Chinon in the Loire Valley is rich in both culture and history. La vielle ville (the old town) is nestled between the Château on top of the hill and the river Vienne and for many generations, it was the home of kings and the seat of Government. Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine lived and kept the Royal Treasury in Chinon. Richard the Lionhearted was born there and Joan of Arc went to Chinon to meet with Charles VII.
Geraldine Smith reviews Chinon and the Hotel Diderot in the town…
The royal fortress sits majestically watching over its domaine, located high on the banks of the river Loire, right in the centre of the city. A former residence for the Royal families of both France and England, you can sense the historic significance of the site from wherever you are in this beautiful city. I had been keen to stay in the centre of Chinon, so that we could explore at length the narrow streets and buildings that were packed around the base of the fortress. The charming streets are lined with medieval houses, many of which date back to the 1400’s, making the town an excellent place to wander in wonder. I made an excellent choice when choosing to stay at Hotel Diderot. At night, while walking back to the hotel through silent, dimly lit streets, we marvelled at who might have walked these same cobbled streets so many centuries ago.
Hotel Diderot is owned by Laurent Dutheil and his sisters Francoise and Martine, and is a beautiful 15th century building filled with quirky furniture and antiques (a real draw for my antique loving husband). The bedrooms look out over a beautiful courtyard garden, lovingly tended by Laurent. After a day of sightseeing it is a lovely place to sit with a glass of wine, before taking a short stroll into the city centre for the bars and restaurants.
I was struck by the great pride the Dutheils take in providing their customers with the finest produce, sourced from highly valued local suppliers. We knew this because on the main staircase hung a series of large, stylish, black and white photographs of each of the hotel’s suppliers. The baker, the fresh fruit supplier, the honey supplier, the walnut supplier – the list goes on!
The hotel breakfasts are famous for showcasing Laurent’s home-made jams. Around fifty different flavours, all laid out for the guests’ delight each morning along with the freshly baked bread, goats’ cheese, honey and walnuts. Some of the jars were labelled with riddles or quotes rather than the jam flavour. Breakfast became a game with Laurent as we tried to guess his varieties like apple, pear and quince; green tomato and lemon; persimmon; apple and lavender; pear and vanilla, and my favourite – aniseed.
We left having fallen under the spell of Chinon and the Hotel Diderot…
Don’t miss in Chinon
Château De Chinon: The city’s most famous monument is the magnificent Château which was built in 945 by Theolbald I, Comte De Blois. It has remained largely unchanged over the centuries since its restoration by Emperor Napoleon III. A highlight for the visitor is the clock tower, over 115 feet high! Website: www.forteressechinon.fr
Château Du Rivau: One of the most spectacular and enchanting Châteaux in the region, Château Du Rivau is easily accessible from Chinon. Particularly lovely are the fairy-tale gardens. Website: www.loire-castle-rivau.com
Museum of Art and History – The museum in Chinon is notable for claims that it housed the supposed remains of Joan of Arc which were later exposed to be the remains of an Egyptian Mummy. There is an impressive collection of artwork and visitors can explore the history of the region and it’s most famous heroine, Joan of Arc.
Couly Dutheil Vineyard tour – A visit to one of the great wine estates in the region is a must. Domaine Couly Dutheil has beautiful vineyards and excellent wines for tasting.
The charming centre of Chinon. Rue Voltaire is cobbled and lined with houses, shops and restaurants in beautiful old buildings, many of which date back to the fifteenth century and the reign of Francis I. In fact there are nearly 20 streets of medieval wood frame houses in the pedestrianised part of the old town. You’ll also see the step where Joan of Arc mounted her horse to go and meet the Dauphin, later to be Charles VII.
Chapelle Sainte-Radegonde – half built into the rock-face outside the town. An underground natural spring at the back of the chapel was a site of pagan worship which became Christian in the 6th century.There are two naves created in the 12th century, one carved directly out of the rock, and there are outstanding and colourful paintings, including the “Royal Hunt”, depicting five riders, two with crowns, another one holding a falcon on his wrist. It is said that the painting depicts members of the Plantagenet family who often stayed at Chinon in the second half of the Century.
Geraldine Smith is a travel writer