Review of "Loire Valley (France)"

published 02/10/2006 | jimpi
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Excellent
Pro Good food, good wine ,friendly people and great country.
Cons Lack of french
very helpful
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Ease of getting around

"Loire Valley Experience"

Loire Valley Experience.


Many people would agree that returning for a second or third time to a particular holiday destination is an obvious indication of its popularity and my wife and I have found such a place in the Centre region of France. We had visited many areas of this interesting and diverse country but were drawn back to the Loire Valley due to the numerous attractions the area has to offer and the friendliness of the local people. The area is known as the 'Garden of France' and benefited through history from its popularity with the French Royal Families who have left a wonderful legacy in the form of its many chateaux, gardens and parks. Such has been their influence that UNESCO has designated the whole valley a world heritage site.
The Loire River (the longest in France) is the thread that holds this area together but its tributaries of the Cher, the Vienne, the Indre and other rivers in the region such as the Cruese give an added dimension to the region by providing attractive valleys and landscapes to stimulate interest. You are in an area where you can be on a plateau with what seems like endless horizons, surrounded by sunflowers, in a deep valley, in dense forest, by a mighty river and always where your eye will be drawn to something of interest. You can be happy just driving the wonderful roads (where a lot of French taxpayers money must go!) stopping at any one of hundreds of pretty towns and villages that the region has to offer.
Tourists are of course drawn to the area to view the numerous chateaux and I can understand why, having visited many during our visits. If I was to offer my opinion on which to see I would have to say that one trip will never be enough as they nearly all have something different to offer. I would like to think that once you have visited you will want to return, so, what I can give is the benefit of my own Loire Valley Experience to suggest some itineraries that you can do at you own pace depending on the length of your stay. They take in the major chateaux as well as other attractions.

Blois-Chaumont-sur-Loire-Amboise

Bloise

The Royal City of Blois sits proudly by the banks of the Loire with its skyline dominated by its cathedral and famous chateau. The city was the favoured stronghold of the kings of France for 100 years, with the chateau being the principle royal residence from when Louis XII established his court here in 1498 until Henry IV moved it to Paris in1598.
Blois is the 'prefecture'(capital) of the department of Loire-et-Cher (which is often translated as Dormouse-and-Expensive!) and is the established business centre of a farming district which produces wheat, vegetables(especially asparagus) and wine in abundance. Auguste Poulain opened a confectionary-chocolate factory in Blois in 1848, the site now is a hotel but his legacy lives on and is evident on almost every street corner. The city is a good place to walk as it has many fine examples of ancient town houses to be found in its 'old quarter' on streets such as the rue Pierre de Blois and the rue du Puits-Chatel. There are also fine gardens with the Bishops Palace Garden offering wonderful views of the city and the Loire river. Just below the Château on rue St-Laumen, is the Church of St Nicholas, which is nicer than the cathedral and worth a visit.

There are other attractions provided with the cavernous Maison de la Magie, facing the Château on the far side of the esplanade offering optical illusions that may not convince or entertain today's 'techno-children' quite as much as previous generations but there is the less stuffy room dedicated to local impresario, Robert-Houdin which may hold their interest. The afternoon magic shows are in mime, so at least there's no need to be fluent in French!.

The Chateau of Blois is not only one of the most prestigious Renaissance monuments in France but also a brilliant illustration of the evolution of the French architecture from the Middle Ages to the 17th century. It has a great royal history from Louis XII who built the oldest part of the chateau to Francois I who added the renaissance wing with the unique open circular staircase. The chateau features its own 'son et lumière which takes place in the courtyard late on summer evenings. There is the usual melodramatic historical narrative, backed by a light show and strident classical music, is presented in English on Wednesdays.
Chaumont-sur-Loire
Chateau Chaumont was built on the site of a former fortress that had dominated the Loire river offering resistance to the many attacks on the Royal town of Blois using this route. Its location overlooking the town of Chaumont and the Loire made it an ideal place to build a chateau for more peaceful times.

