Not everyone can choose to come to France during the warmer months. Australians in particular often come at Christmas time during their summer holidays, willing to trade over-30-degree temperatures for under ten degrees. Many hope to find snow.
Snow falls in the Loire Valley are highly variable. They rarely arrive for Christmas but there are exceptions such as in 2015. The most likely month for snow is February.
While spring, summer and autumn may be more pleasant seasons to travel in, they do have the major drawback of being full of tourists and accommodation is usually more expensive and harder to come by.
The main Loire Valley Châteaux are all open in the winter, but with shorter opening hours (usually 10 am to about 5 pm rather than 9 am to 6 pm). The wonderful thing is that you can visit without the crowds! The “four C’s” – Chenonceau, Chambord, Chaumont and Cheverny – as well as the royal castles of Blois and Amboise usually have Christmas decorations which adds to their magic. All are open on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day with the notable exception of Chambord and Chaumont.
Although you’ll need to dress warmly, you can still walk around the gardens which are designed to be attractive all year round. Villandry is closed from mid-November to mid-February with the exception of the two-week period surrounding Christmas and New Year which corresponds to the school holidays in France.
They may not have the proportions of the markets in Alsace, but the Christmas markets throughout December in Blois and Orléans (which includes a carrousel, big wheel and skating rink), those on weekdays in Tours in December and in Amboise on the 3 days leading up to Christmas are full of hand-made objects and seasonal food and drink.
Other traditional visits in the area include its many vineyards, a chocolate factory in Bracieux which also has workshops and troglodyte mushroom caves in Bourré.
Although temperatures can go below zero, especially at night, they are typically between 4 or 5 and 9 or 10° C during the day. December and January are the darkest months, which means the sun rises between 8.30 and 9 and sets between 4.30 and 5 pm. Shops and restaurants are always heated and some of the châteaux have wood fires. All are sufficiently heated for comfortable visiting.
My advice is to find warm cosy accommodation that is close to shops and restaurants and plan a visit in the morning, followed by lunch indoors next to a fire if possible, then a second visit in the afternoon. You can then warm up and relax before venturing out again for dinner.
The Loire is an easy 2 or 3-day visit from Paris. It is simplest by car (about 2 ½ hours) with convenient parking at all the main venues. However, Blois, Amboise, Tours and Orleans can be accessed by direct train and there are either trains or buses to Chambord, Chenonceau and Chaumont although the service is more restricted in winter.
I think I should begin with an explanation about why I haven’t posted since the begininng of June! It’s very simple – lack of time! I used to post every day when on holidays but realised that Jean Michel had ended up writing the travel diary by himself and our evenings were completely tied up as a result. When we’re at home and I’ve been translating all day, I don’t really feel up to writing blog posts. I do, however, keep up my Loire Daily Photo blog (almost daily). The good news is that, I have had some time this week to write a post for Aussie in France so here we go.
Birthdays and anniversaries are always a good excuse to discover new restaurants, but by October, a lot of places have closed for the season. With the ever-helpful advice of my friend Susan from Days on the Claire, we choose Le Clos aux Roses in the beautiful little village of Chedigny in Touraine. We drove through it recently and discovered it is famous for its roses. A rose festival is held there in May on Mothers’ Day every year. We book a table for lunchtime on Wednesday as it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The weather is spectacular, especially for October, and we arrive in Chedigny around 11.45 am, which is plenty of time to wander around the little village admiring the little cottages and gardens. There are still flowers in front of the church and more roses than I would have thought at this time of the year. It must be truly magical in May and June.
The restaurant is quite empty to start off with but gradually fills up while we are there. With a set lunch menu at 12 euro 30, I’m not surprised it’s popular. We choose the Discovery menu at 40 euro each. It includes an amuse-bouche with our vouvray, a starter, a fish dish, a meat dish and a dessert. We decide on local wines by the class so that we can pair.
Jean Michel has a vol au vent de ris de veau et langoustines, while I have the foie gras. Then we both have the écrevisses followed by duck served with fresh vegetables from the chef’s garden. Jean Michel has a mint and blackcurrant Norwegian omelette while I have a chocolate dessert. We enjoy everything except the desserts which are a little disappointing.
