Set in the gently rolling countryside of the southern Loire Valley the region is perfect for a complete break. Yet there is so much to do in the area. CUSSAY is just 20 minutes from the bustling medieval town of LOCHES and within one hours drive of the wonderful Chateaux and vineyards of the Loire Valley.
The local village of LIGUEIL with its Monday morning market, has a varied programme of outdoor fêtes and attractions from brocantes (those wonderful French fêtes) to music festivals and outdoor theatres. It also has a well landscaped public park and outdoor swimming pool with tennis courts. Restaurants, cafés, supermarket, bread and butcher's shops, newsagents, bank and chemists can all be found here.
LOCHES - a 20 minute drive from "Les Arches de Muschamp" is a wonderful medieval town resting on the banks of the Indre river with its large bustling market on a Wednesday and Saturday. It has delightful cobbled streets and small squares where you can enjoy a coffee or lunch on the terrace and watch the world go by. There is an excellent selection of small shops/boutiques and restaurants as well as an interesting chateau with a 'real' dungeon. Fascinating for the children!. Cité Royale de Loches is a castle museum with an extensive medieval armor collection & hundreds of years of royal history. If you find yourself there in the evening after dark take a walk up to the chateau. The lighting is well done and very atmospheric!
CHINON, just half an hour by car is set near the confluence of the river Loire and the Vienne and has a dominating fortress (recently restored), which looks down onto the picturesque town with many shops and eating possibilities. THE ROYAL FORTRESS OF CHINON is a combination between a historical monument (where Joan of Arc met Prince Charles VII in 1429) and a ultra modern museum : augmented reality, videos, multimedia tour booklet, audio benches and more. The small town itself is a delight to visit with it's narrow cobbled streets packed full of charming cafés and small restaurants. Be sure to take a look at the spectacular view of the fortress from across the river, especially if you find yourselves there in the evening after dark.
TOURS, 50 minutes drive to the city and its beautiful old town called La Vielle Ville . TOURS is known as the 'mini Paris' of the Touraine due to its interesting architecture and boulevards being of a similar style, and its great atmosphere for shopping and/or a cultural day out. The old town is a fabulous area to visit with many eating places and wonderful cafés with sun terraces lining the tiny cobbles streets. The city's long history includes Gallic-Roman settlements. It played a significant role in the 15th century as the French capital and seat of kings. Tours was heavily bombed in World War II, and its atmospheric center is now surrounded with the most attractive architecture combining 'old' with 'new'. From Tours you can take the TGV to Paris and be there in 60 minutes, plenty of trains daily.
CHATEAU de CHENONCEAU (50 min drive) is a castle, which spans the River Cher, situated near the small village of Chenonceaux. It is one of the best-known châteaux of the Loire valley. Historically fascinating and visually stunning. It was once a royal residence as property of the crown. It is a truly exceptional site, both for its original idea of building it on the Cher River, and for its destiny: to be loved, managed, and protected by women such as Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici. Today, the Château of Chenonceau is second only to Versailles as the most visited château in France. The interior is beautiful and very well presented and preserved. The exhibition on the history of the château is excellent, and you can see how the building progressed over time.
CHATEAU d'AMBOISE - a wonderful landmark overlooking a quaint town is less than an hour's drive from Les Arches. Have a lunch outside and take in the view of the chateau. The panoramic views over the town and Loire river below are just mesmerizing. Certainly a great way to while away an afternoon. Just 650 meters from Château d'Amboise you can visit the the last residence of Leonardo DaVinci called Château du Clos Lucé, which is dedicated to conveying an overall picture of his art and his boundless vision. From civil and military engineer to botanist, in his work as an architect and as a musician, the all-encompassing nature of Leonardo da Vinci’s intuition is brought to life before your eyes.