Work was begun by Charles d' Amboise in 1466, and continued by many owners over the centuries. After the death of Henry II in 1559 it was bought by his wife Catherine de Medicis who proceeded to force Diane de Poitiers (Henry's former mistress) to give up the beautiful Chateau Chenonceau in exchange for living here. Diane added her touch and influence as did many other owners, though none more so than Prince Amadee de Broglie. He moved here with his new bride in 1875 and did much to restore its former splendour, adding the remarkable stables complete with running water and electric lamps and remodelling the park creating gardens in an 'English' style.

We found the inside of the stables slightly more interesting than the chateau, as there is not a great deal to see inside and little info in English -maybe we should have asked! You will have to make you own mind up.

The gardens today play host to the annual 'Festival des Jardins' (mid June to mid October) a garden festival with over 30 themed gardens. These gardens are created by different landscape architects, designers and artists around a theme, which changes every year. This brings the chateau surroundings to life with the colour and fragrances of the many plants and flowers on display. The kids will like it here and taking a picnic along will add to the experience even though there are facilities on site.

When visiting, pass by the main entrance and drive up the hill taking first left into a better area for parking and an approach that saves a long uphill climb.

Amboise

Amboise with its dominant renaissance style chateau is a town steeped in history. The chateau was built on the foundations of an old fortress, its position perched high on a promontory over looking the Loire, offering a solid defence against any intruders. The chateau was seized by Charles VII in the mid 1400's after its owner, Louise d'Amboise was involved in a plot against the monarchy. He was later to be pardoned but the chateau remained in the hands of the king. In 1429 Joan of Arc passed through the town on her way to defeat the English at Orleans.
During the 15th and 16th centuries it became a favourite of French kings as a place to house their wives and children while they sought the company of their mistresses elsewhere. King Henri II and his wife, Catherine de Medici along with Mary Stuart the child queen of Scotland lived here. Francois I spent his childhood here and it was he who in 1516 invited Leonardo da Vinci to stay at Close-Luce' where he lived until his death in 1519, his tomb lies within the grounds of the chateau. This is an interesting chateau, made more so by the fact that it is furnished, with excellent views over the town and the Loire River.

A visit to the town would not be complete without a walk down to the Manoir du Close-Luce, past the troglodyte houses cut into the limestone cliff face (complete with satellite dish!), to the enchanting house and gardens where Leonardo de Vinci spent his final years. As well as a feeling of wonderment at being in the rooms of the great man you can also view a small display of models of his inventions as well as take a stroll in the interesting gardens of the house. Another potential visit that might keep the kids amused.
The town itself still retains its medieval feel and has plenty of good restaurants and cafes to relax in and sample the local wines and produce of the area. There is a market in the town on Sunday mornings.

Nearby it would be worth visiting the mini chateaux park as not only will it interest the kids but it may let you decide on what other chateaux you want to visit. There is also an aquarium nearby of local freshwater fish - if you like that sort of thing.

Villandry-Azay-le-Rideau-Usse-Langeais

Villandry

Villandry and its gardens is probably the most family orientated chateau within the Loire Valley in that it has a children's maze (not terribly difficult!) and play area as well as the chateau and gardens for the adults. If you only have time to view a couple of chateaux on your visit make sure this is one of them (although if you don't like gardens,perhaps not!).
The chateau dates from circa 1536 when it was built by one of Francois I's finance ministers, Jean le Breton. Le Briton was also responsible for overseeing the construction of the royal 'flight of fancy' that is chateau Chambord. The tower which looks a little out of place is all that remains of the old fortress he demolished to make way for the chateau.

As with most chateaux the French Revolution saw it being confiscated before eventually being acquired for Joseph Bonaparte (brother of the Emperor) in the early 1800's.
The chateau and gardens, which combine flowers and vegetables, you see today are courtesy of a Spaniard, Dr.Joachim Carvallo who purchased it in 1906. He poured a great deal of time and money into the project the results of which are breathtaking, especially when viewed from the top of the tower (keep a tight rein on the kids up here as I don't think they have had a visit from H&S).

The combined ticket for visiting the chateau and garden is good value for money as the inside is also well worth a look as it is beautifully decorated and very well presented. Take a useful map from the ticket desk to help you with your visit. Visit early evening to avoid the tourists!
It is situated 15km west of Tours on the D7 road. There is ample parking alongside the river and a restaurant in front of the chateau which is both friendly and efficient.

