Autumn in the Loire Valley

Image via Tom Häkkinen
The town of Langeais
Image via Tom Häkkinen
Leaf-fall outside the Château de Chenonceau
In October, before returning to Australia, Esther and I went on one last continental excursion from the UK. To a part of France we’d never seen before but wanted to visit. The Loire Valley - a region of vineyards, chateaux and an incredible river.

We stayed in a small boutique hotel in the town of Saumur. It’s a fantastic region, quintessentially French, and Autumn was a perfect time to visit as well. Approaching France, as always, from a literary-historic background, what first attracted me to the Anjou region was the knowledge that this was the homeland of the Angevin Kings of England. Henry II, King Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. This period in history was singularly important in English history, coming as it did, so shortly after the Norman Invasion and which saw the signing of the Magna Carta.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
The Maze in the grounds of Château de Chenonceau
The first Angevin King, King Henry II of Anjou, who married Eleanor of Aquitaine, presided over a realm that extended from the border with Scotland in the North to the Pyrenees in the South, encompassing much more of France than the King of France, Louis VII actually controlled. The Angevin’s origins amongst the French nobility and historical ties to lands in France were to sow the seeds for the Hundred Years War two centuries later. This was also the period, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, that saw all those fantastic French loan-words enter English, words to do with Gouvernance, Justice and the Court, etc. Not to mention it being the most-romanticised period, a time of troubadours, chivalry, Robin Hood and England’s favourite King: Richard the Lionheart or Richard Coeur de Lion. So I was eager to visit that part of France where the Angevin influence began.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
The Mairie of Chenonceau
But, as I found out, if you’d never read a history book before in your life. You’d still love this part of France. Unlike Provence which is also beautiful, the Loire seems quintessentially French in a way that happily reflects all of your preconceptions. That perfect table at a French cafe, sitting in the dappled sun of plane trees, which you’d hunted Paris up and down for, is in fact much more likely to be found in Tours. Travelling the high-speed rail-link that connects Nantes to Paris, you will come across the most delightful kind of towns, so quaint and picturesque, like the town of Chenonceau, with it’s few streets, Mairie, ecole and bistro, and surrounded by vineyards and woods.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Grape vines - laden with ripe fruit
Our hotel was likewise a fantastically clichéd chateau. It’s gothic dimensions actually intimidating at night. And the Saturday farmer’s market was really alive with all varieties of mushrooms, berries, fruits and vegetables. When buying a punnet of strawberries I asked whether they were grown locally:

« Qu’est-ce que le provenance de ceux-ci ? »
« Trente kilomètres. »

Image via Tom Häkkinen
The Hôtel de Ville, Tours
Thirty kilometres! That’s local. One day, waiting for the train from Chenonceau, the vines heavy with grapes in the vineyard opposite almost tempted me to jump the ditch surrounding the vineyard and sample some. They did look delicious and fat from a bountiful and verdant land.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Picnic on the banks of the Cher: Château de Chenonceau
is visible in the background, whilst mushrooms arise from
the Autumnal earth in the foreground.
So with the vineyards, the local produce, the cute little towns with their municipal buildings and symbols of the Republic, as well the chateaux and the history, I couldn’t imagine a better place to visit.
Image via Tom Häkkinen
The gothic lines of Château de Verrières come alive at night.
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JJ said...

My wife and I have wandered through all three wine regions of the Loire Valley. It is one of my favorite places in the world. I used to be a huge wine collector, so I visited often. Vouvray is my favorite wine from the region, but there are many. I am also a Robin Hood fan. What a magnificent era! Great post, and great pictures!

Tom Hakkinen said...

Thanks JJ. I did enjoy trialling the wines, although I'm no expert. But the thing I really appreciated about the region, was that there's no such thing as a bad drop, even if you order the house red with a meal, it's still a pleasant drink.

And of course, when you grow up reading about Medieval Europe, it's great to finally visit the places you've read about. Next trip to Europe I want to visit Rome and Greece!

Chibi Janine said...

Looks a beautiful place. Glad you had a nice time.

Tom Hakkinen said...

Fantastic! Thanks Chibi Janine.

#167 Dad said...

enoloblotshOutstanding travelogue. Enjoyed the discussion of history. One of these days I'll leave Arizona behind and do a little travelin' of my own.

Judie said...

This is a wonderful post! I felt I had gone back in time to that part of history that has fascinated me for so long! thank you for sharing your tour with us.

Tom Hakkinen said...

Thanks Judie and #167 Dad. I'm glad you both liked it. Maybe it'll inspire you to plan a trip to Loire.

Tom Hakkinen said...

Whoops, dropped my article. I mean "the" Loire.