bed to accommodate an extra guest. Other room amenities include free WiFi, USB sockets, free access to the spa, concierge services, and air conditioning. Two rooms on the garden level are equipped for guests with special needs and have wheelchair access. An appealing breakfast buffet has many local food products and serves daily baked croissants and baguettes, smoked meats, yogurt, cereal, fresh fruit, plus coffee, tea, and fresh juices. Rooms start at a remarkably reasonable rate of around $80 per night.
The handsome, refurbished dining room has cushy velvet chairs in shades of pearl gray, pea green, and royal blue, wall-to-wall carpeting in a wood, plank floor pattern, a red marble fireplace mantel, and elegant brass chandeliers with black lampshades. A series of eye-popping animal paintings and drawings on the walls of the dining room are from a local gallery.
The Spa Experience
In an adjunct building on the right side of the hotel property is the newly opened KOS spa, a luxury spa and cosmetic brand from Paris. Massages, facials, and body treatments are available by appointment and there’s a double massage room for couples. A Turkish-style steam bath, sauna, and gym are also on the premises of the spa. A special feature of the spa is the shower experience where you can choose three separate settings for your rain shower head — a soothing mist, an invigorating immersion, or a gentle rain along with floral scents and colored lights.
Afternoon tea is served in the stylish salon which has a fireplace, Louis XV style chairs in brown velvet with a black swirl pattern, and mustard-colored tie-back drapes. A wide variety of organic teas are served plus an exclusive tea expressly made for the hotel from the famous Mariage Freres tea brand from Paris. Of course, you can delve into a slice of authentic tarte Tatin, which is prepared from the original recipe handed down from Fanny Tatin, a descendant of the Tatin sisters.
The centerpiece of the compact bar area is the original, ceramic tile stove that was used to bake the first tarte Tatin. Champagne, beer, local Loire Valley wines, aperitifs, cocktails, and mocktails are served.
Dinner Al Fresco
During the warmer months, there’s a delightful garden in the rear of the hotel where guests can enjoy lunch or dinner under towering weeping willow trees and other lush greenery. Chef Olaf Pezard created an inventive menu sourcing the best local produce and ingredients, including mustards and vinegars from an ancient producer and honey from a nearby beehive. Dishes such as ceviche with dorado fish adorned with edible flowers, and a lamb ragout topped with a thin potato pancake are just a few of the menu specialties.
Activities And Touring In The Area
There are tons of fun activities in the Sologne region near the hotel, including horseback riding, swimming in lakes, hiking, canoeing, boat rides, picnicking, and visits to historic, small châteaux. You can also visit the grand châteaux and their beautiful gardens in the Loire Valley including Blois, Cheverny, Amboise, Villandry, Chenonceau, and Chambord. Another suggestion is to visit the city of Orleans, where you can learn all about Joan of Arc/Jeanne d’Arc and how she valiantly saved the city from being invaded by the British in 1429, plus view a replica of the house she stayed in at the time, Maison de Jeanne d’Arc.
One last note: I indulged in two pieces of tarte Tatin during my stay at the hotel, and being a former baker, I have to say they served one of the best I have ever had. The not-too-sweet apples and the light crust were beyond description.
Pro Tips: Maison Tatin does not have an elevator and currently, as of this writing, is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
It’s best to rent a car if you are going to tour the area near the hotel. Car rentals are available at the Orleans train station, which is about 20 minutes from Maison Tatin.
Many French hotels and restaurants feature dining specialties that will treat the palate: