Lately, my blog entries have been featuring many of my favorite châteaux in the Loire Valley. Known as the “Garden of France,” the Loire Valley is equally famous for the châteaux built by kings and nobles. The Loire Valley is situated in central France. Flowing 634 miles from the Cévennes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, the Loire River is the longest in France. Thanks to the TGV, the high speed rail service, it is possible to get from Paris to the heart of the Loire in under an hour. If you’re thinking about spending some time there, here are some of the places I’ve enjoyed in my trips:
The Best Itinerary
Day 1: Start in Tourswith the old city and cathedral. Day 2: Check out the town and Château d’Amboise in the morning and cycle to nearby Château Chenonceau in the afternoon. Day 3: Visit historic Chinon from which the Plantagenets ruled England and half of France. It was here that Joan of Arc convinced the Dauphin to claim the throne of France. Day 4: Spend the morning in Azay le Rideau for its Château and the afternoon in nearby Château de Villandry. Leave lots of time to explore the extensive gardens. Day 5: Spend the morning in Blois and visit the Château de Blois; in the afternoon, take the shuttle to the Châteaux of Chambord and Cheverny. You can either move from town to town each day, or stay in one central town and take the train or drive to the next location. The distances between each town and château are very modest. July and August are considered the “high season” and special events such as Sound and Light shows at the châteaux and extra train runs are more widely available. At other times of the year, take careful note of the train times so as not be stranded for several hours between trains. You can pick up a booklet listing all the train runs at any station.
The Best City
Tours makes an excellent home base from which to explore the region. It is a rail hub and it is easy to get to any other town in the region from here. The medieval Old Town features beautiful half-timbered houses along narrow, twisting streets. At the center of it all is Place Pumereau, a bustling square filled with open air cafés, faced with 15th century houses. Stay at Hôtel Mirabeau for clean, relatively large rooms and bathrooms, a warm welcome, and convenient location 5 minutes walk from the train station. Eat at le Mastroquet, 19 place Gaston Paillhou (les Halles).
The Best Restaurant
Au Rendez-Vous des Pêcheurs in Blois specializes in local sea food. Be prepared to spend the whole evening and about $100 per person for the prix fixe menu, without wine, for an extraordinary gourmet experience that delivers more than you expected at every turn. The service is warm and attentive and the food is truly memorable with unusual food pairings such as red pepper and raspberry sorbet. We collectively drool at just the mention of the name of this restaurant.
The Best Way to Spend an Afternoon
Rent a bike at one of several shops in Amboise and cycle along the well-marked path to the beautiful Château de Chenonceau 7.5 miles away. The path traverses the lovely Forêt d’Amboise, passes through fields of wheat and oats edged with poppies and other wildflowers and farming villages. Yes, there are some challenging hills, but you’re on vacation with nothing to prove; walk your bike to the top if it becomes too much like work. The trip down the other side of the hill is a blast!
The Hôtel Diderot is a lovely old family home built in the 15th century and restored in the 18th century converted to a small hotel by a team of two sisters and a brother. The rooms are much larger than average and attractively furnished and decorated. There is a lovely garden lining the patio where you can take breakfast or you can eat in the country style dining room with beamed ceiling. Either way, you will be offered an assortment of homemade jams that are simply delicious.
Hot, fresh baguettes and chocolate croissants are baked on the premises of Hôtel le Blason, which also dates from the 15th and 18th centuries. Whoever said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day definitely ate here.
Today’s expression, être plus royaliste que le roi (etruh ploo royaleest kuh luh rwah), literally means “to be more royalist than the king.” It refers to people who embrace ideas that are even more radical than those who first espouse them. Whether you are tracing the route taken by Joan of Arc, exploring the kingly life in a château, or in search of fine wine, the Loire Valley has much to offer. Enjoy your stay in the Valley of the Kings!
Loire Valley (Eyewitness Travel Guide)