Originally I didn’t want to visit the Loire; I wanted more days down south. I’d stayed at Tours for days and visited several châteaux 26 years ago, on my backpacking trip so felt it was a case of wanting to see something new. But Mr S really wanted to see some châteaux. So for Mr S’s benefit, I planned four nights in the Loire Valley – two in a BnB in the countryside and two in the old part of Tours.
I am so glad we came. I saw different things and saw a couple of châteaux I’d previously seen with fresh eyes. And now I want to go back to see the châteaux in their Christmas splendour.
I picked our first château purely by chance, seeing it on the map, as we had time before our BnB would be available and the chateau was on the way. Châteaux are not castles, more large manor homes with fake, stylised elements of fortifications.
The Château du Rivau was a good lucky pick. The gardens and chateau were filled with quirky artworks. And of course, beautiful flowers. (One of the peacocks is alive! Can you pick which one?)
Who wouldn’t want to sit here on this bench? (Everywhere was declared with pieces of fruit and autumnal vegetables.)
Joan of Arc prayed here. So one room is set up as a chapel, which it probably was used as originally.
The BnB was fantastic. We ate a three course dinner there with accompanying wines both nights with other guests. Aperitif (local sparkling wines and homemade liquors) was served in the cave under the house. The accommodation was more than a bedroom. We had two massive rooms at the top of a remodelled barn.
Our next castle, the Fortress of Chinon, was a true castle – in terms of being fortifications on a hill. There were actually several castles here – from different time periods, and used in battles over the centuries. We walked where Richard the Lionheart and Joan of Arc, again, walked.
And we got to dress up and practice our jousting skills.
We visited the town called Richelieu, planned by Richelieu, whose name crops up everywhere around the Loire, being a powerful cardinal and nobleman. The town was designed as the ideal town in the seventeenth century. It was lovely to walk around the large park, with rows of trees, flower beds, canals, wild cyclamen and chestnuts.
Sorry to harp, but look at the narrow entrance.
After checking out of the BnB, on our way to Tours, we visited Villandry. The gardens here have to be on everyone’s list. Such artistry! Such precision! And such healthy plants – colourful and profuse.
In Tours we were metres from the large square, surrounded by cafes and restaurants, all lively and full. Tours is a university town and the young people party all night. Although our apartment was above several discos that opened after we were in bed, we slept well as the noise didn’t disturb us.
After the success of our small group tour in the Dordogne, I decided we’d take a small group tour to visit some châteaux. There was only one other couple on the tour, so it was a very small group!
We visited two castles, Chenonceau and Chambord. Having the guide, who studied art and history at university, made the trip. Instead of trooping through every room, she picked key rooms and key artworks to relate the story of the building and residents.
The flower displays inside Chenonceau were beautiful and the story of the lady residents – this castle is also called the Ladies’ Château – moving. The long hall extends over the river. Although, really a manor house, châteaux had to have elements of castles, such as a keep. Both Villandry and Chenenceau have towers from earlier castles on the site. Both also had moats.
Chambord, in all its extravagance and folly and decorative details, is my favourite. The couples split and we walked up the “double helix” staircase, going up at the same pace but never meeting.
Lunch on the tour was at a wine cave. Given our previous visits to caves, including at the BnB, this was not such a novel experience for us. The wine cave did have interesting displays where you could test your ability to identify keys scents in wines and a well-done light and sound show on the making of wine and the caves. Before our lunch, which was OK, we had a wine tasting. I failed on detecting the scents, but enjoyed my glasses of wine anyway. No spitting out for me, or anyone else at the lunch.
Again, I’d strongly recommend the small tour company we went with – Loire Valley Tours.
We returned our car a day early as we were going on the tour the day our hire period was up. Never have I been so glad to get rid of a car. SUVs, when French ones, are not made for the parking spots in France.
Paris was a quick TGV trip away.