SAUMUR (1 hour and 20min) - This historic town is located between the Loire and Thouet rivers, and is surrounded by the vineyards of Saumur itself, Chinon, Bourgueil, & Coteaux du Layon, which produce some of France's finest wines. There are various sparkling wine houses to visit – Gratien et Meyer just to the east of the town and Ackerman-Laurance, Bouvet-Ladubay and Langlois-Chateau to the west in St-Hilaire St-Florent. There is also a Musée des Blindes (tank museum). Markets are held in Avenue General de Gaulle on Wednesday and in Place St-Pierre on Saturday. The Château of Saumur has been a fortress, a manor house, a residence for the town governors, a prison, and even an arms and ammunition depot. The chateau now contains several museums, including a Museum of Decorative Arts (with many examples of bone china), the Museum of the Horse and a Museum of Toys ( Musée de la Figurine-Jouet, a collection of very old toys and figurines of soldiers, kings of France, and clowns.). Saumur is also famous for its elite riding squad, Le Cadre Noir, and you can visit their base, the Ecole National d’ Equitation in St Hilaire St Florent, a suburb of Saumur. Various galas and shows take place throughout the year. The region around Saumur is well known for its prehistoric traces such as troglodyte caves and dolmens. Until the dark ages these caves were a very popular place to live and you will see many as you tour the region.
CHATEAU d'AZAY-le-RIDEAU (50 min drive) -is located in the small town of Azay-le-Rideau, an attractive place that centers on the banks of the Indre. The old part of the town around the Indre makes an enjoyable stroll as does the main street. The local markets are held on Saturday and Wednesday mornings. Check with the tourist office for special events. The château was built between 1518 and 1527 and it is considered one of the foremost examples of early French renaissance architecture. Set on an island in the middle of the Indre, the château of Azay-le-Rideau seems to rise straight out of the waters of the river, which reflect the castle's façades so that the château appears to float in its own image. The writer Balzac, who lived nearby and was occasionally a guest at the château, deeply admired the building, describing it as 'a facetted diamond, set in the Indre. This striking setting has helped Azay-le-Rideau to become one of the most famous of the Loire's many châteaux.
CHATEAU d'USSE also known as the "Sleeping Beauty" castle; Charles Perrault—author of this beloved 17th-century tale—spent time here as a guest of the Count of Saumur, and legend has it that Ussé inspired him to write the famous story. The Château d'Ussé is located in the commune of Rigny-Ussé. Famed for its picturesque aspect, Ussé was the subject of a French railroad poster issued by the Chemin de Fer de Paris à Orléans in the 1920s and was one of several that inspired Walt Disney in the creation of many of the Disney Castles. Visit this castle with period furniture, rooms decorated with tapestries, paintings ... but also enjoy a collection of costumes inside the castle. The walkway is accessible to anyone willing to meet Beauty and The Prince! Finally, in the park, you can stroll and admire the chapel, saddlery area and a collection of carriages.
THE ROYAL CHATEAU de CHAMBORD (1h 40min) - "The Unfinished Château" - one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The building, which was never completed, was constructed by King Francis I of France. Far from the stress of daily life, the Château of Chambord stands completely surrounded by nature. It is located between the untamed royal river and the wild woodlands, which is home to many boar and deer. The visit to the castle and grounds is extensive so allow the best part of a day. It’s worth picking up the multilingual audio or videoguide if only to avoid getting lost around the endless rooms and corridors. Several times daily there are guided tours in English, and during school holidays costumed tours entertain the kids. Outdoor spectacles held in summer include a daily equestrian show. Chambord also offers many outdoor activities in the park: horse shows, carriage rides, forest driving tours, boat rides, walking paths and bike trails. You can organise your own day at Chambord! Chambord is very different from other châteaux. Visiting Chambord is like travelling to a whole new world, full of mystery, leading you to the inspiring realm of the Renaissance.