The service is friendly and relaxed, with monsieur waiting on table and madame in the kitchen, helping in the dining room from time to time. Armelle Kraus is an up and coming chef from the Ecole Supérieure de Cuisine Française Grégoire Ferrandi in Paris. Her creations are based “on a deep respect for nature and the magic of tradition”. We will be going back there in May when the roses are out (but not during the festival weekend when it is very chaotic, we are told).
At Chambord, we park and go to get our free passes. From mid-September to mid-October, entrance to the castle is free this year for people living in the area. We tried on Sunday but the queues were so long that we bought an ice-cream instead, walked along the canal and went home! I love the fact that the locals like to visit their castle. It’s the only one in the Loire Valley whose grounds are open free of charge to everyone all year round. We often cycle there in the summer just to have an ice-cream with a view!
However, we have not yet seen the newly-restored 18th century formal French gardens which only opened this year. We start with the rooftop terrace with its famous chimneys so that we can see the gardens below, by far the best view. We walk right around the terrace so we can view the surrounding countryside from every side then complete the visit by wandering around the gardens themselves. However, it is still early days yet and they are not nearly as impressive when you’re at eye level.
I thought we had visited all the rooms in the castle itself, but additional wings have been opened since our last visit. None of the furniture and furnishings originally come from the castle which was a hunting lodge and completely empty most of the year. When François I came to visit, he brought everything with him. I like the “18th century’s apartements” best (that is not a spelling mistake on my part – it’s what the sign says!).
We also take a look at the newly-restored kitchens before we leave but they are not of any particular interest.
The way out is through the very large shop, something I usually avoid, but today I find four tapestry cushion covers for our new sofa which are just the perfect colour and design!
I am not a great fan of sound & light shows but I think I should go to the one at Blois Castle so I can recommend it (or not) to visitors. As residents of Blois, we have free passes to the castle and the weather is very warm so it seems the ideal time.
We park where we always do along Gambetta Avenue between the train station and the castle. It’s only a five-minute walk. In June, July and August, the show starts at 10.30 pm and lasts for 45 minutes (10 pm in March, April, May and September). We’re about 15 minutes early so we get our free tickets by showing our passes and ID and go into the main courtyard. We are told to stay in the centre.
We see that lots of people have come with blankets and cushions. I have passed the age of being comfortable sitting on the ground so we find a place on the steps around the perimeter of the courtyard in front of the Gaston d’Orléans wing but the steps are a bit shallow. We think it might be better in front of the Royal Chapel (on the left as you walk in) and find a place there. It’s a little bit better.
At 10.30 pm, an announcement is made that everyone has to go into the middle of the courtyard as images will be projected on all four façades. A man comes and shoos everyone off the steps. I tell him I can’t stand up for any length of time (my foot starts burning due to an unoperable hallux valgus). He tells me that after the first fifteen minutes, I’ll be able to come back and sit down again on the steps.
That’s OK, I figure, I can walk around for that amount of time. The only problem is that the people sitting down in the centre don’t want other people standing in front of them! In the end, I see there is a group of people standing in front of the Gaston d’Orléans wing so I join them.
The show starts so I move around according to the façade on which the images are being projected. A dramatic backdrop of blue with gold fleur-de-lys appears on the François I façade. The Louis XII and Gaston d’Orléans wings are then lit up followed by the chapel. The main events in the history of the castle are then recounted.
The sound is very loud and distorted and I have trouble understanding what is being said. An audioguide is available for foreign visitors free of charge but it didn’t occur to me that I might need one. It would certainly have helped.
After the first twenty minutes (and more specifically after the story of Joan of Arc’s visit to Blois is finished), all the action takes place on either the François I or Gaston d’Orléans wings so we are able to sit down again in front of the chapel. I thank my lucky stars that the man at the beginning was so helpful!
The rest of the programme is taken up with the story of the Duc de Guise who was assassinated in the King’s Chambers on the orders of Henri III in 1588 after plotting to take over the throne.
It’s all very dramatic but the only voice I can really understand is that of Fabrice Luchini, one of France’s best-known actors. I’m surprised he’s among the cast but then I remember that Jacques Lang, the French minister of culture from 1981 to 1991 and incidentally the founder of the “Fête de la Musique“, the very popular music festival held in France on the summer solstice each year, was also the mayor of Blois from 1989 to 2000 so I imagine that had something to do with it.
