May 19, 2019 11:41

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Desirable Diversion

Dominique Cerqueda

A Walk Down The Valley

The undisturbed magnificence of the Loire Valley.


We often hear wonderful accounts of the more popular regions of France, not mentioned quite as often is the undisturbed magnificence of the Loire Valley.


 

When I first visited France almost 16 years ago, I found myself in the glorious French capital, Paris, parading down its glamorous shops and boulevards, relishing the historic avenues and monuments, and sipping coffee at the many charming cafes. It was a magical experience to say the least, and I promised myself to eventually come back for more. But next time, I thought, I want to see something different. I wanted to explore the other regions of France outside the city and lose myself completely in the French culture and countryside.

Some of the more popular regions, cities, and towns are Burgundy, Bordeaux, Provence, and the French Riviera. Yet the Loire Valley is almost like a secret box of treasures waiting to be discovered. When I found out last year that I was about to embark on a family trip with my husband and my in-laws to this special region, I couldn’t contain my excitement.

The Loire Valley’s rolling landscapes and green pastures have given it the nickname “the Garden of France.” But I believe its old-world charm and deep appeal are rooted in its rich architectural heritage and in the historic towns and villages that dot the region such as Amboise, Chinon, and Saumur to name but a few. But the real gems, in my opinion, are its world-class chateaux (castles). The valley is also rich in wineries and has had its central part listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

I’d like to now take you through a leisurely walk to some famous sites in the Loire Valley, but also through some of my more personal choices such as the weekend Saumur market and the Martin de Candre soap shop that you won’t find in just any guidebook.

CHÂTEAU DE MONTSOREAU

Château de Montsoreau faces the Loire riverbed in a breathtaking view that many people have been photographing for years, for the main fact that this view has not changed for centuries. Listed as a Heritage Site by the French State in 1862, the Renaissance-style castle is located in the market town of Montsoreau and is blessed to be positioned between two great rivers, the Loire and the Vienne. You can take a leisurely walk around town and see the quaint houses and delicate gardens, or enjoy a chilled, summer drink at a nice restaurant with an outdoor terrace right beside the chateau with a priceless view of the river.

CHÂTEAU DE CHENONCEAU

Château de Chenonceau is one of the best-known chateaux of the Loire Valley, and aside from Versailles, is one of the most visited chateaux in France. Classified as a “Monument Historique” since 1840 by the French Ministry of Culture, the chateau is surrounded by lavish gardens and open spaces. Its wide expanse is only rivaled by its rich, architectural mixture of late Gothic and early Renaissance styles. Located near the small village of Chenonceau, it was first mentioned in writing as far back as the 11th century.

CHÂTEAU D’AMBOISE

At an elevation of 81 meters, Chateau d’Amboise sits atop the town of Amboise and has been extensively rebuilt through the centuries. It has since become a favored royal residence of several monarchs, among them King Charles VIII, who passed away at the chateau after hitting his head on a door lintel in 1498. King Francis I was raised at the chateau and artist Leonardo da Vinci was invited to the chateau in 1515, where he ended up working and living his final years at Clos Lucé, a large, medieval brick house where he died in 1519. The artist was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the chateau. You can view the artist’s many works and achievements at a little museum located inside the chateau.

SAVONNERIE MARTIN DE CANDRE

By far, one of my favorite parts of my trip was visiting this beautiful, handmade soap shop and factory called Martin de Candre. Since 1971, this has been a passionate family venture built on preserving the art of handmade soap-making, done using the special Marseille method wherein the base and perfumes are elaborated and formed from 100% vegetable oils. The brand has been rewarded with the label of the Val de Loire Heritage, and the shop is beautifully decorated with shelves and baskets of the high-quality soaps, all lovingly wrapped to perfection. The little square soaps wrapped in pretty colored paper and ribbons make good “pasalubongs” to family and friends alike.

 

WHERE TO STAY: LE MOULIN BREGEON

I was truly lucky to experience staying at this beautiful 18th century former wheat mill and farmhouse in the charming village of Linieres-Bouton for five wonderful nights while in the Loire. The lush, green surroundings, the delectable French cooking, along with top quality wine and cheese, all lovingly made and prepared by local chefs, are only rivaled by the friendliness and warmth of the people who work here. I made wonderful friends here and still keep in touch.

The mill boasts of five luxury bedrooms, all restored from the heart by the owner, American artist Jonathan Robinson. Jonathan’s mission is simple: to preserve the simple, old-world, aesthetic rural beauty of France. From organic gardening to complete tours around the Loire, this is the best place to stay for your visit, one that I highly recommend. It has maintained a place in my heart never to be erased.

Visit www.moulinbregeon.com for reservations.