Castles and Caves: Exploring the Loire Valley
I have learned a lot from my visits to France. Some of it being how much I so enjoy the countryside. Granted, I haven’t really gotten to see too many coastal towns, but the countryside, the smaller cities, and vineyards are my absolute favorite destinations.
It’s a combination of things; the slower pace, the friendlier, more patience faces, and the natural beauty. I think everyone should go to Paris if they have never been, but then I think travelers should take the time and see everything else outside of it to really fall in love with France.
My latest trip into the Loire Valley was a constant reminder of this fact. I had the chance during this trip to drive for miles and hours along the narrow, winding roads that led to castles, vineyards, or chateaus and it was wonderful. Traveling this way gave me the opportunity to explore the many reasons and destinations that make the entire valley a UNESCO Heritage site.
I was in the Loire Valley for a week, so summarizing it all in one post would be a difficult task. Thus, I thought I would start with the historical and beautiful structures I discovered in my trip (some of which will include wines I tasted, but I will cover the wines and vineyards in my next post about the Loire Valley, I promise).
This ancient castle dates as far back as the 11-century and has a beautiful vineyard as well. Guests can tour the castle on their own or with a guide, which is what I recommend because the history is so rich here.
Of all the things this castles has to offer in terms of information, the most fascinating element of this castle are the underground caves created to protect the nobility from Viking attacks. This structures today aren’t as claustrophobic as they original were, but many of the original elements remain, such as the small areas where animals and livestock were stored, or the small openings to allow for oxygen to flow, and very little light. The massive underground tunnels that access different areas of the castles, as well as let you view the different lookout points is a bit of a hike, so wear comfortable shoes. These tunnels impressed upon me the level of concern for safety and protection against invasions back then.
Walking through the dry moat was a one in a life time experience for me. These tours are open to the public, and several events are organized for the community as well, such as bread baking in the centuries old, still functioning brick over stove located in the castle’s original kitchen. Guests also get a chance to taste their wines as part of their experience.
Royal Fortress of Chinon
Strategically built high above the hills of Chinon, this 10th-century castle is where I learned the true, wicked ways of the often celebrated and glamorize King Richard (aka Robin Hood’s king) and the conflicts between England and France, much of which was felt in the fight for control of this fortress by both empires. It was here, during the Hundred Years’ War that Charles VII met with Joan of Arc, who then convinced him pursue his crowning in Reims.
This once abandoned and newly restored castle is open to help visitors walk back in time and imagine a life many centuries ago and those who influenced the military, economy, and politics of the area.
Make sure to wear comfortable shoes as the hills and cobblestones leading up to the main building is a bit cumbersome with the wrong footwear and the steps up the various towers are steep.
Stand in the garden, along the fortress walls and get a full view of the Vienne Valley. The tour through the exhibits are done on your own and at your own pace, in the language of your choice.
Chateau of Chenonceau in Chenonceaux
On my day of visiting this glorious, privately owned Chateau, it had rained. Everyone seemed so sorry that my visit with be accompanied by such a deluge, but to me rain in France is like rain nowhere else. I guess I am a bit of a romantic and even silly in this way (I feel the same about rain in Scotland). It just seems so beautiful and serene, almost a complete compliment to whatever it is I could be doing.
In this case, I was fortunate to spend most of my time touring the hallways and many rooms of this 16th-century castle and admire the Cher River from the decorative glass windows found throughout. On a sunnier day, I would’ve been able to stroll through the gardens and smell the many roses already in bloom at the time of my visit.
A great view of the garden would’ve been available to me from the Green Garden from the castles gourmet restaurant, The Orangerie. Though this was not to be, the restaurant on its own was fabulous to look at and the castle even more so. The beautiful collection of tapestry, paintings, and decor in all the various rooms was enough to take up a few hours. Make sure you ask for an audio tour, available in different languages, to get all the details and history of each room you visit, including the Great Hall which was my absolute favorite area.
Another favorite spot was the wine cellar where I ended my visited with a tasting and great company, including conversation with a woman I never met before who is a frequent visitor and wine-lover.
This is one of those places beloved by many who go there. Many of my Facebook and Instagram followers expressed their excitement over my being there when they saw my pictures, sharing with me happy memories of their own visits to Chenonceau. It’s on my list of must-return-to destinations, maybe next time with the sun above me.
The Caves of Monmousseau in Montrichard
This is a place I will make mention again when I do my write-up about Loire Valley wines, but wanted to make sure I mentioned it here as a sightseeing destination.
Many of the historic castles built in the Loire Valley region were built with limestone. Diggers used to chip away at this rock to meet the construction and architectural demands of the time. In the process, many managed to also build smaller caves which they used as their homes and which provided them with easy access to the excavation sites they worked in.
The caves of Monmousseau are what is left of these excavation sites, with this specific one extending 9.3 miles of underground tunnels. With a consistent temperature of 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, it became the perfect place to produce and store wine. Since the late 1800s that is exactly what it has been used for.
Even with seemingly endless bottles stored here, there is still a lot more free space in the tunnels that remain. Thus, the family is also using the space for art exhibitions and performances.
A pretty unique and cool experience that is followed by tastings some of their curvée and crémant wines. Take the cave tour, enjoy the art exhibits, and taste the wines. It was a highlight for me.
The Domaine de la Tortinière in Tours
If you visit France it’s fitting that you also stay in a castle. I did during my visit to Bordeaux, but unlike that castle stay (which was truly fabulous and very royal), this castle stay had a warmer feel to it. I credit the more intimate and warm approach from Mr. Xavier Olivereau, who owns and operates this castle/luxury hotel with his wife Anne, and their team.Mr. Xavier Olivereau
Immediately the greeting was friendly and made me feel comfortable, which is nice especially when you are visiting a big castle by yourself. But I also observed how Mr. Olivereau tended to his other guests, some of whom are repeat visitors.
I realized that a castle just isn’t truly amazing without the greeting and meeting of its king and queen. I wasn’t able to meet the Mrs as she was away traveling, but really appreciate the welcome I received from everyone there during my stay. This special attention is why I recommend adding a stay here to the list of French castles to stay in.
My room was also very sweet. It overlooked the pool and garden. The bed was soft, I fell easily into deep sleep.
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of rain against my window pane. I opend it to let the cool country breeze in and the sound of the soft falling water sooth my mind before I started my day. I followed this up with breakfast on the first floor and felt immediately saddened that I couldn’t spend more time lounging in the royal suite of the lovely castle, owned by the kind man, attended by his friendly team, in this magical French destination.
Stay tuned for more Loire Valley adventures! On my next Loire Valley post, I will share where I stayed, drank, and ate! You can see the entire adventure via Instagram photos in my Storify My Instagram Adventures through Loire Valley, France. You can also read about the first day of my trip in A Day in Angers, Loire Valley, France.
All photography is property of GirlGoneTravel.com and may not be used without direct consent from the publisher.
Disclosure: I toured the Loire Valley as the guest and wine ambassador for Atout France and their partners. All opinions are my own.
claire @ the realistic nutritionist
I LOVE the Loire Valley!! I went in winter, so it looks like I need to go again in summer!!
caincarolclaire @ the realistic nutritionist
Yes! So pretty in green!!