Technically, the sound and light show is a bit of a disappointment though some of the effects are interesting. I particularly like the Joan of Arc procession which moves right across the François I wing. Unless the English text is easier to understand, I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay 8.50 euro per person (or 15 euro in a combined castle + light & sound ticket – the castle by itself is 10 euro) particularly if you don’t find it very comfortable to stand in the same place or sit on paving stones (even with a cushion) for 45 minutes. I don’t think we’ll be tempted to go again although we are glad we’ve seen it.
It’s one of those perfect summer days in the Loire Valley and we’ve chosen to cycle from Luynes to Langeais via a loop we’ve found in our La Touraine à vélo book. Luynes is about 50 minutes from Blois by car. You can see the castle as you approach the village.
We park in the public parking lot at the entrance to the town just opposite the itinerant circus. I heard on the radio the other day that there are now very few municipalities that have adequate grounds to house a circus. As a result they have downscaled and are forced to stay in the same spot for too long for business to be brisk.
Le Saint Venant on the main road is the perfect spot for a coffee before we start the day. It’s very busy, as it also sells cigarettes and lottery tickets. We notice there are several small restaurants open for lunch but we’ve brought a picnic today.
Luynes is a very attractive little town. In particular there is a beautifully preserved 15th century half-timber house the front of which used to have two entrances. The present door was the private entrance while the other door opened onto the shop. There are four sculptures: Saint James, Saint Geneviève, the local patron saint, a Pietà and Saint Christopher.
There is also a covered market with a very old troglodyte dwelling right next to it.
We ride out of town northwards to find a second century aqueduct. The signs are not that easy to find and are also quite low, obviously aimed at hikers and cyclists.
The pillars suddenly loom up in the middle of nowhere. I trample through the sunflower field opposite to get a good view of the 300-metre Gallo-Roman aqueduct.
There is a bench just opposite so we park our bikes and have lunch there with a perfect view of the nine arches, six of which are the original construction.
On our way back into Luynes, we can see the four towers of the castle but can’t get any closer. It’s been closed since June 2016 because it doesn’t respect today’s safety and disability standards. The owner says the outlay is two great for him to make the investment. Only time will tell whether State aid is forthcoming.
We continue on our way towards Langeais past lots of interesting troglodyte houses and take a detour to Vieux Bourg, a delightful little village with several old half-timbered and stone houses, outside bread ovens and the little church of Saint Etienne which is unfortunately closed for repairs.
As we approach Saint Etienne, we see a man and his wife coming out of a little troglodyte house and we say “hello, looks like a great house”. “Would you like to come in and visit? You look as though you are interested.” Jean-Michel starts politely refusing but I immediately say “Yes, please! We’d love too.”
They explain that the house was originally a wine-cellar which means it’s quite deep and not easy to ventilate. The main problem is in summer when it remains very cool and has a lot of condensation which is not great for anything electronic. They have ceiling fans to direct the heat towards the lower part of the rooms when heating in the winter. They are trying to find a way to solve the problem.
I would love to take photos but feel it wouldn’t be polite. The only one I take is of the ceiling in the main room which shows where steel ties have been used to make sure the ceiling doesn’t cave in!
They are both retired and happy with their choice but admit there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of problems to overcome. Troglodyte houses that started off as houses are not as deep and don’t have the same problems. I have to confess that I don’t particularly like the idea of living under the earth!
We thank them for their visit and continue onto the town of Saint Etienne which has a very attractive, although quite modern church built in 1860.
We go past more troglodyte houses until the Cinq-Mars funerary tower or pile looms into view. We’ve seen it often in the past but never visited it. We lug our bikes up an excessively steep hill so that we can see it up close.
Built between 150 and 200 A.D. it is a type of funerary tower well-known in Roman times. It is the best preserved and highest funerary stack still extant (29.50 metres) while its brick veneer is rare in Gaul. At the top, twelve decorative brick and white stone panels replace the traditional niche seen on other stacks.
The town of Cinq-Mars is only a few kilometers further. We’re hoping for a coffee but there is nothing open. It must have been quite a thriving town once from the look of the stone friezes on the houses opposite the church.
