The Loire Valley is a picturesque region of France renown for its fairy-tale chateaux, historic villages, stone houses, wine, and wonderful cuisine. It is south west of Paris and a seven-hour drive from Brussels.
In 2000, UNESCO added the central part of the Loire River valley to its list of World Heritage Sites. We had toured this area fifteen years ago and visited many of the larger chateaux so this time we selected smaller ones to visit.
A Castle?? A Chateau?? What is the difference?
A chateau (plural chateaux) is a very large French country house, often giving its name to wine made in its neighborhood. It is usually the residence of the lord of the manor or a country house for nobility. They are usually found in France, with the largest grouping in the Loire Valley.
A Castle is a fortified residence (designed for defense), usually for prince or nobleman, a fortress.
"Chateau" is not interchangeable with "castle". Most châteaux are described in English as "palaces" or "country houses".
Chateau de Villandry
Chateau de Villandry was our favorite. It was completed around 1536 and was the last of the large chateaux built in the Loire Valley during the Renaissance period.
They allowed us to take photos inside, which is very unusual. I was intrigued with the beds. Oh would I love a bed in nook like this.
Throughout the Chateau they had fresh flowers. No other Chateau did this - it was a nice touch.
In 1906, Joachim Carvallo purchased the property and he put an enormous amount of time, money and devotion into repairing it and creating what many consider to be the most beautiful gardens in France.
It is famous for its Renaissance gardens, which are laid out in formal patterns created with low box hedges. In 1934, Château de Villandry was designated a "Monument historique" and is a World Heritage Site. It is still owned by the Carvallo family.
One of the most beautiful sections is the ornamental gardens made up of several "gardens of love". Here, boxwood hedges are trimmed into heart shapes, connected by white, red and pink begonias.
It certainly was the garden of love....while we were there, eight couples were getting married. All at the same time! We watched the entire service - sweet.
Behind the ornamental gardens there is an artificial lake - complete with swans (his mate was off to the side).
There are vegetables and herbs growing in the tradition patterns of the gardens that used to be planted by the abbey monks.
On the walk out, there are long terraces lined with grape vines with the most beautifully colored grapes I have ever seen.
The Royal Château de Blois was the residence for many kings and queens (including the famous Queen Catherine de Medici) and where the Archbishop of Reims blessed Joan of Arc in 1429 before departing with her army to drive the English from Orléans. The statue below at the entrance is of King Henry XII.
Built in stages between the 13th and the 17th, it has undergone several renovations over the centuries. The dominant styles are Gothic and Renaissance. It has 564 rooms; 100 are bedrooms and every room has a fireplace. It is most famous for its spiral staircase shown below.
Chateau de Beaureguard
Château de Beauregard was built around 1545 and has been inhabited without interruption since the late 15th century. The castle of Beauregard is hidden behind the foliage of the forest of Russy.
As we walked through the lovely forest we discovered interactive art displays, like these over-sized bird nests with giant eggs.
We had fun climbing inside of the bird nests to take a few photos.
We also stumbled upon this interesting guy. It is called arion rufus or the red slug. Most people report their color as orange (like this one), not red as the name implies. They live in the woods around the vineyards, preferring the dark and moist ground to the bright sun. It was approximately three inches long. D almost picked it up as he thought it was a rubber toy.
The Cheyron du Pavillon family now owns the Chateau and reside here. Must be odd to have so many people visiting your home while you are living there.
Chateau Azay-le Rideau
The Château of Azay-le-Rideau was built between 1515 to 1527 and is one of the earliest French Renaissance châteaux.
Built on an island, its foundation rises straight out of the water.
Over the centuries, it changed hands several times until the early part of the twentieth century, when it was purchased by the French government in 1905 and restored for visitors. The interior was completely refurbished with a collection of Renaissance pieces.
The Chateau at Saumur
Chateau de Saumur was originally constructed in the 10th century. In 1621 the castle was converted into an army barracks. Two centuries later it was converted into a state prison under Napoleon Bonaparte. We did not tour the inside of this one.
A few more chateaux....
Priory of Saint-Cosme - Ronsard's Residence
The Collegiate Church of Saint-Martin-de-Tours founded the priory in 1092. In 1565 Pierre de Ronsard, a very famous poet in France, was gifted the priory from the King. In 1565, Catherine de'Medici (Queen of France married to KingHenry II) visited him along with her sons. Ronsard died in 1585 and his remains are buried there today.
We stayed at Le Lavoirdu Coteau a lovely gîte. It looks quite simple from the outside...but inside was beautiful.
A gîte is a French holiday home that is available for rent. Gîtes are usually fully furnished and equipped for self-catering. To be called a gîte, the owner must live close by in order to provide help if needed.
Gîtes are generally old farm worker's cottages or converted outbuildings and barns. The building below is the owner's house and had the most gorgeous interior I have ever seen - magazine quality. Don't you love those big old doors?
The house was an old vineyard/barn that they refurbished. Our room is the one on the far wall; the windows were where our loft bedroom was. One evening the owners, Anna and Richard, invited us to join them for a glass of wine. She spoke very good English; his English was about as good as D's French so they both got to practice. It was a fun evening.
Here is our cozy living room. It had a lot of character with the beams and the stone floor. I wish it had been cold so we could have had a fire.
But the trade off for a fire was a grill! A real treat for us. We ate our lunches out and grilled dinner every night we were there. A very happy D grilling.
And a happy D relaxing with a glass of local wine.
We went to a very nice restaurant for lunch one day. The menu had multiple courses; fresh pea soup, foie gras with figs, lacquered tomatoes with fresh goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette (one of our favorites), ravioli with lobster and a foam sauce, samosa of duck confit, ten desserts - YES I SAID TEN....
We really enjoyed the bottle of wine we had with lunch. This area is said to have some of the best white wines in France. D looked up the wine, Domaine des Aubuisières, and it was produced in the village we were staying in, Vouvray.
So we went for a visit to the vineyard where they make the wine. D saw the owner (recognized him from an article he read on-line) and said bonjour Mr. Fouquet, may we purchase some wine from you? D explained we had a bottle in the restaurant and really enjoyed it (D did this all in French). Mr. Fouquet invited us into his tasting room.
He was so nice. We purchased a case; he rang up the sale himself, boxed the wines and insisted on carrying it to our car. And this vineyard is rated as one of the top two in the area. We were very impressed and very happy we found the wine!
This is where the wine is made. Domaine des Aubuisières is a fairly small producer.
Another unique and very interesting feature of this area are the stone cliffs with houses built into them.
The stone is called Tuffeau stone and the caves were created when they mined the cliffs in the 15th century.
Many of the caves were converted into houses as well as the larger ones are used for growing a wide variety of mushrooms, which are transported daily to the markets in Paris. The Loire is the largest supplier of mushrooms to Paris.
As we drove around we were in awe of these stunning houses. There are hundreds of them. The photos do not show the real beauty of these structures.
The little house below is just down the street for our gite. Can you see the chimney coming out of the grass?
The sunflowers were in full bloom. I love a good sunflower field for a photo shoot. They are such a happy flower : )
I hope you enjoyed the Loire Valley. We sure did!