This Loire Valley Wine Guide was written for the Destination Guides section of www.shermanstravel.com, according to their rather rigid formatting guidelines. The article is reproduced below.
Rich in natural beauty, French history, and diverse yet lesser known wines, the Loire Valley is most famous for its many renaissance chateaux.
1. Cities and Towns
Tours The largest city in the Loire is a vibrant university town with lively cafes, nightlife, extensive shopping, and a historic medieval quarter.
Orleans The most famous of the several cities associated with Jean d’ Arc, Orleans was the capital of medieval France. Though heavily bombed in WWII, the largely pedestrianised town center still has a number of historic buildings and pleasant squares and gardens.
Sancerre Atop a high hill, this charming town offers spectacular views of the surrounding vineyards. Several excellent Sancerre wineries offer tastings in town.
Chinon The ruined 12th-century fortress-chateaux of Chinon towers over this picturesque town on the banks of the river Vienne, in the heart of the Loire’s most famous red wine region.
Bourges Somewhat off the beaten track in the southeast berry region, the town of Bourges is notable for its well-preserved Gothic architecture.
Saumur With a fairytale chateau towering above the river, Saumur is filled with architectural treasures dating to the 12th century. Noted for mushroom cultivation and sparkling Saumur wine, it’s also home to the French National Equestrian School.
Angers A lively and populous city spanning the river Maine, the imposing Chateau d’ Angers is a massive fortress of 17 towers enclosing delightful gardens and parks.
Amboise Well located as a base for touring the Loire chateaux, the small town of Amboise offers a fine selection of hotels and restaurants. Towering above is the jewel like Renaissance-era St. Hubertus chapel.
2. Things to Do
Chateaux of the Loire The most famous attractions of Loire Valley are its many historic chateaux, which range from medieval fortresses to elegant Renaissance palaces: Chambord, Chenonceau, Azay-Le-Rideau, Villandry and Saumur are open daily.
Cycling and walking The region has the longest network of dedicated cycling and hiking paths in France, with many following picturesque rivers and connecting important towns and historic sites. A scenic nature ride might take you along from the historic Briare canal bridge to Sancerre, but maps for many itineraries are available on the official website.www.loireradweg.org
Abbaye de Fontevraud Founded in 1101, this aristocratic abbey is the largest and perhaps most beautiful in France, with Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance buildings, extensive grounds, and even a hotel and restaurant in the old hospital. Fontevraud, l’Abbeye; 33 2 4251 7141; www.abbeye-fontevraud.com; daily 10-5; $10
Gardens The Loire region is dotted with dozens of spectacular gardens. Vegetables have nowhere looked more decorative than at the formal potager jardins at the Château de Villandry; Villandry; +33 2 4750 0209; www.chateauvillandry.com; and acres of flowers await at Parc Floral de la Source du Loiret Orleans; Avenue de Parc Floral (8km sw); 33 2 3849 3000; www.par-floral-la-source.com. See all the gardens at www.jardins-de-france.com.
Troglodyte caves Carved into the soft tufa rock in the region around Saumur, the so-called “troglodyte” cave dwellings are unique to the Loire Valley. These unusual caves, some dating to the 12th century, often have elaborately carved facades, and house barns, wine cellars, churches, and even residences. Well preserved dwellings can be visited in the village of Montsoreau (near Saumur); ruelle Bussy d’Amboise and Chemin du Coteau; www.ville-montsoreau.fr
Son et Lumiére These nighttime sound and light extravaganzas are a feature of many Chateaux from June through September. Part spectacle and part theatre they combine light, music and actors to create interactive experiences that can range from kitschy fun to breathtaking beauty. The Songes et Lumiéres at Château Azay le Rideau is one of the best, and can be explored at your leisure. Azay-le-Rideau; rue de Pineau; 33 2 4745 4204; http://azay-le-rideau.monuments-nationaux.fr; entry from dusk to midnight nightly, July and August, fri-sat June and September. $10
3. The Wines
Sancerre Flinty, world-class Sauvignon Blancs; the Pinot Noirs are usually light, but can be excellent in good vintages. The road to the village is lined with producers, but one of the absolute best has a friendly shop on the town square—where they will insist you taste everything that hasn’t already sold out. Alphonse Mellot; Sancerre; 33-2-4854-0741; www.mellot.com
Muscadet A coastal white varietal, and the perfect wine for shellfish. A warm welcome awaits at Michel Petiteau. Vallet; 451 La Chalousière; 33 2 4036 2015; www.domaine-chalousiere.com
Pouilly-Fumé Distinctive, smoky Sauvignon Blancs, among the Loire’s best whites. Welcoming producers (www.pouilly-fume.com for a comprehensive English language website) include Marchand Eric et Pascal. Pouilly sur Loire; 8 et 9, Rue des Pressoirs, Les Loges; 33 3 8639 1461
Vouvray Dry, off-dry, or sweet Chenin Blanc; off-dry Vouvrays are especially versatile with food. Typical of the many small French producers, the Daniel Jarry winery looks unimposing, but creates a range of excellent wines. The winemaker himself, if available, will guide your tasting and perhaps offer a tour of the cellars. Daniel Jarry; Vouvray; 99 rue de la Vallée Coquette; 33-2-47-52-78-75.