We’ve decided to visit the Cinq-Mars castle even though there isn’t much left of the original feudal castle. I don’t quite manage to get to the top of the hill on my bike. It’s one of those day when I think that an electrically-assisted bike might be a good idea.
The owner, a retired architect, turns out to be a mine of information and very willing to talk. The price is a reasonable five euro each.
We visit the dry moat which is extremely deep, then walk across the magnificent stone bridge with its three arches that replaced the 15th century drawbridge.
The two 12th to 15th century towers each have three vaulted rooms one on top of the other, but only one tower is open to visitors.
The name itself is derived from the name of the first known owner, Geoffroy de Saint Médard. It became Saint-Mars after André de Saint-Médard died in the Holy Land in 1210 then for some unknown reason turned into Cinq-Mars in the 16th century.
The castle’s most famous character is Henri Ruzze d’Effiat, Marquis of Cinq-Mars, favourite of Louis XIII, who was beheaded for treason at the age of 22. According to local legend, the castle itself and even the trees were decapitated. His tragic end inspired Alfred de Vigny’s novel, “Cinq Mars” which I’ve never read. Maybe I should.
It’s nearly 5 pm and we are not even halfway along our itinerary. Jean Michel suggests we go to Langeais and follow an alternate much shorter route back to Luynes.
We find ourselves on a main road but can see the bike route over to the right which means scrambling up and down an embankment. It’s a very rough path but it’s better than having traffic whizzing past at 90 kph! We finally see Langeais on the other side of the railway track. Somehow we’ve missed our exit and the path gives out. We squeeze past a post and return to the main road but fortunately we only have to take it a short distance.
Five minutes later we’re sitting in front of one of our favourite teashops – La Maison de Rabelais, just opposite the castle (which we’ve visited several times before), which is a combined patissier, chocolatier and glacier. After restoring ourselves with an excellent ice-cream, we return via another route which is also a main road. I think I preferred the bumpy path.
At Saint-Etienne I ask for a break and we visit the church. Although it is recent – 1860 – I find the inside very harmonious and attractive with its painted pillars and mosaic floors.
We arrive back at the car around 7.30 pm and it’s still full daylight. We didn’t get to Château de Champchevrier but we can go there another time. It’s one of the most interesting and enjoyable rides in the Loire we’ve had in a long time!
I’m entering this post in Lou Messugo’s All About France monthly blog link-up. For other posts about France, click here.
Another beautiful sunny autumn day when it’s warm enough to cycle. I’ve been wanting to see the gardens at Château de Villandry ever since Susan from Days on the Claise mentioned that the late summer planting was at its peak and the famous potager garden looking splendid. There is a dedicated bike route from Tours to Villandry that is about 20 K and flat all the way. As it runs along the Cher River most of the time, it should also be well exposed to the sun.
It takes us about 50 minutes to get to the Centre Aquatic du Lac. At midday, it’s a little nippy but with caps, windcheaters, jeans, gloves and a scarf, (most of which we later discard), it’s very pleasant. Our path takes us through a park with a lake in the middle – Lac de la Bergonnerie – which is obviously very popular with the locals which is not surprising when you see all the high-rise buildings on the other side.
After the lake, we go past a series of allotments that even have “dry” public toilets. I wonder why there aren’t more of these along the Loire à Vélo bike route (which is part of Eurovélo 6 from the Atlantic to the Dead Sea)? Clean, fresh smelling, right next to the bike path.
A little further on, we ride through a 9-hole golf course which has a 18-hole putting green, Golf de la Gloriette, which seems rather less sophisticated than most golf courses. I check it out later and see that the green fees are about half what you pay at La Carte golf course near Chouzy-sur-Cisse. I’m not a golfer myself but I think it’s good to make the game more accessible.
After a while, we join the Cher and the Port du Pavé du Roy, reinstated a few years ago and the site of various riverside activities in the summer and, in particular, a trip on La Jocondie* to discover the wildlife and flora of the Cher.
Further along we come to an small industrial flour mill, Grand Moulins de Ballan, and behind it, we discover the old mill house with its wheel still intact.
We soon arrive at the little port of Savonnières with several traditional flat-bottomed gabarre boats resting serenely on the water.
Since we’re hoping to eat here, we leave the bike path and join the main road at the little church with its beautiful sculpted archway. The only restaurant open is way above our price range so we go back down onto the 3-kilometer bike path leading to Villandry.
