We are starting to settle into life in Paris. So much so, we decided we needed a little getaway. We looked at options within France, easy to get to quickly from the Capitol. The Loire Valley seemed like the perfect choice. Not only for our favourite Sancerre wine grown in the Loire, but also for the plentiful and incredible Châteaux littered around the Valley.
Just over an hour train ride from Gare Montparnasse, we arrived in Tours. A lovely, charming French city on the Loire River. Beautiful! Lucky we got to see it, because it was actually the wrong stop for us. We rented a car to explore the Valley – I did it all by myself! Little did I know that this was far more complicated than I realized. Tours has 2 train stations and the only car rental outlets are located at the Gare de St. Pierre des Corps, the first stop in the city. Easy mistake to make, right? How was I supposed to know that when the car rental website says the location is ”Gare de Tours” that it actually means ”Gare de St Pierre des Corps” aka the Other Tours Station?
Anyways, we found ourselves in the beautiful Tours Station one stop past where we were supposed to be and began our adventure in the Loire. I found the ticket office, the only place in the station where there was a human being who could possibly help us. The lovely SNCF attendant explained that we could get back on the train we arrived on and travel back 5 mins to the St. Pierre stop. Apparently this was a common mistake. We just needed to buy new tickets. At the vending machine, I paid approximately €5 for the 4 of us to ride back. I came out of the ticket office triumphant that I had found a solution and vindicated that my mistake was not as big a deal as we thought, until I realized that the train had already left. No matter, we could catch the next one… oh wait, it will be an hour and the agent at the car rental place was growing impatient with me.
Back to the SNCF ticket office and my new friend, imploring what are our options. A bus. But we just missed it as well. A taxi? Sure, if you can find one. Uber? Why not, but the only Uber around is a good 20 minutes away and we need 2 as most regular Ubers in France can only take 3 passengers max due to Covid protocols. We are not in Kansas any more Toto (we don’t even have a bike like the Wicked Witch of the West). We need to travel for 5 minutes by car, that’s it. But its too far to walk with luggage and kids.
So we decide to divide and conquer. Monsieur and I each plug in the location, which is super hard as we seem to be in some sort of bus loop/ pedestrian only area and the Uber App is of no help at all. Finally we are able to drop the pin in the app and then we wait, and we wait and we wait some more. The train in an hour is starting to look good. When out of the blue a taxi shows up, a lovely big SUV! The driver agrees to take us all the 5 minutes to St. Pierre, so we cancel the Ubers (and pay the cancellation fees) and jump into the taxi. Five minutes later, my new boyfriend dropped us at the car rental office at St. Pierre des Corps armed with plenty of suggestions on how to fill our two days in the Loire and assurances that we were not the first people to make this same mistake. So if you ever go visit The Loire, you’ll know what to do.
We booked ourselves into a lovely small Château just outside of Tours, Domaine de la Tortinière. Imagine a bit of a Fawlty Towers vibe. Our room was literally in the tower. Like all good 400 year old houses, it was drafty and home to a family of stink bugs (the latter perhaps somewhat inexplicable) yet utterly charming with a very kind staff and a yummy breakfast. We enjoyed a nice glass of wine by the fire and a delicious dinner in their dining room.
The following day was a Sunday, so on the recommendation of my new taxi driver boyfriend, we ventured to the historic town of Amboise for their Sunday market. Our first stop was to meet my even newer boyfriend, Henri the cheese and salami man. This region has been hit hard by the pandemic, so it was clear that Henri was VERY happy to see some gullible charcuterie loving Canadians show up. We tasted and decided on a super yummy young cheese – don’t ask me what it was – and a pepper salami. Monsieur La Banque (my ACTUAL boyfriend) forked over the €65 for the goods. I’m not sure how you say rip-off in French but suffice to say Henri was VERY happy we stopped by and we chalked it up as an opportunity to support the local economy.
It was a very rainy day in The Loire but we persevered and headed to the incredible Château de Chenonceau. I won’t bore you with all the history, but suffice to say it has a long and infamous past. The most incredible thing for me was the hotel-lobby-grade floral arrangements in every single room of the castle. They were phenomenal and I had to take pictures of them all for my sweet friend R the Gardener back in Vancouver.
Due to the rain, we cut our trip to Chenonceau short, the Gardens were lovely but not suited to the weather. We decided to make the schlep back to charming Amboise to get more cheese. Just kidding! We wanted to see the Château de Clos Lucé. This Château is quite special as it was the last home to Leonardo Da Vinci. He finished painting some of his most important pictures there; Mona Lisa, John the Baptist etc. If you wonder why The Louvre has so many of the very few paintings Da Vinci painted, it was because they were completed here in France at Clos Lucé. Da Vinci was invited to Amboise by King Francis I in 1516. Amboise was the seat of power in France at the time with the King reigning from the Château Royal d’Amboise. Clos Lucé is quite interesting if you are a Leonardo fan, like my people are. Its a small Château, so an easy tour to do.
A little damp, a little cold and very hungry we googled our way through all the restaurants within a 15 minute drive from our little hotel that were open on a Sunday. Let’s just say its not many. But as luck would have it, we found an Italian place that served fresh pasta and pizza. Jackpot! We put the address in the GPS and off we went, marveling at the bucolic Loire countryside which suddenly turned into suburban strip mall land. We found the Italian place tucked into the front side of the parking lot of an aforementioned strip mall just like an East Side Marios! But this one served us PILES of Burrata cheese, as an appetizer, on our pizzas, on our pastas. We were in cheese heaven – and this time it didn’t cost us 65 bucks!
Before we hopped the train back to Paris, we decided to venture to Château de Chambord. Apparently this castle was the inspiration for the Beast’s castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The sun was out and the drive was lovely. We arrived in Chambord to a fully scaffolded facade. The massive castle is undergoing a major restoration project. Not an uncommon sight when visiting these historic locales across Europe, but a bit of a bummer to not see the castle in its full regalia. Oh well. A reason to return.
Set on acres of land, the Château is massive. A large castle with ramparts around it and gardens and forests as far as the eye can see. Definitely a place where you can spend the day exploring. The small village next to the Chateau includes a few small bistros (with great food), a wine shop and a hotel. In summer, it must be something else!
Back to St. Pierre des Corps, we hopped on the train a station late and in a blink of an eye we were back in sunny Paris. Such an easy little weekend away with so much to see and do, we wished we had more time in France when the weather is warm as the Loire in the summertime must be a treat… but maybe steer clear of Henri’s cheese cart on a hot day.