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The Loire Valley: from the Château de Candé to the Chinon Fortress

The Loire Valley: from the Château de Candé to the Chinon Fortress

Georges Rouzeau - 2010-10-04

Classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Loire Valley is always certain to be a hit, particularly with overseas tourists. It’s also receiving something of a makeover in places like Chinon where, last July, a Fortress was newly opened. What’s more you can rest assured that the hotels and restaurants of the Touraine province will never rest on their laurels!

Château de Candé
 
See the itinerary leaving from Paris. Exit 24 on the A10. Then 20km south of Tours on the N10.  The château is located on the D87 at Monts.
 
To earn a visit to the Château de Candé first you have to find it! According to the owner, the conseil général for the Indre-et-Loire départment is doing its best to keep it hidden! The lack of signposts may make it difficult to find, but it would be wrong to give up on a visit. Compared to Renaissance blockbusters such as Chenonceau and Chambord, a visit of Château de Candé offers a fascinating and unusual tour where you get to see the 1930s residence of an extremely wealthy Franco-American couple. Candé was originally a luxurious 16th century house bought by Anglo-Cuban billionaire, Santiago Drake del Castillo, who transformed it into a neo-gothic castle three times as large. In 1927, having made his fortune in the United States, Frenchman, Charles Bedeaux, bought the residence, and, along with his wife Fern, bestowed upon it an incredibly high level of comfort for the times: central heating, electric sockets in the parquet flooring, luxury Art deco bathrooms with bathtubs that can be filled in one minute, a telephone in every room as well as a telephone exchange directly linked to the US in the basement and a Skinner electric organ (there are only two left in Europe). Of course, the Château de Candé also has worldwide renown as the place of the 20th century’s most controversial marriage: that of Wallis Simpson, a friend of the lady of the manor, and the Duke of Windsor (the ex-Edward VIII) in 1937. The splendour of this grand bourgeois residence of the early 20th century immerses you into an atmosphere worthy of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Since last April, the Château’s Orangery (built between 1853 and 1858) has been completely renovated and houses a boutique which highlights the Touraine art of living.
 
At Monts take the D17 towards Artannes. Stopover at the Pont-de-Ruan, an important place associated with Balzac, then continue towards Saché.
 
Château de Saché (Balzac Museum)
 
More of a manor house than a Château, this place was redeveloped several times between the 16th and 18th centuries. Opposite a small wooded valley, set in the middle of romantic gardens, Château de Sachéhas an eccentric charm. The great man of this place was not the owner, M. de Margonne, the lover of Madame de Balzac, but the author of La Comédie Humaine – Honoré de Balzac himself. Balzac visited the place for the first time aged 13 and returned regularly until 1848 to enjoy the countryside, drink coffee, write and flee from his debtors and his bedroom appears to have been kept almost completely untouched. It was here that he started to write LePère Goriot. The wallpaper of the Vauqer household that features in this work was inspired by that of the Saché dining room. The wallpaper which adorns the red lounge known as the “lion’s paper” has remained exactly as Balzac would have seen it. Another of his works le Lys dans la vallée, despite being written in Paris, takes its influences from La Touraine, Saché and surrounding places such as Pont-de-Ruan, Vonnes Manor (renamed Clochegourde) and the Château de Valesne (renamed Frapesle), giving plenty of reason to roam the surrounding countryside.
 
Accommodation and Dining:
 
Where to eat
L’Auberge du XIIe s.
1, rue du Château, 37190 Saché.
Tel: +33 (0)2 47 26 88 77.
Balzac used to frequent this revered inn, as did Calder, the other renowned figure of Saché. Nowadays, Thierry Ximenez and Xavier Aubrun are two professionals with a wealth of experience who have been at the helm of the auberge for twelve years. Jealousy has never been an issue between them as each has their own dedicated menu.
Here, our two very particular palates were enchanted by an asparagus mille feuille with roast langoustine, veal rice and morel mushrooms and salmon with scrambled eggs. Now it’s up to you to sample this attractively plated classic cuisine.  
The dining room runs smoothly under the direction of a young female head waiter and sommelier who promotes the wines of the region.
 
Where to stay
La Maison du Lavoir
27 rue des Lavandières, 37260 Thilouze - www.maisondulavoir.com
5km from Saché, this attractive country house, the oldest section of which dates back to 1796, has two well kept rooms on offer. It has a large flower filled garden and, what’s more, the host is a Balzac enthusiast.  
 
At Saché take the D356 which crosses the river Indre and turn left on to the pretty road of la Sablonniere (D84) which passes in front of the Vonne Manor. Drive through Azay-le-Rideau on the D57 which you follow until la Chatonnière.
 
The gardens of Château de la Châtonnière
 
Less well known and without any pretence of rivalling the gardens at Villandry, the gardens of Château de la Châtonnière are worth a visit. They are the joint work of owner, Béatrice de Andia, and one of Villandry’s ex gardeners, Ahmed Zeroual. Garden enthusiasts will be enchanted by the decorative vegetable garden, the herb garden with medicinal plants, the intoxicating rose gardens and the herbaceous maze, all of which will make you regret that life itself is not a garden.  
 
Return to Azay-le-Rideau via the same road.
 