Château de Villandry soon comes into sight after we turn left away from the river.
There are several restaurants on the main road at Villandry but none of them appeal to us. I see a sign pointing to a “tea room” in a side street, that takes us to “L’Epicierie Gourmande” (the gourmet grocery”). We see several bikes in front which is promising.
Inside, the décor is very simple and attractive, with exposed beams, stone walls and a large open fireplace. We have an excellent lunch – terrine de foie gras (copiously served) and a quiche, accompanied by a local wine (of course). There are no cooked dishes as such. Everything comes from the grocery section except for the dessert which is supplied by a local pastry shop. Exactly what we wanted! You can of course buy supplies from the grocery and have a picnic outside in the summer.
We continue on to the château and buy tickets to the garden only. We’ve visited the inside before but it’s not very interesting. However, we discover that there is an amazing terrace at the back of the château that affords a breathtaking view of the gardens.
Just below is the four-part “garden of love”, seen in the foreground in the photo. From top left in a clockwise direction: “Tender love” is symbolised by hearts separated by flames of love in the corners of the square. In the middle are the masks used during balls to disguise the wearer. “Passionate love” still has hearts but this time, they are broken by passion. The boxwood bushes forms a labyrinth to evoke the giddy round of dance and passion. “Fickle love” is next: the four fans in the corners symbolise the transient nature of love while between the fans are the cuckold’s corns. In the middle there are love letters. “Tragic love” comes last with the daggers and swords used for the duels of rival lovers. In summer, the flowers are red to symbolise the blood spilt during combat. I can hear a group of teenage girls nearby discussing the symbolism.
We walk along the path overlooking the gardens until we come to a narrow flight of steps guarded by a very friendly-looking dog, with a little pavillion at the bottom.
The formal garden below looks very serene with its little fountains and central canal.
Beyond the canal is the famous vegetable garden and the other façade of the château.
But first we go to the hardy perennials because we’re trying to find plants to decorate the slope leading up to our little wood. We identify a few specimens we can try out.
We then spend a lot of time in the vegetable garden, with its colourful cabbages, luxuriant asparagus ferns (the real thing), capsicum, celery, leeks and other decorative yet edible vegetables.
A quick tour of the garden shop and we’re back on the bike path, as daylight saving is now over and we have to be back at the car by 5.30 at the latest. We arrive just in time, as usual.
We’re delighted to have added another great bike itinerary to our already large collection. We’ll be back in the spring!
*La Jocondie, 12-seat boat. Landing: Port du Pavé du Roy, Joué-les-Tours. Les Mariniers du CAJC : 7, rue Descartes. Joué-les-Tours – 37300
The Loire Valley with its famous châteaux, especially Chenonceau, Chambord, Chaumont and Cheverny, is only a couple of hours from Paris by train or car. Visiting the area by car provides the greatest freedom but not everyone wants the added expense or bother of hiring a car. Fortunately, public transport is available to get around the main châteaux. You simply need to choose the best base and plan in advance as departure times are often limited.
The train from Paris Austerlitz goes to Orléans, Beaugency, Blois, Onzain (Chaumont), Amboise and Tours. Trains can be direct or stop at several stations along the way. The direct train to Blois takes just under 1 ½ hours. A good train for a day trip to visit Chambord and Cheverny, for example, would be the 7.38 am from Paris arriving in Blois at 9.01 am.
Blois would seem to offer the best base for visiting the four C’s without a car because it has a special shuttle (Navette Route 41) that takes you from the train station or Blois Castle to Chambord (40 mins), Cheverny and Beauregard. The current price is €6 for the day (adults and children are the same price) whatever the journey and also gives you a reduction to the different châteaux. For the timetable in French click here (timetable in English below).
The shuttle operates from the beginning of April to the end of October on Wednesdays, weekends and school holidays, leaving Blois around 9.30 and 11.30. It also operates every day from mid-July to the end of August. There are regular lines that operate during the winter (information on www.tlcinfo.net). The shuttle times are organised so you can visit Chambord in the morning and Cheverny in the afternoon. If you just want to go to Cheverny, for example, there is a shuttle leaving at 11.30, arriving at Chambord at 12.10 then at Cheverny at 12.34 (see timetable below).