Azay-le-Rideau

Resting on an island in the river Indre, chateau Azay-le Rideau is one of the loveliest and most visited in the Loire Valley. It was built during the reign of François I in the Renaissance style by Gilles Berthelot on the site of a former small fortified castle, its turreted façade is reflected in the still waters of the river making time itself appear to stand still. The small turrets suspended over the water are testimony to the woman who had inspired the chateau's design, Philippe Lesbahy, the courageous wife of Gilles Berthelot who was unable to complete the reconstruction after the disgrace and then the death of her husband. The house with all the refinements of Renaissance architecture, its high roofs, and turrets, long rows of windows and dormer-windows and majestic Italian structure gives the building its symmetrical facade. The grand staircase in the courtyard is a splendid example of a master craftsman at work and has to be admired. Inside the chateau all the rooms are furnished, which is not true of all the chateaus of the Loire, in a variety of period styles.

There is a wonderful view of the gardens from the chateau, which are well worth a walk round to view the many examples 'world trees' offering shade from the hot summer's sun .The village of Azay-le-Rideau enjoys a peaceful setting, complete with its old mill by the bridge and church of St Symphorien and has two very good restaurants should you wish to stay on to view the elaborate son-et-lumière (sound and light) show, which is one of the best in the region.
The size of the village means parking during the busy summer months can be difficult and you are advised to park in the free spaces at the entrance to the village. This will give you a pleasant 10 minute walk through the village to the chateau. There is a small market on Wednesday mornings.

Just a few minutes down the road is the Maurice Dufresne museum, with displays
of almost 3000 different kinds of historic machinery, such as old cars, weapons and agricultural tools - all lovingly restored.

Les Goupillières east of Azay-le-Rideau is no ordinary rural hamlet, here you will find the homes and stables of a troglodyte settlement which have been carved out of the soft limestone (tuffeau ) rock face in an idyllic little valley where there is little to disturb the tranquillity of the place. Also close by in Savonnières, there are limestone caves called Grottes Pétrifiantes, these are aimed at children, with the caves containing little dinosaur models and limestone pools which cover objects with a startling, sparkling crystalline coating.

Usse

Like many of the other Loire Valley chateaux Usse was built on the foundations of a small fortress but has had a very tranquil history. Perhaps its location overlooking the Loire and Indre River valleys at the edge of the Forest of Chinon has something to do with this.

The castle was built for the Buiel family in the second half of the 15th century. The family had distinguished itself in The Hundred Years War and was seeking a home befitting there new rank in society. The family did not stay long however for Antoine De Buiel, the husband of Louis VII's daughter , sold the castle in 1485 to Charles Espinay who set about making many improvements and is known for having the famous chapel built on the grounds. The Espinays served as chamberlains to many of the royalty and kings of their time. This castle has changed hands many times over the years. In 1885 the Count de Blacas bought the chateau and his descendants still live and make a home there today. The Marquis de Blacas, who is the grandson of the man who began the Egypt Department at the Louvre, currently resides there.

With its combination of beauty and the fortress like appearance, it is believed that Perrault wrote his famous story, "Sleeping Beauty," based on Usse. Of the structure Perrault wrote, "Chateau de la Belle au bois dormant." This is one of eleven fairytales he wrote in a collection called, "Les Contes de ma mere l'Oye." The Chateau's battlement tower is surrounded with glassed-in rooms showing wax figures in scenes from the "The sleeping beauty". Not the most tasteful display and obvious exploitation, but the girls will like it!

The castle played another part in 'history' when it stood as a model for the design of Disney's famous Cinderella's Castle in Disney World. Designers used this and other castles of the Loire Valley.
The chapel, which is hidden away in the park, contains stalls from the 17th century, a ceramic Virgin Mary by Luca Della Robbia (15th century), a series of Aubusson tapestries (17th century) and a Tuscan triptych from the 15th century (well you might be into this sort of thing) all worth a look.
Langeais
The chateau at Langeais is worth a visit as you are immediately taken by its preposterous position slap bang in the middle of this small town. It's a powerful building (well actually two) with its drawbridge and its towers with their machicolations (sticky-out bits for dropping things on your invaders!). Kids will love the working drawbridge, well the ones with imaginations, as it evokes images of knights and castles.

