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Report 2029: France 2012 Part 1 - The Loire Valley

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2012

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Page 2 of 33: Impressions

photo by MAW

Scenery around Perrusson

This is wine country and there are vineyards planted throughout the area. The rock is limestone and in September everywhere was very dry and yellow. Arable fields had been harvested and some had already been plowed. Pasture had been cut for hay.

Sunflowers are grown here and a month earlier the fields would have been glorious with the bright yellow flowers. There is a lot of maize grown, mainly for animal feed and we also saw fields of millet. Round St Aignan there are market gardens growing asparagus and fruit. Apples were being picked. Along the River Indre between La Sablonniere and Saché there are fields of osiers, which are used for basket making in Villaines-les-Roches.

Poplar trees line many of the roads and are covered with clumps of mistletoe. Being limestone country, Old Man’s Beard grows everywhere and in September was covered with its characteristic seed heads.

This is gently rolling countryside with a few scattered farms which is pretty but we found it began to get monotonous after a week.

We avoided large towns like Tours and Blois and concentrated on the smaller towns and villages. Many of these are built along rivers. All are built around the church and Marie or Hôtel de Ville and there is usually plenty of free parking in the main square. Most have kept a bakers and butchers.

Many have a château. Some of these are still lived in and may be open. Others are now up market hotels while others continue to grow vines and make wine. Most of the châteaux date from the 16thC but a few, like Montrichard, still have 11thC donjons. Some are huge like Chambord, others incredibly romantic like Chenonceau, while others like Chémery have seen better days and are slowly being restored by enthusiastic owners. Many of the smaller châteaux are quite expensive for what there is to see. Often we found the buildings were more interesting from the outside. We made a point of limiting the number of châteaux we visited to avoid châteaux fatigue.

The building stone is the local tufa (limestone) with dark slate roofs. In bright sunlight the tufa is shining white which can make photography difficult as the white tends to blow out.

Houses in the villages are usually single story with dormer windows. Town houses are larger. In many places there are troglodyte houses cut into the limestone, and some are still lived in. At Troglodytique des Groupilliers, some of the old farms have been restored illustrating rural life 100 years ago.

Many of the villages have tremendous character and there are many ‘most beautiful villages in France’ to be found here. This is a marketing strategy to encourage tourism and bring back life to the village. Crissay-sur-Manse is a good example. There are, however, many other villages which don’t fall into this category, don’t get a mention in the guide books and have little information on the web, but are just as nice. Fougères-sur-Bièvre is an example with its 15thC château, attractive Marie and nice church. Chédigny is another delightful small village which markets itself as a ‘village of flowers’.

The Plantagenet Kings held much of this land and Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and King John all have links here. The land was fought over fiercely by the English and the French during the Hundred Years War. Many towns were fortified like Loches and, on a much smaller scale, La Corroire. In small villages like Candes-St-Martin, the church might be fortified to provide a place of safety.

Many of the churches were built in 11/12thC and are marvelous examples of Romanesque architecture (e.g., Preuilly-sur-Claise). Several still have frescoes on the walls, like those in the Gartempe Valley, Tavant and and St Aignan. Many were Abbey churches until the Revolution when most of the Abbey buildings were destroyed and the church has now become the parish church. In Cormery, the remains of the old abbey buildings can be seen scattered around the village.

We spent a lot of time visiting churches, not because we are particularly religious but because we enjoy the architecture. Many of them have superbly carved pillar capitals and elaborate carved doorways. Beaulieu-lès-Loches has a splendid carved and painted Abbot’s chair and delightful misericords on the choir stalls. Many like St Sulpice in Palluau-sur-Indre have superb carved and painted statues on the walls. St Roche is found in many churches. He looked after the sick in Rome, caught a disease and isolated himself in the woods. Everyday a dog brought him bread. The statues show St Roch pointing out a carbuncle on his leg with a dog with a bread roll in his mouth.

Many churches have small white marble 'Merci' plaques on the wall by statues of the Virgin Mary or other saints in thanksgiving for prayers answered.

We used Michelin 1:200,000 road atlas for all planning and driving in France. Road signing was good, so we rarely got lost. Roads are well maintained and quiet. We found driving along the white or yellow roads much more interesting than the major red roads.

I had carefully planned out itineraries for the different days and had over planned with much too much for each day. We also found that itineraries changed as different places caught our fancy. We enjoyed the Loire Valley and some of the châteaux are superb. The only place which didn’t live up to expectation was Fontevraud Abbey. However by the end of a week we were beginning to find the scenery boring and were ready to move on.

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