A Weekend Away: The Loire Valley
Back in April, we left Paris for a weekend. We were bound for the Loire Valley to see the countryside, visit the grand chateaux and familiarize ourselves with the wine of the Loire region. It was one of my favorite weekends in France thus far.
We spent three days driving all over the Eastern part of the Loire with Steve's parents. We based ourselves in two Loire cities - Saumur and Amboise. We saw a lot, but we may have done a little too much for a weekend. Maybe I got too excited? The cities were just a tad far away to let us really enjoy and explore our surroundings.
Read on to find an overview of our trip to the Loire complete with photos.
First stop: Chambord
From Tours, our entry point to the Loire Valley, we made the drive west to château country. Unfortunately, we didn't factor in opening times when we set out with our rental car. The first stop on our itinerary, though closest in terms of kilometers, wouldn't open for almost two hours. So we took a detour and ventured to Chambord.
Chambord is the biggest chateau in the Loire and one of the most recognizable thanks to its architecture, a combination of Renaissance and medieval styles. Chambord was used as a hunting lodge with vast grounds (from up high, you can see green for miles), which meant it wasn't suitable for long-term living. Each time the king and his entourage visited, they brought in all of the furniture, food and other necessities. Such a beautiful place that was almost always empty! I read that the king was there for a grand total of... 7 weeks.
After our morning visit to Chambord, we were famished. The city of Blois welcomed us for a delicious lunch and a quick walk around town. After that, we set out for Chaumont, a château with spectacular gardens during their summer garden festival. Unfortunately, we couldn't give it the time it needed - instead we booked it to Saumur to check into our hotel (we had a very small 2-hour window).
FRIDAY IN Saumur
The highlight of our trip to Saumur was the next morning. We explored on bike, pedaling our velos on a bike path the took us right up to the river. Unfortunately, part of the path was flooded so we had to turn back. But despite the gray skies, it was a refreshing little jaunt to start the day. After turning in the bikes, we had lunch at Le Pot Du Lapin. Steve got the lapin, aka rabbit.
A WINE STOP IN Chinon
Stopping in Chinon was a must-do for us as they are known for making some of the best reds in the Loire. Though many of the tasting rooms were closed, we were able to stop into La Cave Voltaire, a place we had heard about and were excited to visit. Here, the owner (I assume) poured us a few different whites and reds. He told us the story behind the vineyards, the growing regions and the grapes. We hung onto his words and were enchanted enough to take a couple bottles home with us: one or two for drinking and one for aging.
My Favorite: Amboise
We arrived in Amboise right around 6pm. It gave us just enough time to check-in and freshen up before driving to Clos Lucé, the last home of the Leonardo da Vinci. We got there minutes before they sold the day's final ticket and rapidly took in the sights. The best part of Clos Lucé? Playing with life-size models of da Vinci's inventions in the garden.
My favorite meal of the trip was in Amboise at Le Patio. We had a delicious three course meal, complete with amuse-bouche and petits fours, for just under 35 euro per person. It was an amazing value for delicious meal that melded traditional French cuisine with inventive forms and flavors. Only one semi-complaint: the table was right by the door so it was a bit awkward and cold. But that's our bad - we didn't have a reservation.
We stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast just outside of Amboise (but still walking distance to downtown). Our host was perfection with a joyful laugh and a positive attitude. She served breakfast in the morning (with damn-good homemade jams) while her two horses, one llama, a Great Dane and a cat were milling about, just outside the windows. I would highly recommend La Maison Blanche in Amboise. It's comfy, cozy and welcoming.
We capped off this portion of the trip, (Amboise was seriously my favorite), with a Sunday market excursion. It was held along the river where people sold everything from garlic bulbs to mattresses.
This beautiful château is perched right above the water and was the home to both the mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and the widow, regent Catherine de Medici, of King Henry II. It originally was gifted to Diane from Henry, but after his death, Catherine wanted it (naturally). She forced Diane to trade Chenonceau for Chaumont. It was a bit of a rivalry, even when it came to the handiwork you still see today. Diane had the bridge made, but Catherine built a grand gallery on top of it. Diane created an ornate garden, but Catherine one-upped her and established another, even more exquisite, on the other side.
I loved learning about this château and all the famous (and infamous) women who inhabited it. Strolling the corridors, climbing the stairs, descending into the kitchen, and wandering the gardens, everything we saw was incredible. This château is straight out of a fairy tale.
FYI: Another fun fact about Chenonceau - during WWII, the château was a way to escape the Nazi-occupied side of the River Cher. The other side, reached through the gallery, was the free zone.
I hope you enjoyed our weekend escape to the Loire Valley. We plan to return, maybe on a biking / camping trip. But I would love to hear your suggestions on what to do or see the next time I go!