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Visit Loire Valley

Perhaps best known around the world for its exceptional Sauvignon Blanc wines, the charming village of Sancerre and its surroundings in France’s Centre Val de Loire region offer so much more for travelers- from picturesque medieval stone streets and feudal castles to some of the best goat cheese in France and yes, some incredible white, red and rosé wines. Below is an itinerary for travelers to dream up their next trip to the Loire Valley, once travel restrictions are lifted.

A weekend in Sancerre should necessarily begin with a visit to the Tour des Fiefs the only remaining part of the ruined feudal castle of Sancerre from the late 14th century. From atop the tower, visitors can get the lay of the land with a 360-degree view of Sancerre, its vineyards and the surrounding areas of the Loire Valley.  From there, it’s off to eat, drink and adventure around the area.

The Sancerre appellation is located along the left bank of the Loire River, with 330 wine growers stretching across 7,413 acres, where vines have been growing since ancient times. During the 12th century, the Saint-Satur Augustine monks and the ruling counts of Sancerre began to seriously cultivate the vines, particularly Pinot Noir, which was exported from the region along the Loire River. After a phylloxera outbreak destroyed most of the Pinot Noir vineyards at the end of the 19th century, the vineyards were replanted with Sauvignon Blanc grape vines, which are particularly suited to the local climate.

For a modern-day introduction to the wines of Sancerre, oenophile travelers can kick off their weekend in the region with visits to the following
sites:

  • Maison des Sancerre:
    Visiting the visitors’ center at The Maison des Sancerre offers an entertaining and interactive introduction to the wines of Sancerre and all their unique qualities through the use of state-of-art 4-D technology.
  • Domaine Henri Bourgeois:
    For 10 generations, the Bourgeois family has been passionately devoted to producing wines of character, while respecting the environment and the terroir. The vineyard estate, which in 2019 was recognized as the 43rd best in the world by William Reed magazine, also features a tasting space for guests to discover the best of Sancerre’s wines.

Aside from its superb wines, the Sancerre region is also beloved for its famous Crottin de Chavignol goat cheese, one of the five varieties of goat cheese produced in the Loire Valley (out of 13 produced in France). This small cylindrical goat cheese is the claim to fame of the village of Chavignol, just a few minutes from Sancerre, where it has been produced since the 16th century. Travelers can sample the cheese throughout the region, including at:

  • Domaine Eric Louis:
    The Domaine Eric Louis, already known for its production of Sancerre wine, recently opened its own goat farm, which serves as an educational center where visitors can come and learn the art of production of Crottin de Chavignol, as well as the opportunity to taste and purchase the cheese.
  • Ferme des Chapotons:
    At the family-run Ferme des Chapotons, visitors can not only taste and buy their Crottin de Chavignol, but can also visit the goat farm and assist with the goat milking (Monday through Saturday at 4pm), or admire them grazing in the meadow.

Outdoors Around Sancerre

Once travelers have had their fill of wine and cheese, the area around Sancerre offers a wealth of outdoor activities to keep them fit and busy until their next meal.

  • Canoeing and Kayaking on the Loire River:
    With Canoe Evasion, visitors can explore a beautiful part of the Loire Valley by canoe or kayak, along a 5.5-mile stretch of the river from Sancerre, floating past river’s various islands, sand beaches and some of the stunning fauna and flora.
  • Loire by Bike:
    Following the Loire River and its side channel from Belleville-sur-Loire to Saint-Satur and Sancerre, even a beginner cyclist can enjoy a smooth ride through the small valleys of Sancerre and the landscape of the Loire Valley.

