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Dotted with majestic châteaux as individual as they are grand, the Loire Valley feels so beautifully out of step with the rest of the world it’s as though you’ve landed in a fairy tale. Its rich history is matched with tranquil green landscapes, gastronomic delights and heritage wine production. With so many must-see spots it’s easy to get caught up in the magic; we’ve whittled it down to the gems for you.
Chinon, a relaxed town with timber-fronted houses, is lorded over by a sprawling, white royal fortress, now home to a modern museum with interactive displays and immersive film rooms. Take a stroll down cobbled streets to the equally fascinating Joan of Arc museum for another slice of this sleepy town’s varied history. If you're looking for a different kind of culture, try touring one of Chinon's many wine cellars like Domaine de Noiré, famed for its organic wines, or La Cave Monplaisir, which runs group tours of the underground quarry-turned-cellar.
Head through the charming streets into the rolling wine country beyond until you reach the sublime, shady forest of Chinon. Alternatively, turn your bike towards Rigny-Ussé and the elegant white towers of the Château d’Ussé. Its lavish interior, decorated with art, grand staircases and opulent furnishings from several eras, is worth investigating. If the weather’s glorious, take a relaxing walk around the ornamental gardens, cleverly designed by Le Nôtre, and peer into the peaceful family chapel before returning to Chinon.
You’ll follow the Loire à Vélo route to Montsoreau where you’ll find distractions aplenty, whether it’s wine tasting or people watching at the bustling Sunday market in the main square, before spending an afternoon on the banks of the Loire with your fresh bread and cheese. If you’d rather get to know the history of this hillside town, visit the beautifully restored Château de Montsoreau to occupy a few happy hours before you drop into the courtyard restaurant of Chez Alexandre for a refreshing drink.
Pedal onwards to Fontevraud Abbey, where Richard I is entombed. There are plenty of intricate gardens for a sunny stroll, and if you check ahead you can also catch a concert in the atmospheric setting or a special night tour.
Besides the turreted castle, with its elegant silhouette that has been reflected in the waters of the Loire for ten centuries, Saumur is known for equestrian expertise. It's the home of the National Riding School and the Cadre Noir, masters of horse riding renowned for their discipline; to watch them at work is to witness an art form. Take a daily tour or, if your timing is right, catch a public performance.
There are dozens of wine houses to be explored here, including Saumur’s oldest sparkling wine producer Ackerman, established in 1811 and soon proclaimed to be producing wines as elegant as those from Champagne. If it’s good enough for a jury of 17th-century connoisseurs, it’s certainly worth a tour of the cellars and a tasting. Complete your trip with dinner in Les Ménestrels, serving local produce like honey-roast rabbit, or try L’Alchimiste for a steaming langoustine risotto followed by a delectable cheese board.
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