By Sara Darling
What does France conjure up for you? Is it beautiful drives around the countryside, experimental gastronomy, heaps of history, the Eiffel Tower and late night coffees in art galleries? For me it is all the above and more.
Heading to The Loire Valley with my history head on, I wasn’t quite sure what delights I was letting myself in for. At a hop skip and short (90 mins) train ride from Paris, the pretty village of Amboise was worth the trek. Winding country roads, and chateaux a plenty, the village is probably best known for its Chateaux du Clos Luce, where the prodigy Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years, but there are lots of other things to explore for a long weekend too, particularly if you are an outdoorsy sort, or like wine! Both of which appeal to me.
If you are in the mood for castles, the Loire Valley has plenty to choose from, as this is where most of the French royalty preferred to spend the bulk of their time, and the wealthy bourgeoisie continued to renovate existing châteaux or build lavish new ones as their summer residence in the Loire.
My pick if I had to choose a favourite, is the châteaux of Chenonceau- and is arguably one of the Loire Valley’s most famous and romantic castles. The French Revolution saw many of the grandiose châteaux destroyed and ransacked with their treasures stolen, but this is a delight and is still in remarkable condition.
Set on the River Cher, Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici famously lived here and their rooms have been preserved with original features for authenticity. Pick up an ipod and take a 45 or 80-minute tour, stopping and starting where you please.
The adjoining grounds are the home to the meticulous flower and vegetable garden (Ineduit de Russel Page) which is manned by American, Nicholas Tomlan and award winning floral designer, Jean Francois Boucher. If you check in advance, there might also be flower arranging workshops, where you can get your hands on the fresh posies that the team use, and create one for yourself.
Pretty gardens, fresh air and a view to die for means you have will have probably worked up an appetite. There are two restaurants on site, and I sampled the gastronomic delights at the Orangerie. Romantic, tasteful and experimental, with an impressive wine list, this (along with the giant cheese board) is the icing on the proverbial cake.
A short car journey away is Château du Clos Lucé, where the genius Leonardo Da Vinci spent his final years. Relocating to France, he worked on several projects for King Francis, and was christened with the moniker "Renaissance Man" along with his contemporary Michelangelo, who was a sculptor, painter, architect and poet.
A term which was befitting of both, working on the principle that man is the centre of the universe and has no limits. Knowledge is there to be consumed, questioned and embraced and every man should develop their own capacities for enrichment as fully as possible- which is completely evident in da Vinci’s practices. One of his most memorable teachings is ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’, which goes hand in hand with breaking knowledge down to the bare bones.
And after all that culture, book in for wine tasting in the ‘caves Duhrad’ which is the wine cellar of any connoisseur’s dreams, and where you can get advice on how to sniff, taste and swallow! Followed by an authentic Renaissance lunch at reconstruction renaissance restaurant Auberge du Prieure. More wine drinking out of a tankard. Don’t mind if I do!
So, if it’s cakes, cheese, wine or culture that ticks your boxes, The Loire Valley has it all. My advice is to take some sensible walking shoes and outfits with an elasticated waist.
With special thanks to Atout France, Château Chenonceau, Château du Clos Lucé and Odyssée Val de Loire. For further details and booking check out
Exposing the roads less trodden around the globe. 55Travels with the notion to encounter a more cultural and creative experience.