Sunday, February 25, 2018

Chateaux & Wine, Loire Valley- Part 1


Trip date: May 2017
Bookended by short spurts in Paris, the main point of my France trip was to visit the Loire Valley. The Loire is a huge region and as we only had a long weekend Forest and I decided to focus on the Central Loire, where we would visit grand chateaux and drink a lot of delicious wine.

Our first stop was Domaine Huards winery in Couer Cheverny. This should have been just over a 2-hour drive from Paris but we someone missed the exit and drove a bit past. Not a huge deal but we wanted to get 2 wine tastings and 2 chateaux in before Friday was over!

Couer Cheverny is the only AOC that grows the Romorantin grape which produces a lovely dry, minerally white wine that is similar to a Chablis, for about $7! After tasting through their line up, the first purchases were made and we were off to our first chateau, Chateau Cheverny!

Chateaux litter the Loire Valley, some visible from the roads, others hidden behind groves of trees and announced on the highway only by a sign showing a sketch. Some of them are owned and run by the government but the majority are privately owned; some offering tours and some open as hotels.

Chateau Cheverny, with its 54 rooms, is the smallest of the chateaux we would visit, and the family of Charles-Antoine de Vibraye lives in one half while the other is available to tour. The rooms are filled with family antiques from throughout the years and are really interesting.

The chateau is best known for two things; the permanent exhibit of the French comic character Tintin and the 100+ hunting dogs in the kennels. We didn't make it for the daily feeding of the dogs but just hanging out with them was deafening enough!

It was time for more wine so we jumped back on the road and drove to the Chateau de Chambord, which happens to have a nice tasting room onsite. 
We tasted through some very good whites and rosés made a few purchases and then walked around the massive chateau (which was closed to tours at this time but we hadn't planned on going in anyway).
Chambord is a royal chateau and is the largest in the Loire with 440 rooms, it was designed to be a hunting lodge and sits on a pretty lake that you can rent boats on.

Before leaving the grounds, we stopped at a cute little shop and picked up some absolutely delicious lamb pate made by the Bernard family. If you visit the chateau I highly recommend you taste their products- incredible!

We drove on to the minuscule town of Montlivault and checked into Maison d'a Côte where we would spend the night and dine in their great café (they also have a 1* Michelin restaurant that looked lovely; next time!) I absolutely recommend this hotel and café, it's not fancy but it is charming.
In the morning we drove to the town of Les Montils and attended a wine fair being held at the Clos du Tue-Boeuf winery. There were two cellars of winemakers from the area, all pouring from their current releases. The winemakers here are working farmers; there was nothing fancy in their heavy boots, jeans, and sweaters as they poured us tastes on the concrete floors surrounded by harvest and bottling equipment. 
Forest and I were focused on whites and I got my first tastes of wine from the Touraine and Anjou AOCs as well as more tastes of Chevernys and Vouvrays. And all the wines ran about $7! 
And as with most wine tastings, there we some casual snacks set out. Here in the Loire though, the winemakers had brought fresh cherries from their trees, amazing local cheeses, and fat slices of homemade patés and terrines. Hell yes!

More bottles were purchased and we headed to friend/blogger/author Emily Dilling's lovely farmhouse where she made us lunch out of her recent cookbook, My Paris Market. How cool is that? 
I only knew Emily from online so it was great to meet in person, and even better to enjoy her cooking!

As was our plan to hit both wine tastings and chateaux each day we said farewell and drove to the incredibly picturesque Chateau de Chenonceau. Built in 1511, the chateau spans the River Cher, and is the most visited Chateau in France after Versailles. 

It is privately owned now but it used to be a royal residence, Catherine Medici was one of the most famous inhabitants. Touring the rooms is incredibly interesting, especially the huge kitchens and impressive collection of copper cookware!
We wandered the beautiful gardens and then sat for a glass of wine outside, with the chateau in view.  

We were staying just about 20 minutes away in Amboise, another pretty drive through small villages and past more chateaux. We checked into the fabulously situated Hotel le Manoir, sitting in the shadow of Chateau Amboise. The sun was out so we had a little apero, taking in the view, before heading into the main square for dinner.
It was a short and easy walk to the restaurants and bars which line the opposite side of the street of the chateau. We grabbed drinks outside on the sidewalk terrace at one before heading into another for dinner. 
By the end of our second day, we had been to 4 chateaux and done 3 proper wine tastings. And we still had another 2 days! I was absolutely loving the Loire Valley!

All Loire photos here. 

Other posts from this trip:

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