Château d’Azay-le-Rideau
 
Whatever you might hear, a Château becomes even more beautiful when surrounded by water, such as Chenonceau and Azay-le-Rideau. For the price of a ticket you have the pleasure of enjoying two monuments. The first, built in stone, slate and stucco, is the work of one of the financiers of François 1st, Gilles Berthelot, a refined social climber who was among the first to introduce Italian style to France. The second château is the wonderful reflection of the first upon a mirror of water, rendering it ethereal and sublime. Take the time to sample the various angles and viewpoints by crossing over to the EnglishPark which was landscaped on the marshy prairies in the 19th century by the Biencourt family. This “diamond, with facets sculpted by the Indre” (Balzac) has been preserved thanks to them.
The Château, which comprises a large corps de logis and a side wing, was constructed from 1518 onwards and has undergone several restorations over the centuries, with varying degrees of success. On the whole, its square medieval layout has been preserved and this form bears witness to the inability of the French architects of the period to abandon the canons of the middle ages despite the pressing demands of sponsors. The interior stairway with straight railings, however, comes directly from the Italian Renaissance with three floors of twin bays that form loggias.
 
Places to eat and stay:
 
Where to eat
Côté Cour
19 rue de Balzac, 37190 Azay-le-Rideau
Tel: +33(0)2 47 45 30 36 - www.cotecour-azay.com
 
Upon leaving the château, dine in this brand new restaurant with its décor that combines modern materials, beams and stonework. Former team member of Villa Calvi (two stars), Frédéric Sanchez, who has plied his trade all over the world, creates a fresh and elegant cuisine of the day which diverges between traditional local Touraine produce (Chinon poached pear, goats cheese) and modernity. In the dining room and on the terrace (which looks onto the pedestrian road) his wife punctuates the stylish service with her contagious laughter. The menu tariff is €13.80  for lunch.
 
Where to stay
Les Rosiers de Fanette
25 route des Rosiers, 37510 Savonnières.
Tel: 06.21.67.31.41
Between Tours and Villandry, this large, modern house with a pool and a 5,000 sq.m. garden has three spacious rooms (for 2 to 5 persons) with immaculate bathrooms offering beauty products from the Martin de Candre hand crafted soap factory. A Cordon bleu quality chef, Stéphanie is passionate about the produce of her local region, making exceptional breakfasts (organic fromage blanc, home-made jam, quality breads) and offering table d’hôte dining for guests that rivals the best restaurants: truffles, saffron, Touraine Saint-Maure cheese, free-range chicken, asparagus, vegetables of yesteryear, local apples and pears …
 
Leave Azay-le-Rideau to the south (rue de Chinon) and then, after the bridge over the River Indre, take an immediate left onto the D17 before taking the first right (D57) towards Villaine-les-Rochers. After Neuil, take the D457 towards Crissay-sur-Manse. From there, follow the D21 to Chinon    
 
 
Chinon Fortress
 
Last July, a fortress, previously unseen by the public, opened in Chinon after 7 years of work.
This began in 2003 when an archaeological dig revealed unexpected treasures including a palace built by the Plantagenet King Henry II around 1160, several towers and a chapel.
This colossal project also brought to light large sections of a fortified wall, easily exposed due to their immaculate whiteness. Perched on a rocky outcrop above the river Vienne, overlooking the slate roofs of Chinon’s old town, the fortress occupies an exceptional location. In fact, what is known as a “Fortress” generally comprises three “castles” separated by deep dry moats. To the east is Fort Saint-Georges, whilst in the middle you’ll find the castle that contains the royal lodgings, with the Coudray Fort to the west. The new updated Chinon Fortress also has multimedia features. The booklet handed out at the reception is equipped with a microchip for audio and interactive displays. From Fulk III of Anjou to Philippe Auguste through to Henri II Plantagênet, Joan of Arc and the Knights Templar, the whole staggering history of France is on display here.
The best time to visit is late afternoon. As the sun starts to set the ancient stones of the Fortress form enchanting shadows, whilst the slate roofs of the old town, the banks of the Vienne and its green valley are all ablaze with light. 
 
Places to stay
“Les Vallées” Guesthouse
Lieu-dit Les Vallées, 37220, Crissay-sur-Manse
Tel: +33 (0)2 47 97 07 81 www.lesvallees-crissay.fr  
20 km to the east of Chinon, in the town of Crissay-sur-Manse, a huge farmhouse backed by troglodyte caves has, over the last 25 years, been painstakingly recovered from its ruins by the owner. This large house now has 3 spacious rooms where you can stay in a rural setting of golden silence.
 
Dining out
La Table de Béa
15, Rue du château, 37220, Crissay-sur-Manse
Tel:  +33 (0)2 47 58 53 88  
Falling somewhere between a family run table d’hôte and a countryside inn, Béa’s cuisine (formerly of Atélier Gourmand in Tours) has set up home in a small house in Crissay-sur-Manse, an extraordinary, small and well–preserved village. Complimenting a constantly updated and reasonably priced wine list that gives pride of place to Chinon and young and talented local winemakers, Bea creates family cuisine using market produce seasoned with a touch of modernity. There’s also a beautiful outdoor lounge that resembles a cottage garden.
 
 
USEFUL INFORMATION
 
Château de Candé (Guided tours only)
 
Château de Saché (Balzac Museum)
 
 
The gardens at Château de la Châtonnière
 
Château d’Azay-le-Rideau
 
Chinon Fortress
 

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