A great deal is made of the fact that the fortress was built in double quick time - between 1469and 1469 - (hire these builders!) which when you are face to face with it, is a remarkable achievement. In 1491 it was chosen as the venue for the marriage of Charles VIII and Duchess Anne de Bretagne, which brought Brittany into the Kingdom of France and helps give the chateau its place on the tourist map of the region.
While the outside of the building is strong and fortress-like the internal façade is more influenced by the Renaissance giving it more of an appearance of the traditional chateau. Within the gardens you are also met by the second building of the site - a keep dating back to 1000AD, built by a former count of Anjou - which is unusual as although most of the chateaux of the region were built on former fortress sites, few have any remains of the original buildings - here is an exception which shows how building had progressed through the centuries. I know which one I'd chose to live in! There is apparently a dungeon on the site but we did not find it on our visit.

Nearby (if you have a passion for cars) you can find the surprising Museum of the Cadillac - apparently the biggest outside the USA - which was started in 1984 by Robert Keyaerts (who had such a passion!) We have not as yet paid it a visit but understand it a 'must' for car enthusiasts.

Candes Saint-Martin - Chinon -Fontevraud Abbey - Richelieu- Chateau Rivau

Candes Saint-Martin

A picturesque village, (designated 'one of the most beautiful villages of France' like many others!) but a little too 'pristine' for my liking. You may however want to stop and admire the church dedicated to Saint Martin. He had played a major role in converting Europe to Christianity during 4th century and eventually became Bishop of Tour. He died in this area thus the church and the village that grew up around it.
During 'high season' it can be difficult to manoeuvre through its tight streets and also find somewhere to park, though the drive from Montsoreau along the banks of the Loire is worth doing even if you don't leave your car - more so for the passengers!

In the past the village had survived as a fishing port but now seems pretty much like a ghost town, apart from the tourists, because I am lead to believe, Parisians have bought up much of the property as holiday homes -'damn the Parisians'

Chinon

Located in the heart of the Val De Loire the medieval town of Chinon rests by the banks of the majestic Vienne river. It is a town steeped in history and rich with culture, the ancient château was the preferred residence of Henry II, one of the English Plantagenet kings, and his wife Aliénor d'Aquitaine. Henry II died here in 1189 and their son, Richard The Lionheart was born here. Henry is interred at the side of Aliénor at the beautiful abbey of Fontevraud, a few kilometres to the west of Chinon. In 1429 the teenage Joan of Arc came to Chinon to meet the Dauphin Charles VII, who was holed up after losing most of his kingdom. Joan succeeded in inspiring Charles to reclaim his kingdom, after which Chinon became his capital and enjoyed a century of prosperity. I understand Cardinal Richelieu had the chateau raised as he did not want anything competing with his splendid abode ,(such an ego!) and the plundered stone was used to help build the town of Richelieu
The winding streets up to the castle are lined with small shops, inns, and cafes, the cobbles and timber houses dating back to the fifteenth century give you a feel of its history. Along the streets below the castle walls are Troglodyte dwellings, some occupied and many used by wine merchants for the sale of wine. It is a town well worth a visit to browse the many shops or to lunch at one of its fine restaurants The Joan of Arc Museum, with its multi language, video presentation is also worth a visit.
Chinon is one of the better known wine growing towns of the Loire, it welcomes visitors to its caves and of course to taste some of its fine wines. Its red wine along with that of the nearby pretty village of Bourgueil (worth a drive through) is highly rated (seek out St Nicholas de Bourgueil).
The Chateau de Chinon is open daily throughout the year.

Fontevraud Abbey

We were unfortunate enough to visit the abbey just as it was closing so only had a chance to view the reception area - which in itself was interesting enough-the opening times vary throughout the year with the earliest closing time being 5.30 pm with last ticket issue half an hour before that. We will go back as it has a great deal of history and looked interesting from the little we saw. We did learn that the abbey had both monks and nuns - in-house temptation which must have been a real faith tester-with the leader of the order always having to be a woman. The Plantagenets were major benefactors of the abbey and it contains the tombs of King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son King Richard I ('The Lionheart') of England who died in France.