Even in peak season, there are plenty of seats. However, the bus is not very well indicated at Blois station. When you walk out, look diagonally to the left and you’ll see a large sign indicating “Gare Routière” “Châteaux”. The bus stop is just behind it (you can see a small queue in the photo below) to the right of the red car).
All year round, there is a regular coach service called Rémi that goes from Blois station to Chambord and back, once a day, line n° 2, leaving at 12.29 pm, arriving at 1 pm, then returning at 5.10 pm, arriving in Blois at 5.50 pm.
A second shuttle (Navette Azalys) takes you from Blois to Chaumont (€2.15 one way, €4.15 return), leaving at 9.25 am and 2.05 pm from the train station and two minutes later from Blois Castle and arriving in Chaumont at 10.05 am and 2.45 pm (see timetable below).
To access Chenonceau from Blois, you first need to go Amboisewhich is an easy 16 to 20 minute train ride (7.20 €). A half-hour bus ride then takes you to Chenonceau which can also be reached by a half-hour train ride from Tours.
To go to Azay le Rideau, you need to take a 40-minute trip to Toursby train from Blois (€11.20) and allow another ½ hour train ride from Tours. Tours also offers the possibility of going to Villandry (35 minutes by train or Fil Bleu bus n° 117 leaving at 9 am and returning at 1 pm which is plenty of time to visit the garden as the château isn’t very interesting) and could provide a second base if you have more time in the Loire. The 20 K bike path from Tours to Villandry is also a pleasant, easy ride and quite feasible even if you don’t normally cycle that far.
So, to sum up, if you want to visit the Chambord, Cheverny, Chaumont, Chenonceau, Blois and Amboise castles, you will need at least three full days based in Blois: Chambord and Cheverny the first day (Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday except from mid-July to end of August when the day doesn’t matter), Chaumont and Blois the second day (Saturday or Sunday, except from mid-July to end of August when the day doesn’t matter) and Chenonceau and Amboise the third day. If you are interested in also visiting Villandry and Azay le Rideau, Tours would be a good second base.
There is another way to visit the châteaux – by bike. A network of bike paths links up all the châteaux and towns in the Loire Valley. Once again, Blois is a good base for Chambord, Cheverny, Chaumont and Beauregard, with comfortable distances, but Amboise would be a better base for Chenonceau.
Day Trip from Paris – both suggestions should be good with kids
Chambord and Cheverny (train and bus with only short walks)
Take the 7.38 am train from Paris Austerlitz, arriving at 9.01 am. Take the 9.30 shuttle from the station, arriving in Chambord at 10.10 am. Have lunch in Chambord (many choices including sandwiches and a picnic ground). Leave Chambord at 2.05 pm arriving in Cheverny at 2.29 pm. Leave Cheverny at 4.09 pm or, if you want to watch the 5 pm feeding of the hounds, leave at 6.30 pm, arriving at Blois station at 7.15 pm. There are trains for Paris at 4.17 pm (going to Montparnasse), 4.41 pm, 6 pm, 6.43 pm (all going to Austerlitz), 7.19 (Montparnasse) with the last train at 8.37 pm (arriving at 10.34 pm in Austerlitz). You can also get out of the bus at Blois Castle if you would like to include a third castle or walk down into the old town to visit or have dinner.
Amboise Castle and Clos Lucé, Chaumont (train and bus with long walks especially if you include Chaumont)
Take the 7.38 am train from Paris Austerlitz arriving at Amboise at 9.17 am. Visit the castle, then walk to Clos Lucé (10 mins). Have lunch in Amboise and walk to the station which is across the Loire (20 mins) to take the 2.22 pm train to Onzain, arriving 2.31 pm. Alternatively, take the 12.58 train to Onzain, arriving at 1.08 pm and have lunch in either Onzain or Chaumont (there are places to eat in the castle grounds as well as in the town). Walk to the castle (about 1/2 hour from the station but a great walk across the bridge with a fantastic view of Chaumont). Visit the castle. Take the 5.28 shuttle back to Onzain (or walk) and catch the 6.30 train to Paris. You can also take the same shuttle to Blois, arriving at 6.06 pm and have dinner in Blois and visit the old town (train times above).
If you need further information, I will be happy to add to this post. Just write a comment!
