The beautiful Loire Valley, with its romantic chateaus, the flowing river and the picturesque countryside.
A couple of hours from Paris’ Montparnasse station, and we are in a different world – the beautiful Loire Valley, with its romantic chateaus and vineyards, the flowing river (from which it derives its name) and beautiful bridges, cobblestones and church spires, and the picturesque countryside with its walking and biking trails.
Tours, Amboise, Orleans and Blois (pronounced blwa) are the towns which you can base yourself in while you explore the Loire Valley. We chose Blois and arrived in this small but pretty town on a quiet morning. And rolled off my tongue rather fashionably!
We settled down for lunch at the Cote Loire Auberge Ligerienne restaurant and looked for the menu. A big blackboard, with the day’s menu handwritten on it, was stood up in front of us by the owner of the Auberge. Not quite sure what to expect, we ordered soup, fish, and a berry dessert. Oh my God! The food was fresh and fantastic, and the berry pudding my particular favourite.
Of over a thousand chateaux – big and small – that dot the valley, we chose the Cs first – Chambord, Cheverny, and Chenonceau. Chambord was the grand Madame – towers, turrets, courtyards, a grand staircase, and stark spaces, harking back to the medieval times. A highlight is a double spiral staircase designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. Strolling in the castle and the gardens, we were transported to another time.
Next was Cheverny or Tintin Castle! We entered the grounds and were greeted by what sounded like hundreds of barking dogs! About that later… A compact and beautiful chateau, Cheverny has been in the possession of the Hurault family for more than 600 years, and is still lived in.
Crammed with beautiful furniture and objet d’art, the inside was a typical stately home, but it was the beautiful tulip gardens and the kennels that I enjoyed.
The kennels at Chateau Cheverny are home to over a 100, still-active, hunting dogs – a mix of the English foxhound and the French Poitou. Since Cheverny was the inspiration for the Belgian cartoonist, Herge’s Marlinspike Hall, it is also called Tintin Castle!
Then, we went on to Chenonceau – one of most unique chateaux, designed by a woman, and built on the River Cher.
We rounded off our chateau trail with a visit to Chateau Blois – with its unassuming exterior. Step in and be transported to a totally different world – a cool staircase, and the largest and best preserved non-religious gothic hall in France.
The chateau is on a promontory with great views of the town, the church, and the flowing river.
The Maison de La Magie – dedicated to the history of magic – is an added attraction in Blois. Every hour, you get to witness the dragon act, with golden, shaking and hissing, dragons, popping out of the many windows of the Maison that face the square. Not my cup of tea though.
One thing did grab my attention; leading down from the Chateau into town is the stage for young boys who hurtle down the steps, practising their BMx tricks! The region has hundreds of cycling and walking trails and our next morning was a spent in a combination of a short cycle ride and a walk. If you wish, you can even walk the 15 kms to Chateau Chambord from Blois!
The valley is also home to many good wines. So, look out for wine tastings at the local wineries, and tasting menus at the many local restaurants dotting the valley.
On our last night in the Valley we had dinner at La Creusille à Blois on Quai Henri Chavigny overlooking the river. It has a lovely terrace and a cosy restaurant. Again, the dessert stole the show – it looked like a work of art and tasted even better. A relaxed and delicious meal with wine from the region – a lovely way to end our short break in the valley.
I have found time to travel to many countries and live in 2 countries (3 if Scotland ever does becomes one!) and 6 cities during my career in finance. I was a diplomat first and started in the Indian Foreign Service with my first posting being Paris – The City of Light. And began my lifelong love of travel and coffee there! An MBA followed and I’ve been in finance since.