A visit to the Loire Valley is like stepping into a fairytale with sweet villages, winding roads, romantic castles and vineyards fanned out along the longest river in France. Only a two-hour drive southwest of Paris, there is so much this area has to offer, from goat cheese makers to wine makers. Rather than taking a day trip from Paris to see a chateau and taste some wine, it’s best to dedicate a longer excursion to exploring this region and immerse yourself in the French countryside and the culture that pre-dates Roman times.
The Loire Valley was described by Rabelais, the 16th century writer and satirist, as the “Garden of France”. It is a garden of grapes with over 50 Appellations Controlées producing over 30 million cases of wines a year and some of the most well-known wines of France such as Sancerre, Muscadet and Pouilly Fumé. I enjoy visiting small family vineyards and wineries that produce small quantities of very interesting wines, usually not available for commercial distribution, as well as the more established and well known wine houses.
Last spring, we visited Chateau de Minière, located in the heart of Bourguiel terroir. This beautiful chateau has a centuries-old tradition of being run by women. It is currently operated by Kathleen Van den Berghe, a Belguim woman who will personally take you into the vines and talk to you about growing grapes, terroir and making wine which she has been doing here since 2010. She produces a wide range of Cabernet-Franc, of which, I especially enjoyed the sparkling reds.
Also known as the “Valley of the Kings”, the Loire Vallery features hundreds of chateaux dotting the idyllic landscape. Dating from medieval ages, fortresses were built as protection during the Hundred Years’ War. During the Renaissance, France’s royalty built palaces and hunting lodges, each outdoing the other with opulent architecture, gardens and fountains. An enjoyable way to tour the terrain is to bike along the Loire River which has some 800 kilometers of bike paths. Cycle through vineyards, past chateaux and troglodyte villages, built from the natural stone formations. The caves still function as homes, restaurants and mushroom farms.
On a recent trip, we took the TGV from Paris to Angers where our host, Pascal, picked us up from the train station and drove us through the storybook French countryside to our idyllic retreat just outside of Saumur. Le Moulin Bregeon is a mill which was built in the 19th century and lovingly restored by owner and founder, Jonathan Robinson. An artist and lover of France’s aesthetic beauty, Robinson is actively preserving the quality of life that makes France so unique.
Everyone at the Moulin is so welcoming and friendly. Greeted by Figaro, a happy chocolate Labrador, the chickens, geese, kitties and two friendly goats who roam freely, it’s all so natural and yet it looks so perfectly orchestrated, like living out a magazine layout of the most beautiful French country house with all the details in place: the organic garden with a stick fence to keep the wandering chickens out, a brook that runs under the house, and huge hazelnut trees that perfume the air. That is Jonathan’s talent for creating a balance of details and elements for aesthetic but easy and comfortable living. He lives his passion and it’s evident in every detail of the Moulin and village. Each of the luxurious guest suites is designed and decorated to blend in with the surroundings. Every door handle, sink, floor tile is meticulously chosen for authenticity, function and style.
When we arrived, it was a beautiful sunny day in France so we sat outside on the stone patio and I was handed a glass of excellent red wine from the local vineyards. We lingered there, petting the dog, talking about literature, Parisian salon life, and how we can forget the chaos of urban life in this idyllic setting. Bernard, our private chef, prepared a delicious dinner of roasted locally raised poulet, indigenous white asparagus, grown without sunlight so their stalks remain white and their taste is very subtle, salad fresh from the garden and the best whipped garlic potatoes I have ever tasted and of course… more wine.
This is how life is meant to be lived! We talked about how we are enjoying the simple things in life: good conversation, good food, good wine and what we would like Bernard to prepare for our next meal. C’est beau la vie! It’s a beautiful life!
We’re going again in the fall, to visit wineries and vineyards from Saumur to Nantes. Not just about the wine, we’ll hunt for mushrooms and antiques, bike ride and boat rode along the Loire, visit chateaux and cheese farms. Cooking class and city tours. We might even be lucky to be called on to help out with the vendange, or grape harvest. Interested in joining us? For details please click here.
Alecia Caine, founder of Find Your Self in France, creates bespoke experiences with the help of her French Connections to offer you a wide range of luxury services in Paris, the South of France and the French countryside. To discover more, contact Alecia at [email protected].