THE ROYAL CHATEAU de BLOIS (1h 20min) - Dominating the Loire River, the royal castle of Blois is not only one of the most prestigious Renaissance monuments in France but also a brilliant illustration of the evolution of the French architecture from the Middle ages to the 17th century. The home of 7 kings and 10 queens of France, the Château Royal de Blois evokes the power and daily life of the Court in the Renaissance, evident in the royal apartments, furnished and adorned with magnificent polychromatic decors. Great combination of different architectures linked to history in a great setting. Also check out the sound and light spectacle which takes place some evenings - it is really worthwhile and a great experience from the inner courtyard. During the summer, the Château courtyard rings to the sound of fencing skirmishes: duellists and swordsmen confront one another, bringing the age of duelling to life, a blend of theatre, fighting and ancient music.
MONTRESOR - one of the most beautiful villages in France has less than 400 inhabitants, and is known for its Renaissance castle and its medieval fortress or collegiate St John the Baptist. The village retains its 11th century fortress, built on top of a rocky outcrop above the village and with walls, towers and gate intact. Built originally for defensive purposes, the chateau at Montresor was subsequently transformed into a Renaissance Mansion in the 15th century, within the original fortified walls. After exploring the village of Montresor walk along the banks of the river for some lovely views across the village and castle - the path continues for more than a kilometre through the countryside.The countryside around Montresor is a maze of pretty walks so that you can make the most of the attractive countryside - the tourist offices can point you in the right direction. If possible try to also visit Montresor during July or August on a Friday or Saturday evening. At this time the village is beautifully lit and music is played.
ANGLES-sur-l'ANGLIN is also listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Facing across the pretty gorge of the river and surrounded by wttractive woodland and small fields, the ruins of the Chateau Guichard (11th century) and the pretty medieval village of Angles sur l'Anglin are set on rocky hills, and complement each other perfectly. The easiest way to make sure you see everything in Angles sur l'Anglin is to follow the signed circuit no 2 of the Ville Haute to see the upper town and then take the steps down (more than a hundred!!) to circuit no 1 in Ville Basse to wander around the lower town. As you walk down the steps you get good views of some lovely houses on the opposite side of the river. Although it is a small village there are several restaurants and cafes in Angles-sur-l'Anglin, so after exploring you can pause for coffee or for a good French lunch!
Le GRAND-PRESSIGNY The Museum of Prehistory presents a rich overview of prehistory in Touraine, with an emphasis on what made the Grand-Pressigny region so unique during the prehistoric period. The gallery presents the successive cultures in Touraine since the Middle Palaeolithic period, around 100,000 years ago, until the disappearance of flint in favour of bronze, around 1,000 to 2,000 years BC. The display puts the emphasis on the evolution of the materials used, changes in dwellings and in burial practices, as well as social and economic evolutions from the Palaeolithic until the Bronze Age. Original objects are put back in the context of a wider civilisation thanks to elaborate iconography and castings, illustrating the significant moments in human evolution.
La Brenne Regional Nature Park (1 hours drive)- A dream destination for botany and ornithology fans, this haven of peace strewn with lakes and ponds, marshland, reed beds, moors, prairies and woods is home to no fewer than 2,300 animals and 1,200 plant species! Among its most emblematic are European pond turtles, purple herons, orchids, black-necked grebes, ducks, Eurasian bitterns and dragonflies. To discover the rich biodiversity of this magnificent area of calm and serenity, you can take a number of discovery trails dotted with information panels, including the Sentier du Blizon (in Rosnay) and the Sentier de Beauregard (in Saint-Michel-en-Brenne), and peacefully admire the birds from hides in Chérine nature reserve, and at Foucault, Bellebouche and Massé lakes. Make sure that you visit La Maison du Parc, a delightful restaurant offering fried carp from the local lakes and a variety of different type food, as well as an excellent shop selling specialty food products of the area.