Coteaux du Layon A sweet Chenin Blanc with a complex flavor and a 1,500-year-history.Domaine Cady offers daily tastings along with other Anjou wines. St Aubin de Luigné;
33 02-4178-3369; www.domainecady.fr
Bourgueil Friendly reds with a hint of bell-pepper, made from Cabernet Franc (a spicier cousin to Cabernet Sauvignon). Try the excellent wines of Pierre-Jacques Druet. Benais; Le Pied Fourrier; 33 2 4797 3734
Chinon Versatile Cabernet Franc reds; locals swear they can detect an aroma of violets. A fine producer in a spectacular setting, Château de la Grille is also easy to find on the road above Chinon and maintains normal business hours. Château de la Grille; Chinon; Route de Huismes; 33 2 4793 0195; www.chateau-de-la-grille.com
Chateau de la Verrerie Part museum and part private residence, the 12 spacious rooms at this Renaissance chateau will have you living like royalty. Aubigny-sur-Nère; Ozion; 33-2-4881-5160; From $250; www.chateaux-france.com/verrerie
Le Clos d’ Amboise A beautiful 16th-century manor house set in a walled 3,000 square meter park in the heart of Amboise. Swimming Pool. Amboise; 27, rue Rabelais; 33-2-4730-1020; From $130; www.leclosamboise.com
Hôtel de L’ Abeille This quirky budget hotel in the heart of Orleans has much to recommend it – low prices, friendly reception, a pleasant lounge/bar, free wi-fi, and a terrific location. Orleans; 64, rue Alsace Lorraine; 33-2-3853-5487; From $85; www.hoteldelabeille.com
Hostellerie Gargantua This inexpensive family-run hotel occupies a 15th-century former palace and each of its seven rooms is unique. Chinon; 73, rue Voltaire; 33-2-4793-0471; From $90; www.hotel-gargantua.com
Hostellerie du Chateau de l’Isle, Chivray A charming, quiet hotel in a renovated 18th-century manor house on the banks of the Cher, only few minutes drive from the famous Château de Chenonceau. Civrey de Touraine; 1, rue de l’écluse; 33-2-4723-6360; From $120; www.chateau-de-lisle.
Manoir de la Giraudiere A pleasant country hotel in a 17th century manor/farm surrounded by Chinon vineyards. The 25 rooms are simple but pleasant and the hotel is especially family friendly; Located among vineyards a short drive from Chinon. Chinon;Beaumont en Véron; +33 2 4758 4036; from $90; www.giraudiere.com
Pavillon des Lys An amazing, creative, gourmet restaurant at a reasonable price. Two fixed multi-course menus (one vegetarian) change nightly. Amboise; 9, rue d’Orange; 33-2-4730-0101; set menus at $40 and $48; www.pavillondeslys.com
L’Epicerie This cute, family-run restaurant has an extensive menu and a long list of local wines. Offering good food and excellent value, it’s packed with locals. Amboise; 46, place Michel Debré; 33-2-4757-0894; Entrees from $16
Au Plaisir Gourmand At this elegant 19th-century townhouse, the chef handles elaborate preparations flawlessly; nothing disappoints. An extensive wine list showcases the great Loire wines. Chinon; 2 rue Parmentier; 33-2-4793-2048; Entrees from $30
L’Aigle d’Or Near the Chateau of Azay le Rideau, the regional cooking here is excellent: country terrines, veal with morels, fresh fish, and sweetbreads. Good desserts and great service, too. Azay le Rideau; 10, avenue Adélaïde Riché; 33-2-4745-2458; Entrees from $21
Auberge du XIIe Siècle Drawing on the astoundingly rich culinary history of the Touraine area, chefs Thierry Jimenez and Xavier Aubrun offer an absolutely classic French dining experience. Saché; 1 rue du Château; 33-2-4726-8877; Entrees from $32
6. When to Go
High season July—August
All of Europe is on holiday, leading to major crowds and traffic; and the Loire is a particularly popular summer destination.