Richelieu

The town of Richelieu takes its name from its founder, Cardinal Richelieu the hugely egotistical character who in his time, after the king, (Louis XIII) was the most powerful person in France.
The Cardinal decided his position required a great residence and in 1625 he commissioned the famous architect Jacques Lemercier to design his palace and then the town bearing his name.
You may be disappointed here though, for as much as the town is interesting from an architectural point of view, it was built (1631-1642) in an innovative grid style which many modern cities now follow, there is not a great deal to see or do. You have to be impressed by Lemercier's foresight but when you consider that the chateau at Chinon was plundered for its stone it might have been better to have left that intact.
Lemercier as architect to the king was responsible for the domed church (1635) at the Sorbonne College in Paris. One of his last commissions was the design of the Church of Saint-Roch, one of the largest in Paris, where the cornerstone was laid by Louis XIV in 1653.

The town's railway station is the centre of a preserved steam railway which only operates to Chinon during summer months (we were here out of season) but you can view some of the stock in the station area. In an effort to expand its appeal to tourists the town also has a museum dedicated to cats (?) - but unless you are a cat fanatic don't go there. (I found a 'blog' on this www.passado.com/blogEntry.aspx?entry_id=59610 that is good for a giggle but don't read it if you are offended by swearing)

We took a very pleasant walk through the grounds of Richelieu's former palace, it had been damaged and plundered during the French Revolution and was later demolished, but you really have to stretch your imagination to reinstate what must have been a very grand and opulent residence judging by the size of the land and the Cardinal's ego!


Chateau Rivau

If you decide not to spend too long in Richelieu you could do worse than heading over to the nearby Château du Rivau. We didn't, as we spent too much time in Richelieu!!
(History lesson follows courtesy of the net) The Chateau is intimately linked to the Beauvau family who were related to the Counts of Anjou and fought under their banner. In the 13th century they went on to serve the kings of France and in 1454 were allied directly to the royal family through the marriage of Jean II de Bourbon to Isabeau de Beauvau. Many members of the Beauvau family have, over the centuries, given their lives for France.In 1429, before the siege of Orleans, Joan of Arc and her followers came to fetch horses at Le Rivau, a place renowned for the quality of its 'war' horse breeding and training.
The chateau was fortified in the mid 15th century but was modified to be the chateau you see today during the Renaissance. The monumental stables in the outbuildings, that supplied royal stallions, were constructed in 1510 by François de Beauvau, a captain of François I. Rivau was saved in the 17th century by Richelieu as his sister Françoise was married to Jean de Beauvau, lord of Rivau, it had remained in his family for nearly 250 years before being acquired by marquis Michel-Ange de Castellane, lord of Villandry,he stayed there with his family until 1796.
Like a lot of Loire Chateau it went into decline until it received a ten year restoration programme, starting in 1992, to restore some of its former splendour. The chateau now has 12 uniquely designed gardens including 'The Enchanted Forrest', 'The Lover's Wood', 'The Orchard of Paradise' and 'The Secret Garden' to explore.
As I said, not having visited it, in spite of passing by, I can't comment on its appeal.
Saumur-Doue-la-Fontaine-Montreuil-Bellay


