The Loire Valley AKA the Valley of Kings is brimming with castles. There are historic towns like Tours, Amboise and Orleans. And then there are the villages, pretty enough to be on the lid of a chocolate box. Several villages in the Loire Valley are on the official list of prettiest villages in France, just perfect for popping on your itinerary. Find out more about them and how close they are to the famous chateaux…
Crissay-sur-Manse (top photo) is in the heart of the Touraine region in Central Loire Valley close to Chinon, Tours and the fairy tale castle of Azay-le-Rideau. Its narrow streets are lined with medieval houses and tufa, white limestone The church, built by Jacques 1st of Crissé in 1527 and restored in 1867, is listed as a historical monument. The castle, partly destroyed during the Hundred Years War and rebuilt in the late 15th century on the foundations of an ancient fortress can be visited on request via the tourist office.
Don’t miss the fountain of the Huguenots, the village washhouses, the wash of Gruteau or the Grand Moulin. Sainte Maure cheese is made at a farm in the town. Locals drizzle it with Crissay honey, or marmalade and eat it with gingerbread. A must see is the town’s famous wine cellar in a 15th century house where you can taste the AOC wines of Chinon.
One evening in June 1857, writer George Sand discovered the village of Gargilesse beautifully lit at sunset and it was love at first sight. Sand bought a house and lived in the village for five years. It’s now a museum, dedicated to the memory of the novelist who was one of France’s most popular writers in the mid 1800s.
The still used 12th century church of Saint-Laurent-et-Notre-Dame has wonderful frescoes, especially in the Crypt. Musée Delaveau is dedicated to the artist, Serge Delaveau. There’s also a chateau which hosts exhibitions and local festivities. And there is a lovely pottery shop run by well-known potter Guy Baudat.
Garillesse-Dampierre is a little over an hour from Valencay with its marvellous castle.
In the heart of the Berry region, Apremont-Sur-Allier is dominated by a castle surrounded by a stunning park. Designed by Gilles de Brissac, the park has been awarded the “Jardin Remarquable” status. There’s also a museum in the former stables dedicated to carriages and hosting art exhibitions. The beautifully restored medieval houses in the village make it a fabulous place for a wander.
Apremont-Sur-Allier is less than an hour’s drive from historic Bourges with its quirky Chateau de Jacques Coeur.
Medieval Saint-Benoît-du-Sault is in the province formerly known as Berry, around an hour and half’s drive from the town of Bourges with its castle and cathedral. The village is renowned for its orange-coloured stone buildings. 15th and 16th century houses line the streets and there is a former Silversmiths workshop, now a listed historical monument. The 18th century priory is perched on a rocky outcrop and hosts exhibitions and performances. The Romanesque St. Benedict church has a beautiful granite baptismal font.
On the first Tuesday morning of each month, Saint-Benoît-du-Sault holds a monthly fair. There’s an annual summer Eva Ganizate festival, created in homage to the opera singer who was born in the village. Concerts are held in the Church of Saint-Benoît-du-Sault and in villages around. In August the villages hosts The Suspended Time festival dedicated to baroque music.
Saint-Benoît-du-Sault is on the edge of the Parc Naturel Regional de la Brenne.
Nestled along the side of the River Loire, this village with its white limestone buildings is authentic and picturesque. It’s next to the town of Montsoreau, another listed Plus Beaux Village de France (Pays de la Loire). In fact there is a saying that goes ‘You can sleep with your head in Montsoreau and your feet in Candes.’
Cobbled alleys of rose-clad ancient houses rise in tiers and offer stunning views over the rooftops and to the meeting of the rivers Loire and Vienne.
Don’t miss a visit to the Church of Saint Martin which has superb stained glass windows. Built in the 11th and 12th centuries, then fortified in the 15th century, it’s where you will find the tomb of St. Martin of Tours. Legend has it that when the former Roman soldier turned Christian missionary travelled from Chinon by river to Candes-Saint Martin. As he travelled, despite it being mid-winter, all the flowers blossomed along the banks as he passed by. He died aged 80 in Candes.
The Street Art Parc of Chateau de Moh, formerly the Castle of Candes, has a collection of more than 40 monumental art works in a forest. The Nicolas de Barry Parfumerie makes for an interesting visit. A boat ride by traditional wooden gabares offers memorable views over the town and the countryside. Close to the royal fortress town of Chinon, Fontevraud Abbey and the Chateau of Saumur, Candes Saint Martin is well worth adding to your Loire Valley itinerary.
Less than an hour’s drive from Tours, Amboise and Blois, perched high above the Valley of the Loire you’ll find the ruins of the Chateau de Lavardin. To reach the castle, cross a gothic bridge over the river. Then you’ll wander along flower-filled lanes lined with medieval houses which lead to the castle. It was pulled down centuries ago on the orders of Henri IV in order to stop local and religious squabbles. There are magnificent views from the sentry walk.
Stop off at the 11th century Saint-Genest Church to see the ancient biblical themed murals on its walls.
Perched on a rocky mountain spur dominating the Rimarde valley, Yèvre-le-Châtel is an alluring little village. It’s home to a medieval fortress with towers and ramparts. Plus, there’s a medicinal plant garden whose small entrance fee pays for the flowers in the village. There’s also a châtelet, a small castle and rampart walk, as well as two churches. The narrow, flower-bedecked streets are lined with charming houses. The ruins of the Gothic 13th century Church of Saint Lubin church are quite mysterious and there are glorious views over the countryside from its location. Yèvre-le-Châtel is around 45 minutes’ drive from Fontainebleau with its opulent palace, and very close to Pithiviers where the famous sweet puff pastry pie of the same name comes from.
More on the Loire Valley
Taste of the Loire Valley – restaurants in the shadow of chateaux, and delicious local recipes
The Chateau d’Anet, not on the tourist trail but the former home of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henri II, is stunning
Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire, it’s gorgeous gardens are the Kew Gardens and Chelsea Flower Show of France