Even though I’ve lived in France for nearly six years now, I’m always finding new places near and far that are worth a visit. If you find yourself in the Loir Valley (vallée du Loir, not to be confused with the Loire), I have all kinds of suggestions for you to keep busy and soak up all things French. Tom and I spent a long weekend there back in October and our trip proves you don’t have to go to a big city to have fun. Wine tastings, castle visits, and even a trip to the zoo are all fair game when you visit this lesser-known area of France. Here’s what the Loir Valley has to discover. Come along…
Peaceful garden visit
In Beaumont-sur-Dême, you can can walk through Les Jardins du Prieuré de Vauboin and see beautifully manicured greenery that’s perfect for a stroll or even meditation. Tucked behind an unassuming gate on a residential street, you might miss it the first time you drive past like we did. But once inside, you’ll see the hidden gardens’ appeal. There are two parts: an enclosed garden and a century-old box plantation. Walk up to the top and check out the view. You might see a few cows grazing in the distance.
Here’s a quick video I made on my phone showing you around this Loir Valley treasure. We were the only ones there!
As I always tell you, visiting local wine producers is one of my favorite things to do in France. There’s something so special about talking to the passionate people behind the bottles of wine we see in wine shops and on holiday tables. When I pull out a bottle of wine from a local producer, my mind always pictures the people I’ve met in person who tirelessly work to produce the wine I once took for granted. These days, after seeing what goes into maintaining the vines and making wine, I don’t take any of it for granted.
It was a delight to meet Ludovic Gigou who, along with his parents and sister, owns Domaine de la Charrière/Domaine Gigou in La-Chartre-sur-Le-Loir. In business since 1974, this domaine of 13 hectares (13.4 acres) is a producer of Jasnières, a lesser known white wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes. You should absolutely try it if you get the chance.
Jasnières is a small, white wine appellation of only 65 hectares (160 acres) total and is a subsection of the Coteaux du Loir. Sometimes the wines are super dry and other times they’ll end up sweeter depending on the producer and the conditions of the growing season.
As a white wine lover, I was in heaven and couldn’t help but leave with a few bottles that have been put to good use. I even brought one back to the US for my family over Thanksgiving!
Domaine de la Charrière is a Loir Valley must. They also makes noteworthy red wines, a rose and sparkling.
Here’s a look at the cave and tasting area:
Château du Lude
If castles are more your thing, the Château du Lude does not disappoint. Unlike many historic castles in France, the family who owns this castle actually lives on the premises. From April to October, you can tour the areas of the castle that are open to the public as well as the stunning gardens, so that’s exactly what we did.
The sun was shining on the fall afternoon we visited and we left our car parked at the lovely B&B we stayed at just a stone’s throw away from the chateau. If you want to explore the area, I highly recommend you stay at 5 Grande Rue in Le Lude. The top-notch B&B run by an English couple boasts excellent service and modern, luxury accommodations that will have you feeling right at home. Their home-cooked meal was one of the best we had all weekend!
Anyway, back to the chateau. The Château du Lude is an architecture lover’s dream and shows off four centuries of French architecture. It was a six-tower fortress complete with a moat that was transformed into an elegant home during the Renaissance and the 18th century.
A new classical wing looking out to the river was added at the end of the 18th century in the local white tuffeau stone. Then, the northern facade underwent a restoration in the 19th century Gothic style.
Stunning, isn’t it?
After you’ve visited the interior of the castle, be sure to save time for walk though the gardens. Or better yet, go to the Garden Festival held in June each year that’s dedicated to the art of gardening.
Carnuta Wood Museum
For learners big and small, stop in to Carnuta: La maison de l’Homme et de la Forêt. The interesting museum is dedicated to man and the forest and is split into two parts.
Downstairs you’ll find a temporary exhibition portion and upstairs is a permanent exhibit that will take you on a walk through a reconstructed forest, complete with sounds, smells, and audiovisual components. Upstairs is the perfect place to bring young kids who will find the interactive exhibits a blast.
My pictures below are from the temporary exhibition which featured samples of wood from all over the world. One of the stations featured pieces of wood that you had to identify by smell. It was super interesting to smell all the different types of wood and guess what each odor was and where the sample might have originated.
Just a short drive from Carnuta is La Foret de Bercé. Spread over 5,400 hectares (about 13,343 acres), the forest is home to thousands of trees, including oak trees several hundred years old that produce high-quality wood. One of the most notable trees is named Boppe and we carefully followed the signs to it on the forest roads.
Once in the forest, we made a few wrong turns but finally found it. For a few minutes there, I thought we’d end up like Hansel and Gretel. #onlyhalfjoking
While you can horseback ride, hike, and mountain bike, that’s not all you can do. We saw groups of people foraging for mushrooms found on the forest’s floor.
Have you visited any of these places in the Loir Valley?
Many thanks to Vallée du Loir tourism for hosting us. As always, all opinions are my own.