Saumur

In the bright summer sun the pretty town of Saumur on the banks of the Loire River, gives off a yellow glow as its white tufa stone reflect the light. Whatever way you choose to enter the town it is the graceful chateau you will appreciate first because of its dominant position overlooking the Loire. On our two visits so far it has been undergoing restoration work due to a landslide on the town facing façade, so we still haven't seen inside, though the grounds are worth a walk round if only for the views of the town.
It originates from the 14th century but it was in the 15th that it was made into a comfortable residence by Duke Rene d' Anjou. During its long history it has been the governor's house, a jail before the town purchased it in 1906 to restore and turn it into the tourist attraction it is today. The former royal apartments now house two museums - 'Musee des Arts Decoratifs' and Musee du Cheval'. The first houses European china and tapestries with the second located in the attic of the chateau being dedicated to equestrian pursuits where you are taken into a world of saddlery from across the world -all lovingly worked.
The town itself is worth a visit, there are a number of restored older town houses and around place St-Pierre you will find several inexpensive restaurants with menus to suit most pockets. You cannot fail to be impressed when walking along the riverside with the chateau overlooking you on one side and the river on the other.
Saumur has a long history with horses as it was home to the French Calvary Academy, and is home to the Cadre Noir horsemen, based at the French National Riding School, whose performances of riding tricks and skills only helps confirm their status as some of the best horsemen in the world. The annual Carousel (an equestrian show that takes place in July) draws thousands of visitors.
Saumur is also home to the Armoured Academy (which replaced the Calvary) and there is a tank museum- Musee des Blindes- with the largest display in Europe and perhaps the world. The collection offers an opportunity to have an uninterrupted technical and historical overview of the tank (if you want it) since its first appearance on the battlefield.
Within the Anjou region 28 different wine labels happily live together with two grape varieties dominating the scene: Chenin for white wines like Saumur, Saumur-Champigny as well as rosés: Cabernet d'Anjou, Rosé de Loire and Rosé d'Anjou. The Saumur wines never fail to please with their sparkling variety being just what you need, well chilled, on a hot summer's day to get that light feeling that allows you to slip into 'French mode' easily. About 7km from Saumur at Parnay, you can taste and buy red and sparkling Saumur-Champigny wines from the troglodyte caves of the Château du Marconnay.

Doue-la-Fontaine

Wouldn't be the first place people would choose on a visit to the Loire but here you will find one of the best zoo parks in France - we visited without kids (ours are grown up) but it should impress even today's hard-to-please children.
Zoo de Doue is located in the town of Doue-la Fontaine which is 17KM south west of Saumur. It is well signposted off the D960 bypass around the town. Its inconspicuous entrance belies the experience that awaits the visitor. On entering, you are immediately transported into the most unexpected of environments and the feeling of being in another world. Its position, within the excavations of an old quarry, makes it an ideal place to visit, even on the sunniest of days, as you are provided with plenty of shade from the varied plants and trees as well as the natural caverns of the quarry. Children will find the habitat as much fun as viewing the good collection (over 600) of animals.
The enclosures are built in such a way that you feel you are walking amongst the animals (not a cage in sight) and unlike some zoos the majority of them actually look very comfortable in their environment. There are many opportunities to watch the animals being fed during your visit with the vulture pit being an unusual experience -although not for the faint hearted!
The kids will love the pygmy hippopotami as they can be viewed under water swimming only inches away from you.

You will have a great day out here with the kids and although you have options for eating on-site you can also take a picnic -- don't forget to get something for the animals.

As you explore the Loire Valley you cannot fail to notice the abundance of dwellings dug into the slopes and rock faces of the landscape. These are referred to as troglodytes and are the results of the local people's desire to use their environment to its full potential. The tufa stone that these dwellings are cut from is soft, manageable and easy to work, so they had the double benefit of selling the quarried stone while creating a living space for their families. The troglodytes have the advantage of staying at a fairly constant 12 degrees centigrade thus making them a good all year round habitat that provided heat in winter and cool in summer as well as good protection from the elements.
Less obvious are the troglodytes that are cut out of plains as the only indication of their presence is the odd chimney top peeking through the ground! These were more likely dug as a means of protection and as a place of concealment from any potential invaders plus in times of hardship and shortages they offered a good alternative, easily sustained habitat.
A very good example of this is the Troglodyte village of Rochemenier which is in the commune of Louresse-Rochemenier 6 km NW of Doue-la-Fontaine, just of the D761. Part of the troglodyte village has been retained as a museum to a way of life that was still in existence in the 1930's. You are presented with a plan which leads you through the twenty rooms of the village consisting of two ancient farms with out-buildings and houses plus a spectacular underground chapel carved out of the rock. As you reflect on how it must have been to live in these small dwellings you are shown a modernised room that you could survive relatively comfortably in today. The impression given however is that the village's inhabitants must have been really 'close' to have lived in such a tight knit community. This is a good place to take children as apart from the historical interest they'll love exploring the caves --- oh and by the way-"MIND YOUR HEAD!"