SHUTTLE ROUTE 41 – Blois Chambord Cheverny Beauregard (ticket from bus driver – there is always room on the bus)
4 April to 30 August > Wednesdays, weekends, public holidays and school holidays (every day in July and August).
31 August to 1 November > Wednesdays and weekends.
AZALYS SHUTTLE – Blois Chaumont-sur-Loire (tickets from bus driver)
April to June > Saturday, Sunday and public holidays (except 1st May)
July and August > every day
September to October > Saturday, Sunday and public holidays
*Azalys bus stop opposite the station
** Parking lot at top entrance to castle
A Few Distances in the Loire (km)
I’m contributing this post to Lou Messugo’s All About France link-up. For more posts from bloggers across the country, click here.
It’s Sunday again and unlike last week, we wake up to a bright blue sky. We have breakfast and are out of the house at the unusually early hour of 11 am – but we have a boat to catch.
We drive to the other side of Blois and park next to the bike path that takes us to Cour-sur-Loire and is part of the Loire à Vélo route which in turn is part of the Eurovelo 6 itinerary from the Atlantic Coast to the Black Sea. It is also on itinerary n° 12 on the Châteaux à Vélo map available from the local tourist office. This is a route we often take but today, there’s a difference. When we get to Cour, we’ll catch the new bike ferry across the river to join the bike path at Montlivault leading to Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire and from there to Château de Chambord. It is also part of itinerary n° 12 but you usually have to go as far as Muides to cross the Loire.
The last ferry before lunch leaves at 12 noon. It takes us ¾ hour to cycle the 8 km to the ferry stop. As we approach Cour we can see the ferry halfway across the river. By the time we get to the ferry stop at n° 122 quai de la Loire, the passengers are disembarking.
The flat-bottomed gabarre boat typical of the Loire region was designed in partnership with the Kaïros Association as part of a return-to-work project for long-term unemployed. It took six months to build. The service started on 21st July and will continue until September. Next year, it will run on weekends in June, then every day in July and August.
The ferries leave Cour-sur-Loire at 11 am, 12 noon, 2.30 pm, 3.30 pm, 4.30 pm and 5.30 pm and depart Montlivault at 11.30 am, 12.30 pm, 3 pm, 4 pm, 5 pm and 6 pm, every day except Monday which is reserved for groups.
We have many wonderful memories of crossing the Danube, Moselle and Rhine Rivers in Germany and Austria during our cycling trips in 2013 and 2014, particularly the S-bend, so it feels as though we are on holidays.
As the boat only holds 12 passengers and 10 bikes, I’m a little anxious about there being no room left, but we needn’t have worried. Apart from ourselves, there is a cycling couple from Mer, a family of four from Florence, also with bikes, two women with a small child and another couple on foot. Twelve adults and one child who is most put out when he discovers he has to wear a life jacket!
Our boatman welcomes us on-board and we pay our 2 euros each. The Italian father is already in voluble conversation with the other passengers and the atmosphere is very jovial. It’s better than Germany and Austria in that respect because we can actually talk to the other people!
Jean Michel sits just next to the boatman so he can ask lots of technical questions. The boat has a draught of 25 cm, which is very fortunate as we can clearly see the bottom of the river at one point. The boat was made using traditional methods.
The views as we take the short 15-minute trip across the river are stunning particularly as it’s such as beautiful day.
On the other side, we continue to Saint-Dye-sur-Loire and on to Chambord, 12 km away, noticing how different the vegetation is from the last time we were here a couple of months ago. The lack of rain has turned the green countryside an Australian brown.
Chambord is its usual majestic self. We have a copious salad and cold drink of wine for lunch at Les Caves du Roy under the shade of the linden trees in full view of the château before cycling back to the ferry stop at Montlivault to catch the 3 pm ferry.
This time, there is only one other cycling couple and a man from Belgium doing the Camino walk. His destination today is Blois. We’re in the boat waiting to leave when we see two young cyclists stop to read the information about the ferry. We call out to them to join us but they continue on their way. They don’t know what they’re missing!
When we reach the other side, we stop to admire Saint Radegonde’s fountain. Her visit here in the 6th century is said to have given the fountain curative properties.
The only thing missing is an ice-cream stand. Now what can we do about that?
