The Loire Valley is famed for its lengthy history of Kings, political intrigue and exquisite chateaux. Many are world famous but there are some less well-known gems that make for a perfect two-day visit.
Chateau du Rivau
Small but perfectly formed, the Chateau du Rivau is a genuine medieval castle which has been painstakingly restored. It is unusual because the fabulous formal gardens, orchard and woods feature superb contemporary art including a giant teacup, rubber boots and legs. It is quirky and gorgeous with a surprise around every corner. The interior is richly decorated and filled with art. The castle holds several events year round including a glorious pumpkin festival. There’s an excellent onsite restaurant too. Perfect for a half day visit with lunch.
Close by, the town of Richelieu is well worth a trip. Built under the instruction of Cardinal Richelieu, the powerful chief minister of Louis XIII, it is a model “new town” built in the mid-1600’s. The walled town was built on a grid arrangement with two enormous squares. Outside the town the wealthy Cardinal built a Chateau for himself in the style of Versailles, in part using stone plundered from the fortress at Chinon. The Chateau has long gone, but the remaining parkland area gives a good idea of the huge scale.
For one of the most wonderful views in the Loire Valley, stand on the banks of the Vienne river opposite the town of Chinon looking up at the redoubtable fortress. In March 1429 Joan of Arc arrived here to inform King Henry VI that she had heard voices directing her to go to him and help to fight against the English invaders. These days the fort is a major visitor centre after a 14 million euro investment in restoration.
There are plenty of places to enjoy dinner and stay in Chinon.
Loches and Montresor
If you’re in Loches on Wednesday or Saturday, it’s the perfect place to start your day with an hour at the fabulous market. Get there early and park in the railway station car park.
Afterwards, enjoy the architecturally spectacular climb to “the Cite”.
From here it is a short drive through the forest to Montresor, officially one of the prettiest villages in France. Visit the pretty castle, and enjoy lunch in the town.
From here head to Chateau Montpoupon, near the famous chateau of Chenonceau. Slightly off the beaten track, it houses a museum of hunting, horses and the art of riding. The rooms are beautifully furnished from the King’s Chamber to the kitchen, filled with copper pans.
You can fit these visits in two days, but three days means you can take your time to really get to know this rather hidden part of the Loire Valley.
Andy Simpson lived in France for several years before settling in Devon. He blogs at: blackbirdwoodindevon.blogspot.com