We have wanted to explore this area for a long time. We’ve both been to the grand chateaux before – Chambord, Amboise, Blois, Chenonceaux… – but never had we taken the time to explore the lesser known villages and sights. This first week of Winter Break, we hopped into a rented car in Tours and headed out toward la Loire. A quick stop at the Office de Tourisme, Wine Route map in hand, we wound our way through Montlouis, Mont Richard, into the Ambroise forest and down toward Azay-le-Rideau. We spent the first night at a small hotel in this latter town, and visited the chateau the next morning. A fairytale castle if I’ve ever seen one! Think Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty and this castle is what comes to mind. Disney could have used it as his model. (Of course, the beautiful blue sky didn’t hurt!)
Day two, we spent the morning in Balzac’s home country: Saché. A lovely museum in the house where he lived and wrote – his 10 most productive literary years. He pinned Le Lys dans la vallée, a love story in which nothing happens, which is rather French. He used this chateau as inspiration for the one in the book.
As we passed through Touraine toward Chinon and Saumur (other parts of the Touraine) we entered the real wine region. Chateaux and vineyards every few miles. Breathtaking little villages, winding roads, narrow bridges over the Cher. Lunch in Chinon, a very quaint town with plenty of shops, brocantes, and my personal favorite – Libre Livres – an unassuming box, much like a mailbox, in which a stack of books is open for the taking. Take a book, leave a book. Brillant idea. I happened upon Province 1970, currently on my night stand.
From Chinon we made our way to tonight’s home – Montsoreau – through some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve seen on a long time. Yet another beguiling white stone village cut out of a large hill and draped with charm, one of France’s “most beautiful villages”. Without a doubt, those who share my sensibility for antique, old, character-filled places should think of staying at Hotel Le Bussy. Don’t let the Logis sign scare you away; this hotel is oozing with allure.
I am writing to you this very moment from the top floor of this ancient building with a gorgeous view out over the Loire and Vienne rivers and the Renaissance chateau that shares the town’s name. A castle made famous by Alexander Dumas in his novel The Dame de Monsoreau.
After a delicious fish dinner at a surprising little joint on the side of the road appropriately named La Mise en bouche, I must say good night. We have two more days left one this leg of the trip. I’ll be reporting again soon…