There is an area of the Loire Valley known as Touraine, one of the traditional provinces of France. One of its most important cities was the Royal City of Loches. During the political reorganisation of French territory in 1790, Touraine was divided between the departments of Indre-et-Loire, Loir-et-Cher, Indre and Vienne. It’s a land of castles, picturesque villages, historic towns and a tapestry-like landscape of vineyards, forests, apple and pear orchards and fields of flowers.
A medieval time warp
Strangely, the Royal City of Loches which sits on the bank of the River Indre, isn’t at the top of Loire Valley must-sees – and yet it is utterly enchanting. Most people are swept off their feet by the Renaissance glories that pepper the Loire Valley such as Chambord and Chenonceau, so the older Chinon and Loches tend to be overlooked. But do that, and you’re really missing out on a gloriously cultural and historic, not to mention delicious, part of the Loire Valley.
The castle of Loches
An imposing 1000-year-old castle is perched atop a hill dominating the pale stone medieval town spread at its feet. There are no modern buildings here, it really is pickled in the past, even the town hall is in a 500-year-old building that looks like a castle. And there is a medieval city within the city.
It was here, in the great hall of Loches Castle, that, after her victory against the English at Orleans, Joan of Arc persuaded the Dauphin to go to Reims to be crowned King Charles VII. A defining moment in French history. The King’s mistress, the beautiful Agnes Sorel died at Loches aged just 28, and her alabaster tomb in the castle is exquisite.
Famous inhabitants of Loches Castle
Agnes Sorel was a great beauty and the King adored her. But she moved to Loches to keep out of the way of the King’s son who hated her, some say he poisoned her. She had a great influence on the fashion of the time, and wasn’t averse to creating a scandal with her open bodices. She left her wealth to the Church of Saint Ours in the town, where she wanted to be interred. Though the church leaders abhorred the ‘immoral woman’ and didn’t want her there, they overcame their distaste enough to take the money. And the tomb. It was moved some years later to the castle of Loches.
It was at Loches the nasty King Louis XI, son of Charles VII, hung small iron cages from the ceiling. Then he would lock up those who displeased him for years on end. The overflow of prisoners ended up in the dungeons including Ludovica Sforza. He was the Duke of Milan and one time patron of Leonardo da Vinci, who lived the last years of his life not far away in Amboise, a guest of Francois 1er.
What to see in Loches
The upper town is reached by a chest-thumping walk up a hill. But it’s worth it. It’s a town for wandering, with sloping cobbled streets, walled gateways and elegant squares. Wednesdays and Saturdays are market days.
Don’t miss: The Lansyer Museum, former home of artist Emmanuel Lansyer (1835-1893, considered to be one of the best landscape painters of his time. The museum feels as though he still lives there, and presents many of his paintings. There are great views over the city and the Royal Gate Terrace from the romantic gardens.
Dine out: Arbores et Sens. Pass through a bijou terrace with a magnificent wisteria canopy to a stunning restaurant with a tree in the middle. As you listen to birdsong, feast on tiny amuse bouches like works of art, and seriously, I mean seriously, delicious food. Refined but not stuffy. A very talented chef, local-born Clément Dumont was awarded a Michelin Star in March 2023.
Locals love: Restaurant Les Racines dans les assiettes. This is where the locals go if they want a slap-up meal and a good glass of wine. 12 Place de l’Hotel de Ville.
Aperitifs at: Terrace bar of the Best Western Hotel. This was the former Palais de Justice, and there are stunning views over the royal city.
Stay at: Hotel Le George in the centre of town. Beautifully decorated big rooms, there was a huge fireplace in my room. legeorge.com
What to see near Loches:
Nip to neighbouring Beaulieu-les-Loches to explore the tiny town which was once more important than Loches. Home to the 11th century Holy Trinity Abbey, now the town hall. You can reach the village by bike or on foot, via the Prairies du Roy (King’s meadow), an eco-tourism site. It’s an enchanting village where you’ll spot Maison Agnes Sorel and the gorgeous allotment gardens kept by the locals.
Vineyards are being reintroduced to the area around Loches – at Montrésor for instance, a plus beaux village de France. This little gem has an ivy-covered castle with gorgeous gardens. In July and August as dusk falls, wander along the river to enjoy the free light show – the Nuits Solaires.
Smell the roses at the lovely village of Chedigny, famous for its display. Read more about it.
Off the beaten track in the Loire Valley
Have a picnic in the forest of Chinon. Or wander the pretty village of Saint-Benoît-la-Forêt where Louis XI kept his falcons.
Take a detour along the route de Trogladytes. The tufa stone that was dug out to create castles, abbeys and mansions left behind a labyrinth of underground passages. Some of them have been turned into homes, workshops and wine caves.
In the village of Rivarennes you can taste the famous local Poire tapée – dried and flattened pear.
In spring don’t miss the beautiful village of Crissay-sur-Manse and the Vallée de la Manse, famous for its host of golden daffodils.
This area is so rich in history you come across one gem after another.
Visit Loches in the Loire Valley
Loches can be reached from Tours by train in around 60 minutes. Tours is easily reached from Paris by train (from one hour).
Take a guided tour of the area by e-bike with Loire Brakes to discover off the beaten track gems and have a slow travel experience that takes you to the heart of the Loire. Loirebrakes.com
Find details of events, accommodation, what to see and where to go at: touraineloirevalley.co.uk
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Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream, My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online. Her new book How to be French – a celebration of the French lifestyle, is out in October 2023 – a look at the French way of life.