Flying Over Sancerre:

  • In a balloon or light plane with Aeroplum:
    An unforgettable way to tour Sancerre is a sunrise flight in a hot-air balloon. Travelers can enjoy the rarefied experience of soaring over Sancerre’s beautiful hills and vineyards with winemaker Sophie Rimbault in her balloon, followed by a wine tasting once back on the ground.  The experience is also available via light plane.
  • In a biplane with Rêv D’ailes:
    Visitors can also experience Sancerre from above via biplane flights of five to 20 minutes.
  • Traditional Boat Trip on the Loire:
    A journey on a traditional boat of the Loire River, such as Le Raboliot in Saint-Satur, can be a nice way to disconnect. Captained by Sylvain Trevel, who is also a fisherman, the boat ride includes the option of sampling local Sancerre wines and cheeses, as well as the freshest fish from the river.
  • Explore the Remarkable Garden:
    Created 30 years ago by Marie Marcat, a passionate and talented gardener, the Jardin de Marie (Marie’s Garden) is now known as “Jardin Remarquable” (The Remarkable Garden). The five-acre, naturally landscaped garden includes a rose garden (produving more than 500 varieties of roses), as well as a vegetable garden, orchard, grass garden and a pond.  The garden also hosts a number of events and exhibitions through the year.

Where to Eat

  • Auberge Joseph Mellot:
    One of the oldest restaurants in Sancerre, the Auberge Joseph Mellot has been welcoming visitors (including Claude Monet and Maréchal Juin) since 1882. Steeped in tradition and with a convivial atmosphere, the Auberge combines a love of wine and respect of terroir, with a menu that evolves with the seasons: a variety of Crottin de Chavignol in all its forms, the green lentils of Berry prepared by the chef and products from the market.
  • Au P’tit Goûter:
    This traditional restaurant located right in the heart of the village of Chavignol is the perfect place to enjoy local products and meals based on Chavignol cheese (and other cheeses) in a warm atmosphere.

Where to Stay

  • Hôtel Restaurant Famille Bourgeois:
    Located in the vineyards of the small village of Chavignol, the Hotel Restaurant Famille Bourgeois has 12 peaceful rooms, a gastronomic restaurant with a Michelin Plate and a more casual bistro.
  • Hôtel Le Panoramic:
    With its breathtaking views over the Sancerre vineyards, Hotel Le Panoramic is a stone’s throw from the old town of Sancerre and famous wine villages, such as Chavignol.
  • B&B Le Cep en Sancerrois:
    In the heart of the wine village of Sancerre, Le Cep en Sancerrois features four suites in a charming house, as well as a wellness area downstairs.

A Guide to Eating & Drinking in the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley is known for its incredible food and wine, as the home of Sancerre and Chinon, as well as some of France’s best goat cheese and other local delicacies. 2019 is the ideal time to taste the specialties of the region, when more than 500 events are taking place in honor of the 500th anniversary of the French Renaissance, some of which transport guests back to the Renaissance period. Below is a sampling of some of the best food and wine experiences for travelers to sample this year:
RENAISSANCE-PERIOD TASTINGS

A Taste of the Renaissance (“Goût de Renaissance”)
Inspired by the anniversary this year, 42 different restaurants throughout the Loire Valley are offering special menus and dishes inspired by the Renaissance in order to transport guests back to da Vinci’s time. Dishes include fried eggs with rosemary, lemon chicken fricassee, and poached pears in a red wine sauce. The Loire Valley region, in partnership with the European Institute of History and Food Cultures (IEHCA of Tours), has also published a book of 25 recipes and dishes from the period to help travelers understand French cuisine during the Renaissance. Find more information here.

Recipes from Catherine de Medici at Chateau de Chenonceau
Christophe Canati, the chef from Chateau de Chenonceau’s L’Orangerie restaurant, has created a number of dishes inspired by the French Renaissance period, some of which were inspired by Catherine de Medici, who resided in the chateau. Visitors will also have an opportunity to share their own ideas for recipes inspired by their visit to the chateau. Dishes include artichoke beignets, crispy sweetbreads, carp stuffed with bacon, and a lemon and violet tart. The book of recipes can be purchased here. Visitors to Chenonceau can also visit Catherine de Medici’s recreated apothecary in honor of the anniversary.

Renaissance Reenactments on the Ile d’Or
On September 28 and 29, the Ile d’Or (an island in the Loire River) in Amboise will be transported back to the Renaissance, bringing together 500 volunteers who will reenact history, acting as medieval warriors in infantry units or soldiers bivouacking on the island. Visitors will be able to get a glimpse of daily life during the Renaissance period, while also experiencing a local crafts and gourmet food market. Find more information here.

