Visiting Loire Valley in France: Magnificent Castles and Outdoor Activities : Travel Weekly

For Francophiles, the idea of ​​choosing a favorite region is almost like choosing a favorite child. Can’t be done.

That said, if I had to, I’d set my sights on the Loire Valley, a popular but not intrusive destination that hooked me when I was a student in Paris and never let go.

At the time, it took hours by train to get from Paris to Tours, the de facto capital, from which one left in all directions depending on the time and disposable income one had to spend. .

Enter the 1990 TGV high-speed rail service, which connects Paris Montparnasse station to Tours in around an hour, and all that changed – putting the Valley of the Kings within easy day-trip distance. .

But just because you can get to and from Paris in less time doesn’t take a lot of people to get to work than you should; making the area a base for a multi-day stay is an even better idea.

The castles

There are more famous castles in the region than you could count, but 42 of them are considered exceptional enough to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

It is important to note that this is not about “I’ve seen one, I’ve seen them all”, as each castle is unique and reflects the personality of the French royal who commissioned it there. centuries old – like a country house, a hunting lodge or a place to stash a mistress or two.

First-timers to the region will probably want to visit at least a few of the larger ones, including Chateau de Chambord, Chateau Royal d’Amboise, Chateau de Villandry and Chateau de Cheverny.

The water mirror effect on the Château de Chenonceau which spans the Cher. Photo credit: ADT Touraine/Loic Lagarde

A personal favourite, the Château de Chenonceau, spans the River Cher and has an intriguing history that includes a passage as a conduit for people fleeing the Nazis during World War II.

Additionally, castles often host seasonal events, such as light shows at night, wine tastings, and concerts.

Or spend a few days in castle towns that are a little less likely to attract busloads of tourists, like the Royal Fortress of Chinon, whose hillside ruins – complete with interior lighting – overlook a charming town with winding cobbled streets, caves for wine tasting – don’t skip the Chinon rouge – and dozens of restaurants vying for your attention.

Art lovers can enjoy the Leonardo da Vinci Galleries, which opened at the Château du Clos Lucé in the summer of 2021, or the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, whose galleries and gardens have undergone a massive restoration. in 2017 and whose reflection in the Indre River, creating what is called a water mirror, has been the subject of countless photographs.

The kitchen

Those of us who like to eat across France will find something to tempt our palates in the Loire Valley.

Chef Christophe Hay, for example, named Chef of the Year 2021 by the Gault & Millau guide and recipient of two Michelin stars for his restaurant La Maison d’à Côté, will move this summer to a new house, the Fleur de Loire https ://fleurdeloire.com/fr/ in Blois. Formerly owned by the brother of King Louis XIII, the new five-star hotel and gourmet restaurant will offer 44 rooms including 11 suites, a bistro, a pastry shop, a swimming pool and a spa signed Sisley.

Or check out chef Catherine Delacoute’s menu at Lancelot, an abandoned former farmhouse and now gourmet bistro near the 16th-century Chateau de Chamerolles in Orléans. Delacoute has the particularity of being a true knight and having already worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Orléans.

The village of Sancerre, known for its white wine, is also the Slate of the Michelin-starred Marche, by chef Julien Médard and which offers cuisine combining local and Asian influences.

More Michelin-starred cuisine is available at L’Evidence in Montbazon and overseen by chef Gaetan Evrard, whose tasting menu consists of five courses.

Vines in Sancerre, known for its white wine.

Vines in Sancerre, known for its white wine. Photo credit: D Darrault/CRT Center VdL

Nature

Looking to get rid of all that good food? The Loire Valley offers everything from walking and hiking trails to horse riding and kayaking.

Brenne Regional National Park, for example, offers a dizzying 250 guided excursions – or you can simply stroll among the 1,600 plant species, including wild orchids, and keep an eye out for the many species of animals and birds.

The French royal family at the time indulged in a form of one-upmanship with their gardens, and the results are always spectacular, attracting serious horticulturists as well as onlookers who can’t tell one flower from another.

Among the gardens to discover are the Ainay water gardens at the Château d’Ainay-le-Vieil, which date from the 16th century; the Domaine de Poulaines of 26 hectares with its arboretum of more than 1200 plants; and Le Jardin de Marie near Sancerre, with its masses of colorful flowers in spring and autumn.

Or time your trip to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the International Garden Festival at Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire from April 21 to November 6, with special events scheduled during the event.

To get around, you can of course rent a car, but the Loire Valley is cyclable. The Loire à Vélo offers circuits suitable for beginners, families and experts.

Hotels

La Maison Tatin in Sologne opened its doors in June on the site of the former Hôtel Tatin, where the famous tarte Tatin was created in the 19th century.

Each of the 16 rooms features work by local wildlife photographers, and yes, guests can try the Tarte Tatin in the tea room or restaurant. In the planning stages are a spa with a steam room and a sauna.

Opened this summer in the medieval city of Loches, the four-star hotel de la Cité Royale will be housed in a 19th-century building that was once the Palais de Justice.

The 45-room property will have a spa, swimming pool, lounge and restaurant overseen by chef Christophe Vasseur and views of the Cité Royale de Loches, one of the medieval towns best preserved in France.

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