Montreuil-Bellay

We actually stumbled on Montreuil-Bellay during one of our drives from the coast heading for Tours, it is ten miles south of Saumur overlooking the river Thouet. The town retains almost all of its medieval walls, making it one of the last fortified towns of the Anjou region. Its strategic location on the borders of Anjou, Touraine and Poitou made the town grow to have an important regional administrative function (subsequently transferred to Saumur) in the years prior to the French Revolution, this accounts for the number of fine houses in the town. The earliest fortifications date back to the 11th century. The current chateau ,which doesn't seem to get promoted much, was added later, its fortified gateway leads to a 15th century house which is worth a wonder round with the ancient wine cellars the highlight, no photographs can be taken inside the building. It is a pleasurable walk through the gardens down to the river and there are some great views from the chateau. There is a good choice of restaurants by the chateau and the river. You will also find by the river "Promenade J.R.R.Tolkien" which has given rise to the stories of Montreuil-Bellay once being a holiday home of the writer and the chateau and its surroundings being inspirational in forming some of his literal locations.
During the French Revolution the castle was seized by the revolutionary government and used as a prison for women suspected of being royalists. In 1860 the daughter of Saumur businessman Adrien Niveleau,(who had bought it in 1822) undertook occupancy and set about a major restoration campaign, redoing some of the rooms in the Troubadour style. Descendants of her husband's nephew are the current owners of the property.
The town has on open-air swimming pool open during May-September. There is a market every Tuesday and Sunday morning (from mid-May to mid-September).There is also a second-hand market on the first Sunday of the month. Château Montreuil-Bellay is also the name of a fine wine of the area
Loches-Montresor

Loches

Loches, in Southern Touraine is a riverside town with a medieval complex including a dungeon, a royal abode, a collegiate church and old houses which will provide you with a unique history lesson. It is a pretty town with a welcoming feeling that stays with you during you visit.
The river Indre runs through Loches - its twisting current making it challenging for anglers who like to fish along the banks, right in the heart of town. Cave-dwellings and troglodytes abound along the river valley, carved out from the white, chalky limestone typical of the region. The town has many fine cafés, bistros, and restaurants.
The town is renowned for its tourist attractions... an outdoor summer opera festival, classical, jazz and rock concerts, 'son et lumiere' performances, medieval nocturnal markets as well as biweekly fresh produce markets (sat & wed). The 'Petit' train takes tourists round the town several times a day, allowing them to take in the many monuments and interesting facts of Loches.

Within easy walking distance there are 2 museums, municipal tennis courts and outdoor /indoor swimming pools which have breathtaking views over the chateau and medieval city. Gourmet cafe terraces, restaurants, shops of all kinds, a small well stocked supermarket, a post office, a pharmacy, banks, are all at hand.
Montresor

We only did the drive-by here - pretty village with chateau dominating it from above - we had the feeling that we may have actually visited it many years before -but it was late at night when we drove through.

The cities-Tours -Angers-Le Mans

Tours

We spent a week in Tour in 2004 using it as our base for touring, its proximity to the majority of tourist attractions made it ideal. We stayed at the Harmony Hotel (themed rooms with musical names) which was well placed, competitively priced and very comfortable. We were back there this year (2006) when we stayed right in the centre opposite the train station in the Best Western Grand Hotel.
It is the principle town of the Loire Valley with a well preserved heritage which rests easily against its vibrant modern and dynamic image of today. You can sample the old Tours by visiting the popular Place Plumerau with its carefully restored half-timbered townhouses. The area is packed with café/bars and restaurants of every kind and everything from aperitif to late night coffee is catered for. A stroll through the old quarter day or night offers many distractions and delights. Rue Colbert which lies midway between Place Plumereau and the cathedral is gaining a reputation as one of the most fashionable streets in the city for its young population. You could spend weeks here and still not sample all the culinary delights the city has to offer.

For those who wish to seek out the culture of the city there are many fine monuments and museums. The Cathedrale St-Gatien with its flamboyant Gothic façade is an imposing piece of architecture both by day and by night. Musee des Beaux-arts is a fine provincial museum in the Palais des Archeveques and is worth a visit to view its rooms and gardens alone but there are also works by Rembrandt, Degas and Houdon to be savoured. A visit to the Tourist Office opposite the spectacular railway station will give you all the information you need.

