If Francophiles could annex a region in France, it would most likely be the département of Indre-et-Loire. Also known as the Touraine region, it lies about 200 kilometres southwest of Paris and encompasses all you could hope to find in a sojourn in France.
What makes Loire Valley holidays unique?
This is a part of France that is both grandiose but also tranquil. Massive yet muted.
Archetypal châteaux garlanded with turrets and pepperpot towers adorn a scenic riverain and sylvan landscape. Local vignerons produce a multitude of styles of wine amidst some of the most serene pastoral scenery in France.
It’s no wonder that the region has been accorded the epithet “The Garden of France”, enticing the gastronome in every traveller with at least a morsel of every French regional cuisine.
Architecturally the region is a veritable mélange of styles. This region of the Loire Valley is most noted for its Romanesque, Flamboyant Gothic and French Renaissance manor houses and castles. All this in an area not much larger than Melbourne or Manchester.
Indre-et-Loire is the quintessential France.
The capital of the Touraine, Tours, is well named: the ideal point of departure for a Train+Vélo (train and bicycle) tour of the region.
Were Tours to be located anywhere else but Indre-et-Loire, so richly sown with breathtaking historical edifices, it would doubtless be a highlight destination in itself. The multitude of storybook châteaux in the vicinity however does tend to overshadow her somewhat.
Nonetheless if you do have the time Tours is a fascinating city to explore. At least be sure to see the cathedral of St-Gatien, the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the engaging 15th century half-timbered houses clustered around Place Plumereau in the old town.
Scarcely 10 kilometres out of Tours you will stumble across Vouvray, an obligatory pit stop for accomplished and aspiring oenophiles alike.
The dry Vouvrays come from the Chenin Blanc grape (which the locals call Pineau de la Loire) and are arguably the best whites of the whole Loire region. The Office de Tourisme de Tours (Visitor Information Centre) here will direct you to various vignobles for wine-tasting, but be forewarned if you intend to practice your French.
Ask for les dégustations des vins and you will be rewarded with friendly and animated directions to free wine-tasting sessions. Ask for les vins dégoutants however, then be prepared to be met with a bemused yet sympathetic smile, for you will have just asked for disgusting wines!
A truly magnificent way to experience the vineyards and architecture of the region is from above. And no we don’t mean by releasing a noisy drone skywards but rather by taking a serene balloon flight. Ascending silently, but for the bombast of an occasional burst of flame, into the skies. It is an ethereal experience and the world beneath , if possible, looks even more fairy-tale and storybook.
Regardless of your method of transport here you will be sure to savour the many enticements of Vouvray.
Château de Chenonceau
Whether or not you visit Chenonceau on the same day as your Vouvray antics hinges upon the extent of the vigerons’ generosity at your wine-tastings. It will also depend how long you spend marvelling at the Gothic and Renaissance style château at Amboise.
Here Leonardo da Vinci is buried near his late-life home of Château du Clos Lucé. From Amboise, you will find the Château de Chenonceau a pleasant 10 kilometre bike ride away, through the misty Forêt d’Amboise.
There are no words – in English or in French – to adequately describe the sensations you feel upon catching your first glimpse of this magnificent château.
As a boy I marvelled at countless photographic slides of Chenonceau taken by my father in the 1960s. Because of those images I vowed, at the age of ten, to one day make the pilgrimage myself.
In forty years, the quality of the Kodachrome slides has faded, yet in four-hundred years Chenonceau has become even more sublime.
Unmissable and unforgettable in equal measure.
Part 2. The Top 5 Loire Valley chateaux.
More Information on Loire Valley holidays.
Information on Ballooning in the Touraine.
More information about Chateau de Chenonceau.