The Loire Valley, the middle section of the Loire River, has some of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in western Europe. The concentration of picturesque historic towns and spectacular châteaux make this a popular destination in France, and the reason why the region itself was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. On either side of the river are flat, fertile plains that support abundant orchards and vineyards, which produce some of the finest wines in the World.
Having spent seven wonderful days exploring the best prehistoric caves and Renaissance castles in France, and with another week of the tour still to go, a break from archaeology and art for a day was very welcome. As we were in the Loire Valley, tasting and learning about the wines of the region seemed the best way to do something interesting and different.
Cathy and Nigel Henton of Le Tasting Room offer a range of wine tours and tastings. We chose their Secrets of the River Day Trip, which included a wine tasting of Loire varietals in the morning, a wonderful lunch served in an atmospheric old barrel cellar of a 16th century house, and the afternoon spent on a beautiful wooden boat floating along the Loire River. All in all an interesting introduction to the wines, wildlife and heritage of the Loire Valley, a day which added a different perspective to our explorations of France’s heritage.
I am sure there are many opportunities for wine tastings in the Loire Valley, but we definitely lucked out with Cathy and Nigel. They are obviously very knowledgeable about the various aspects of wine production, and they eagerly share this with their guests. Although I greatly enjoyed learning about a handful of different wines from the area, I have to admit my ears pricked up when we tasted a wine from the Château de Pimpéan. Besides producing great wine, the estate has a fifteenth century chapel that has some of the best preserved wall paintings from this era. Definitely a reason to return and explore the Medieval art of the area further!
After a delicious, three course lunch, where we got to experiment with pairing the dishes with the wines we had tasted earlier, we headed off for the riverside village of Le Thoureil. Here we boarded Alain’s toue sablière – a traditional Loire River sand dredging boat. Alain not only loves his boat, but he is passionate about the river as well. While snacking from a basket of freshly picked cherries (and the odd bit of work, when I had to help put up the sail), various aspects of the river, its history and the flora and fauna were pointed out.
Artistic Splendours of France Tour – Day Eight
As the halfway point, seven days down and seven to go, the eighth day of the tour was a planned break from art, archaeology and architecture. After a night at a B&B in Gennes, we went over to nearby Cumeray for the start of our wine tasting experience. Included in the Secrets of the River Day Trip was a morning of wine tasting, a wonderful lunch, and an afternoon boat-trip on the Loire River. Then it was back to the B&B in Gennes. That evening we had an excellent meal in the Aubergade restaurant, within walking distance of the B&B so no need to worry about driving after all that wine!