FOR CHILDREN there is a wide range of activities in the area including small themed parks, adventure centres, various zoos of which ZOOPARC de BEAUVAL (one hours drive) is classed as the No. 1 zoo in France and as one of the most beautiful zoological parks in the world, ZooParc de Beauval is home to the largest diversity of animals in France with nearly 6,000 animals including two giant pandas, found nowhere else in France! It is set in immense grounds and offers daily displays that will fascinate and amaze.
The world renowned FUTUROSCOPE is a different kind of theme park based upon multimedia, cinematography, and audio-visual techniques. A unique range of attractions for children as well as adults. It is just 45 min drive away in the direction of Poitiers.
About the wines in the area
Although many people think of the Loire as white wine country, a little under half of Loire wines are either red or rosé. Saumur Champigny, Bourgueil, Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil and Chinon form the centre of the Loire’s red wine production. Based almost exclusively on Cabernet Franc, this is the source of the Loire’s finest reds, with the possible exception of top Sancerres made from Pinot Noir. There is a range of styles from easy-drinking reds bottled early to enjoy young to much more structured wines, usually planted on the limestone hillsides, that need time and in good vintages will last twenty years or more.
There are also some very good dry and sweet whites from Saumur, the best invariably made from 100% Chenin Blanc. Not forgetting that Saumur is the largest producer of sparkling wine in France outside Champagne with Crémant de Loire now the most important appellation.
The underlying limestone rock, known locally as tuffeau, also provides the region’s characteristic honey-coloured building material and in the excavations, cellars for ageing wine as well as troglodyte dwellings on hillsides were formed. The string of lovely châteaux – both world famous and unknown – found east of Tours continues to the west. Azay-le-Rideaux, Chinon, Ussé (the sleeping beauty château) and Villandry are the best known. There are also many beautiful villages and little hamlets that nestle in the gently undulating countryside.
Wine producers to visit
Saumur - Langlois-Château - www.langlois-chateau.fr - This is the Loire out-post of Champagne Bollinger. The Saumur sparkling wine house was established in 1912 when Edouard Langlois and Jeanne Chateau (no accent on Chateau) bought the Maison Delandes, which had been founded in 1885. In 1973 Champagne Bollinger acquired a majority holding. Langlois-Chateau now produces both sparkling – only Crémant de Loire – and still wines. Their top Crémant is the creamy Quadrille, a vintage made from Cabernet Franc (15%), Cabernet Sauvignon (5%), Chardonnay (30%) and Chenin (50%). Their best still wine is the Saumur Blanc Vieilles Vignes – 100% Chenin from the company’s own vines. It needs several years in bottle to show its best. A one-hour visit includes a guided tour around their 4km of chalk cellars as well as a tasting.
Bourgueil - Yannick Amirault - www.yannickamirault.com - I doubt if anyone is making better wine today in Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil and Bourgueil than Yannick Amirault. He is undoubtedly one of the Loire’s top red wine producers. I love the purity of fruit in his wines and their texture – sumptuous in cuvées like La Petite Cave. Yannick has vines in both Saint Nicolas and in Bourgueil. His Bourgueils include La Coudraye, Les Quartiers and Le Grand Clos, while from Saint Nicolas there is La Source, La Mine and Les Malgagnes.
Chinon - Domaine de La Noblaie - www.lanoblaie.fr - These are winemakers who will really welcome you and help you taste the wines of a dedicated area. After belonging to several owners, the Noblaie was acquired in 1952 by the Manzagol family. Today the third generation of winemakers is working with the same passion. Jérome Billaud, who took over in 2003 having previously worked at Pétrus, Domimus in the Napa Valley and in New Zealand, is pushing Noblaie to new heights. Red, white and rosé Chinon are made here. La Noblaie is on the way to organic farming and, as such, applies and meets the specifications of organic certification. You can either just call in on your way to visiting Chinon or we can organise a private wine tasting for you on a specific day for a small charge.
Lots more information about the wines of the Loire Valley at Wine Travel Guides www.winetravelguides.com