Low season November—April
If you’re lucky with the weather, November, and especially April, can be great. No crowds, but some establishments close during the chilly winter months.
Shoulder season May—June and September—October
The best of (mostly) good weather, beautiful scenery, seasonal foods and events, but with limited crowds. Still, make reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.
7. Getting There
Airports Almost all flights from the U.S. will arrive at the sprawling, and somewhat confusing, Charles de Gaul (CDG) airport outside Paris, with a convenient high speed rail link to Tours. There is a regional airport at Tours, but it is irrelevant: even flights booked from the U.S. directly to Tours will connect by train from CDG. There are also frequent trains from central Paris.
Airlines All major airlines fly from the U.S. to Paris, with Air France offering the most direct fights from the most U.S. cities. Connection to the Loire Valley from either CDG or central Paris is by train.
Flight times 11 hours from the west coast, 7 hours from the east coast. Allow an extra 3 to 5 hours for flights involving a change of plane. The TGV train trip to Tours takes approximately one hour.
Wine tastings Winemakers in the Loire are generally welcoming. Larger producers have shops with tastings in right in the towns of their appellations. For smaller producers, follow the signs for the route des vins—here you may meet the winemakers, but consequently opening times are erratic and English is rare. Note that it’s considered polite to buy at least one bottle.
Rent a car A car is essential in the countryside. French roads are meticulously maintained, and well signposted. Still, a detailed map or road atlas is essential. Reserving your car from the U.S. will save you considerable money.
Meal times You must arrive for Lunch between 12.30 and 2pm and for dinner between 7.30 and 9.30pm. Outside of those times, your only option is likely to be a (delicious) take-away snack at a boulangerie or charcuterie. Making reservations for dinner is polite – and often essential.
Explore regional wines in local restaurants Even modest establishments in wine areas will have an extensive list of local wines. Ask advice and be adventuresome.
Double check your train station Trains leave Paris from six different stations – as well as CDG airport – and many regional cities have more than one station. Tickets should be stamped at machines on the platforms immediately before boarding.
Don’t want to go it alone? Organized tours abound. Choose from everything from expert wine tasting tours to escorted bicycle tours. Detours in France can do it all for you: wine, bike and walking tours; group and self-guided; in three different price/comfort levels. From $800; +33 3 8022 0603; www.detours-in-france.com
Getting wine home Wineries will generally not ship to the U.S. due to complicated state and federal regulations, and you can no longer pack wine in your carry-on. Pad your bottle in a hard-sided suitcase and it will likely survive even the roughest luggage handlers.
Hotel restaurants Most country hotels also have restaurants, many of them excellent. While they can range from rustic to gourmet, most feature regional specialties and fresh local products. The Chateau de la Verrerie, Chateau de Marcay, Hostellerie du Chateau de l’Isle, Manoir de la Giraudiere all have fine restaurants.
9. More Info
The French Government Tourist Office Comprehensive website with travel information, events, listings, and newsletters. Once in France, there’s a tourist office in almost every town to provide local information and assistance – all in English. http://us.franceguide.com
The Loire Valley Tourist Board Maintains its own comprehensive website with plenty of trip planning aids, including a monthly e-newsletter filled with events and discounts.www.visaloire.com
The Rough Guide to French Hotels & Restaurants an English translation of GuideRoutard, the reliable and annually updated guidebook used by the French (no relation to UK-based Rough Guides).
Le Centre des monuments nationaux Information on government-owned historic monuments and sites. www.monum.fr
Logis de France This association of 3600 independently owned hotel-restaurants is an invaluable travel resource; last-minute bookings available by phone or online. 33-1-4584-8384; www.logis-de-france.fr
Chateaux & Hotels de France An association of privately owned luxury hotels and restaurants, Chateaux & Hotels represents over 500 historic hotels, châteaux, and resorts throughout France. An easy to use website (in English) enables you to browse properties and their amenities, search by a wide range of criteria and book online.www.chateauxhotels.com