It’s the summer solstice – 21st June – which in Europe is officially the first day of summer. We get up very late and have a full breakfast, including tostadas, which we were introduced to in Grenada in January. By the time we’re finished, it’s after twelve and we are due at the local wine-tasting day for lunch.
Our neighbourhood, Les Grouets, used to be a wine-producing area and our house, Closerie Falaiseau, was once a vineyard. Today we have a red gamay vine at the front of hte house that’s looking very hopeful and we intend to add a white variety, maybe my favourite chasselas, after the work has been finished on the barn. Considering that it isn’t even started yet, we might not be eating any of our own green grapes for some time.
We arrive at the wine-tasting venue at the same time as our friend Françoise and her American friend Jin who speaks excellent French. Jin has been running a 3-week summer programme for her university students for over 10 years now and Françoise has hosted several students, ranging in age from 20 to 80!
The wine-tasting is being held in a very large private garden which is the perfect setting. There are three local wine growers and a retailer from Blois, Les Forges du Château, which is also a wonderful morning tea, lunchtime and afternoon tea venue.
Eric Bacon, a caterer who lives in Les Grouets, is also present and has concocted some excellent chicken kebabs and a French-toast type dessert that he calls Grouettine.
We taste the wine at the different stalls then line up to buy our kebabs and Grouettines. We find a table that we move into the shade (it’s summer after all and it’s quite sunny for once) and are soon joined by some other friends and neighbours from our street.
When we leave around 2 pm, there is still no music (it’s also the national Fête de la Musique) and not a lot of people, mainly due, in my opinion, to the fact that it’s Father’s Day which probably means a lot of people are with their families. We’re a bit disappointed after the huge success of Bread Baking Day but it is still fun to participate in a local event.
After the wine-tasting, we’re off cycling. We choose itinerary n° 9 on our Châteaux au Vélo map and park at Vineuil which is a suburb of Blois, on the other side of the Loire from us. We’ve done this itinerary before but in a different direction which means it doesn’t seem the same.
In fact, it all looks new to me but Jean Michel regularly predicts what we are about to see. “Around the next corner”, for example, “we’ll see a gypsy caravan”, he says. I remember the caravan but had absolutely no idea where it was.
As we approach Huisseau-sur-Cosson we come to a small château with a very picturesque old mill that I remember once I get there as well. We go a little further up the path and see a dovecote.
Jean Michel also remembers a tiny village full of flowers and a very cute little well with teacups on it.
By then, we’re about halfway around our 36 km loop and château de Chambord comes into view – one of our favourite ice-cream stops. As we sit in full view of the château, I realise that it is the only castle in the Loire with free access to the grounds all year round.
We go home via Sainte Claude de Diray and admire its church once again. This time, the little store where we borrowed the key is closed so we have a biscuit rest on the bench opposite instead.
By the time we get back to the car, I’m ready for an apéritif in the garden. If the weather continues this way, we’re in for a great summer. Maybe we’ll see you here some time!
Last time, I took you on a tour of my garden in May. I thought you might like to see the wild flowers in the surrounding countryside as well. Here are the photos I took last Friday when we cycled along the Loire from opposite Saint Claude sur Diray to Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire, then through the forest to Château de Chambord, a 30 km round trip.
The first flowers I noticed were all the dog roses (églantine in French) which are a delicate pink.
These are elder trees (sureau). The berries are used to make elderberry wine.
These very tall trees (Jean Michel is on the bike path in front of me) are the Robinia pseudoacacia or false acacias that I mistook for wattle in my last post. It’s a bit confusing as the French actually call them acacias.
These yellow water irises are a little past their prime but I still love seeing them.
Buttercups are everywhere at the moment. These are on the banks of the Loire at Saint Dyé. When I first came to France, I fell in love with the buttercups and used to take my moped out into the countryside and lie down in the fields feeling very romantic.
You see both these flowers on stone walls everywhere. I understand that the lavendar one on the top right is a geranium (what we usually call geraniums are actually pelargoniums). I have no idea what the ones on the left are though.
These pretty little asters are also very common. You can see another geranium at the bottom of the photo.
These cornflowers are next to a field of barley on the path from Saint Dyé to Chambord.
No flowers in this one but I couldn’t resist posting a photo of one of my favourite châteaux!