Tours benefits from a number of parks which offer a tranquil retreat. The vast Jardin des Prebendes, with its lake, is only a stones throw from the city's historical centre and offers an ideal place to shade from the hot summer sun.

Modern Tours offers many opportunities for shopping or just browsing with pedestrian areas full of small boutiques and large department stores to tempt you. In the area near the railway station you will find shops selling clothes, jewellery, leather goods plus much more. There are also more than 30 markets held throughout the city offering everything from flowers to antiques to fresh fruit and veg.. One of the liveliest is the Marche Gourmand held on the first and third Fridays of the month in place de la Resistance.
As you stroll through the city you can only but admire the freshness and feel of the place and understand its attraction, not only for tourists, but for the French people themselves, many who see it second only to Paris.
Although lying between the Loire and its tributary the Cher the city does not seem to feature them to any great extent although driving in and out you cannot help but notice their presence and effect on the landscape.

When driving to or from the city it is best to use the autoroute and pay the tolls as it can be a bit confusing finding your destination otherwise-or maybe its just me!

Angers

Angers, capital of the historic province of Anjou and western gateway to the Loire Valley, is a city that is both medieval and contemporary providing a high quality of life to its 160,000 inhabitants and plenty of interest for its visitors. The city abounds with lakes, rivers, landscaped parks, museums and galleries as well as an excellent choice of gastronomic restaurants. The fact that it is a university city gives it a youthfulness which manifests itself in the many street entertainers, festivals and carnivals that are to be enjoyed.
For a cultural visit the ancient 13th century fortress is a must. Here you can overlook the city from its soaring towers and get a feeling of the security it once provided. The castle houses a tapestry museum that includes the famous 140 metre long Apocalypse series tapestries of Nicholas Bataille(they're awfully long!). A walk down its cobbled streets that wind through the renaissance and gothic neighbourhoods on their way to the market place is a walk through time where you get a feel of the charm of the place
Among its other notable structures the twin-spiralled Cathedral of Saint Maurice (12th-13th century) is well worth a visit. View it from the fountain at the bottom of the steps to its square and you'll appreciate it more after the accent! If you are visiting the Loire Valley a visit to this fine city should be high on your agenda as you will leave with a desire to return. Here we stayed in the local Ibis hotel, a chain we find comfortable, consistent and well signposted if you are touring and looking for an overnight stay.
Angers is also home to the famous Cointreau liqueur.
Located 15 km from the city of Angers the Château de Brissac one of the principal châteaux of the Loire Valley (we haven't been yet).

Le Mans

We only stayed in this lovely city for one night (again in a well placed Ibis hotel) during one of our tours of the region. Its 'old town' (Vieux Mans) is really charming with its half timbered houses and restaurants. Even though the 24 hour race is the city's main claim to fame we resisted the temptation to visit the famous race track preferring to wander through the local market, on place du Jet-d'Eau, below the cathedral on the new town side, and the old town. You can still see parts of the old Roman wall that used to surround the city as well as evidence of a 3rd century amphitheatre. The Cathedral of St. Julien in its prominent position is stunning. Another place we will return to some time in the future.

We have stayed overnight in Orleans but did not really get a chance to see much as we were heading back to catch flights home at the time but again we hope to return sometime in the near future.

I hope my Loire Valley Experience has been informative and will encourage you to visit this wonderful part of France and tell you friends that here is a country with good food, good wine, good weather and a great sense feeling at ease -what more could you want from a holiday, 'bonnes vacances'
You can view info plus photographs at www.loirevalleyexperience.com

© Jim Craig 2006

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Comments on this review

  • tranx published 05/10/2006
    Very thorough review. I got it in the neck for the same guide book thing (about a car in my case) and wanted to overhaul after the first flush of readings. Not being heavily into travel it was hard to take it all in and more comment would instead have been welcome to get an easier picture. Clearly a lot of care and work already but would comment again if
  • Essexgirl2006 published 03/10/2006
    A great first review. Keep it up!
  • torr published 03/10/2006
    Welcome to Ciao. An immensely detailed and informative first review, though perhaps reading a little too much like a guidebook/history book, rather than conveying your own experience, impressions and opinion. I hope we'll see more from you here though. Duncan
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Product Information : Loire Valley (France)

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Listed on Ciao since: 03/07/2000