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Guide to Sancerre, Loire Valley

View from a hill top terrace over the vineyards of Sancerre, Loire Valley

Sancerre is a beautiful, ancient hilltop village wine town. It’s located in the heart of France, in the department of Cher in an area known as Berry Province and you’d be hard put to find a more enchanting town anywhere in France…

Maison des Sancerre

The first place to head to is the Maison des Sancerre. This high tech museum that takes you through the history of wine made in the area. Sounds dry? Not a bit of it – it’s an innovative exhibition full of fascinating facts and featuring holographs and merry drinking songs. It ends with a fabulous wine tasting on the terrace with stunning views over the countryside.

And the views really are magnificent from all over this nest-like medieval village, but especially so from the Tour des Fiefs. This robust stone tower is the only remaining vestige of the town’s 14th century castle.

What to see in Sancerre

Vintage looking butcher's shop in Sancerre, Loire Valley

Sancerre is a sleepy sort of place. Outside peak summer months, you’ll hardly meet a soul in the narrow steep streets that are lined with turreted houses. Pale pastel coloured shutters perfectly compliment ancient doors, wrought iron balconies and pitched roofs. Even in the summer it’s not exactly teeming. But, the square becomes lively and the shops and wine bars do a brisk trade, as this little town is firmly on the wine tourism route.

600 years ago, John the Magnificent, Duc de Berry (brother of Charles V of France) visited Sancerre and declared “the wine of Sancerre is the best in the kingdom.” Who are we to disagree?!

Delicious goats cheese and gastronomy

Thimble-sized goat cheese called Crottins in a tubThe perfect food to enjoy with your glass of Sancerre is the locally made cheese, thimble-sized Crottin de Chavignol. It was first produced in the 16th century. Just 3.5km from Sancerre, at La Ferme des Chapotons in Menetou-Ratel at the foot of Chavignol, the family of Madame Godon create the most scrumptious little crottins. I promise you, they’re delicious nibbled in their tasting room with a glass of Sancerre.

For a more substantial meal, Chef Baptiste Fournier at La Tour Sancerre serves utterly delicious dishes which perfectly compliment the local wines. Or try L’Auberge Joseph Mellot, one of the oldest restaurants in the town, pleasing diners since 1882.

Around and about Sancerre

Facade of the Chateau of Chambord, immense with multiple towers like pepper pots

There’s plenty to do and see in the area, The Chateaux de Chambord and Blois  are only around 1.5 hours away by car. Activities range from hiking, cycling (including cyclo railing on a disused railway track) and golf. Or you could go canoeing at nearby St Satur where the Sancerre vineyards were first planted by monks in the 12th century. But don’t, whatever you do, miss a visit to Bourges. The Cathedral City is not as well-known as some of the other Cathedral cities of France and isn’t on the main tourist route. It should be though, since this is a truly fascinating town to visit.

Street view in Bourges, Loire Valley, cobbled street, half timbered buildings

Many assume the word bourgeois comes from Bourges but it’s actually from the Celtic Bourg, meaning town. Once the capital of France, Bourges boasts 500 half-timbered houses (more than any other French town. It has Roman ruins (it was besieged by Julius Caesar in 525BC) and a castle. There are winding cobbled streets and a whole lot more.

Gorgeous gardens and lush countryside

While you’re there, visit the beautiful gardens of the Marais. And, have your mind boggled by the majestic beauty of the 12th century St Etienne Cathedral with its spectacular 800 year old stained glass windows. Take a food break in a Roman tower at the Salon de Thé (74bis rue Boubonnoux). And explore the 15th century Palais Jacques Coeur, built by the man who financed Joan of Arc’s campaigns and saved France from financial ruin.

Garden seat woven from wicker and shaded by vine at Priory of Orsan, Berry, Loire Valley

The countryside of Berry is filled with vineyards and walnut orchards, lush valleys and forests, crossed by rivers and streams. It’s peppered with picturesque hamlets, magnificent chateaux and turreted manor houses. A must-see is the Priory of Orsan which has the most exquisite medieval gardens. This is a place that’s made for exploring – and for tasting the divine wines that come from the fertile soil.

www.tourisme-sancerre.com

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