The River Loir sparkled in the sun below us. The fifteen-minute flight from the airstrip near La Fleche had been the high point of our trip and a very good way to start our holiday. Our pilot pointed out villages and Chateaux that we could visit later. To our surprise we even saw a sandy beach neatly set alongside one of the many lakes.
The charm of exploring the Valley of the Loir lay in the great number of small roads that took us through woods, vineyards and hamlets. La Fleche was the largest town we visited. We arrived on market day and it was overflowing with plants, cheeses, handbags and clucking hens. We strolled the picturesque streets, took in the ‘Prytanee’ the military college founded by the French King Henry IV in 1605 and relaxed at one of the many pavement cafes to enjoy coffee and a ‘croissant chocolat’ that seemed to melt in the mouth.
At the campsite at Chartre sur le Loir bicycles could be hired and in glorious sun we soon found ourselves, on the edge of the town, peering into gardens along the Rue des Caves. Vegetables were being cultivated in serious quantities, flowers grew tall in the warmth, and at one house, in place of a hedge, grapes grew on the vine. We also noticed that there was the occasional large door into the hillside behind the houses. These proved to be entrances to tunnels leading to a network of rock cellars hewn out of limestone. This was the same stone that had been used to build many a Chateau along the Loir. We were guided round one such ‘cave’ by Ludwic Gigo, who, holding up a bottle that was as old as himself explained that all the work in producing the wine continued to be done just by the family. Recesses were stacked with bottles and huge barrels. Later we tasted a selection and bought some of the ‘Jasnières’ wine. It went well with goat cheese from the local market.
One of the great things about buying direct from the grower, apart from the fascinating and informative guided tour, is that you get quality wine at bargain prices.
CANOE AND CHATEAU
I have happy memories of a two-hour canoe expedition on the Loir.
Suitably kitted out we were taken upstream and launched into a lazy world where dragonflies skimmed across the water and families picnicked by the riverside. There was mild excitement as we slid over mini chutes at a couple of weirs. We drifted downstream enjoying the sound of the wind in the willows, the breeze in the trees and the ripple on the river.
Our aquatic wanderings took us eventually to the Chateau du Lude. To get a real feel of life in yesteryear you climb down the winding stone stair to the kitchens. We did, and absorbed a little of the atmosphere along with much of the wood smoke from the oven fire. During the French Revolution The Marquise de Vieuville, (the ancestor of Conte Louis Jean De Nicholay, the present owner,) was popular with the locals and was one of the few aristocrats who managed to ‘keep the head’ when all about her were loosing theirs. Apparently she did not say, “Let them eat cake!”
Which brings us on to food. When you cycle, canoe or walk you certainly work up an appetite and sleep well. We had good value later in our holiday when we stopped for lunch at Beaumont-Pied-de-Boeuf, a little village on the edge of the forest of Berce. (A good base for cycling and walking holiday.) The Auberge Relias du Cheval Blanc there is run by a friendly couple, Evelyne and Philippe Cauchois. Philippe, who in addition to being an excellent chef also has a passion for photography. Some of his work adorns the walls in the inn. It is a pleasant place with WiFi in the rooms and a small swimming pool, I would plan to stay there on a future visit.
Using the local Michelin maps and GPS we navigated our way through one village after another and from Chateau to Chateau. Of the latter, the one at Baugé, was impressive and while we were there we visited the 17th Century apothecary’s store at the old hospital nearby. It was stacked from wooden floor to painted ceiling with bottles and jars, many still containing medicines used at the time.
For us the happy wanderings along the Loir were the best tonic imaginable. It was certainly one of the better touring experiences. The location was close enough to the Brittany Ferries port near Caen to enable us to enjoy a swim on the way home. This we did from the great stretch of sand at Omaha beach before boarding the Mont Saint Michael to cross the channel and dream the night away.
A tour capturing the essence of rural France along the kind of quiet roads that we seem to have lost.
Drifting in a canoe where dragonflies skimmed across the water and families picnicked by the riverside
The valley of Loir from the air, the flight from the Aeroclub Paul Metaire.
The summers can get quite hot . Spring and Autumn are probably the best time to go.
The Vallee du Loir stretches along the River, from just North of Vendôme across to the outskirts of Angers. By road it is approximately 3 hours from Caen , 2½ hours from Paris.
For vineyard tours and other events visit The Tourist office at La Chartre-sur-le-Loire .
Loir Valley; http://www.loir-valley.com
Brittany Ferries http://www.brittanyferries.com
Meandering along The Loir
with Allan Rogers