I have just spent the week in the Loire Valley doing research for a trip inspired by my family’s grand old half wreck of a maison in the area. Slightly dilapidated but with plenty of history and character, this big old house is where my mind goes to when I think of France; not to fashionable Paris or showy Cannes, but to timeless rural life.
There is still no phone line here and Internet is out of the question, so days here are blissfully removed from the outside world. After some wood chopping, a spot of DIY or gardening and cooking up a Gallic storm in the farmhouse kitchen, it’s time for my favourite pastime; building a proper fire, warming up a camembert on the mantle piece and cracking open a bottle of local wine. As the evening sets in, I cannot imagine anything more cosy or relaxing than popping on a DVD (something set in France, naturally!) as we curl up with supper in front of the glow of burning logs.
Bouef Bourguignon, Raclette, Coq-au-Vin… Some dishes were just destined for these snug winter nights and I couldn’t imagine eating a one of them without hearing the crackle of an open fire. I just catch a whiff of wood smoke and immediately my mind flits to images of hearty stews and melting cheese, bottles of red wine and glasses of port. This is my winter France, and this week was the last trip of the (unusually long this year) season. But what a trip it was…
In between my cheese and wine indulgence evenings by the fire, I was out and about exploring the gastronomic treasures of the Loire. In my area there isn’t much tourism, as it is largely overshadowed by the wine world giant Sancerre to the East and seaside charms of La Rochelle to the West, but though there may not be any world-famous names here, there is something more exciting; undiscovered jewels of French history, cuisine and viticulture! The French have long known of this middle region of the Loire territory, historically the playground of Paris’ royalty, where you can barely drive a mile without passing a chateau, and home to vineyards growing more varieties of wine than any other region of France. But the rest of the world has barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer and I can’t help but get excited about introducing you to it.
This week I have wandered around sprawling chateaux that I never knew existed, discovered the ancient network of troglodyte caves that lie under the area, some even housing restaurants; I have been invited to try wines in hunting lodge manor’s and caves actually in caves, and welcomed into hotels full of winding staircases, secret passages and billiard rooms. If you are, like me, a hopeless romantic as well as a foodie, I am certain that the Loire will capture your imagination, as well as your taste buds.
The only thing that could make my plans for Loire tours better would be finishing the days with cheese and wine by the fire. It just so happens that the hotel I have fallen in love with offers just that… Now that is my sort of holiday to France; historic, delicious, charming, slightly crumbly around the edges, but ultimately more endearing for it.