Gifts from the Renaissance
As part of the Loire Valley’s celebrations, a number of special local gifts inspired by the time period are being produced around the region, including a collection of “historical perfumes” from Nicolas de Barry, who has recreated a line of perfumes and cosmetics used during the Renaissance period. His creations include pomanders, jewelry such as necklaces, bracelets and belts, which are scented with perfume. Another gift from the past is a signature bottle of wine created by the Chateau du Clos-Lucé, produced using the grape varieties of Chenin and Côt, which date back to the time of Leonardo da Vinci.

EXPERIENCING THE LOCAL WINE REGIONS

Sancerre
Travelers can try the Loire Valley’s famous Sancerre wine at Maison des Sancerre, an ideal spot to sample top local wines of the region. Travelers can also stop by a local farm to pair the wine with Chavignol, one of the five goat cheese appellations from the region.

Valençay
Valençay is the name for both a goat cheese (which is lightly salted and coated in ash) and wine from the region. Travelers in the area can also stop by the Chateau De Valençay, which is hosting a series of evening candle-lit jazz concerts throughout August.

Between Touraine and Orléans
Top wine produced in this area includes Chinon, Vouvray, Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil, Bourgueil, Montlouis-sur-Loire, Cheverny, Cour-Cheverny, Valençay, Orléans, Orléans-Cléry and Coteaux du Giennois. Unique experiences for travelers include a Wine Escape Game at Domain PB Couly, relaxation workshops held right in the vineyards of Ame Wine in Touraine, and a multimedia art exhibit held in the historic wine cellars Caves Monmousseau, creating incredible projections onto the cave from pictorial stained glass techniques that retrace the history and origins of the cellar.

Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny
Located in Cour-Cheverny, The Domaine des Huards has been making wine since 1846, and today only produces organic and biodynamic wine. The winemakers produce wine made from 100% Romorantin grapes, which is a grape that dates back to the Renaissance period. Travelers to this area can also sample local wines at the Maison de Vins de Chevernylocated by the entrance to the Chateau du Cheverny, and at the Maison de Vins de Chambord, located on the Chambord Estate.

RENAISSANCE EVENTS

“Message in a Bottle” Exhibit in Bourges (until November 24)
As 2019 is also the International Year of the World’s Indigenous People, the Bourges Natural History Museum invites visitors to question our impact on climate change by comparing the climate of the 16th century (early Ice Age) with the 22nd century. Find more information here.

Fluxshow2019: An Italian Year at the Fondation du Doute (until November 2019)
This exhibition of “spectacular artistic machines” by Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell offers a comparative presentation of works by French and Italian artists, including the creation of a wheeled machine from one ton of waste technology products.

A Contemporary Homage to Leonardo da Vinci (until November 3, 2019)
This exhibit will present the many facets of Leonardo da Vinci’s work as seen through thirty well-known contemporary artists. They will focus on his self-portraits, portraits of women, extraordinary machines, drapery, anatomy, historical painting, codices and scenery. Chateau du Rivau is a medieval castle owned by a French family, who transformed the massive grounds into fairytale-inspired gardens, with incredible grand artworks displayed throughout; in September 2018, they unveiled seven guest rooms in the castle’s former stables.

French Renaissance Anniversary

WEILL TO REPRESENT LOIRE VALLEY TOURISM BOARD FOR THE 500TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FRENCH RENAISSANCE

Geoffrey Weill Associates has been appointed US public relations representative of the Loire Valley Tourism Board, on behalf of Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency, to promote the 500th Anniversary of the French Renaissance this year.

The year 1519 symbolically marked the start of the Renaissance, on the occasion of the death of Leonardo da Vinci at Amboise, the start of the construction of the Château of Chambord and the birth of Catherine de’ Medici in Florence. To mark the anniversary, the Loire Valley region, considered the birthplace of the French Renaissance, will celebrate the artistic, cultural, scientific and intellectual developments of this period with a number of celebrations held throughout 2019.

“We are thrilled to be working with the Loire Valley Tourism Board and Atout France to promote the celebration of such a fascinating period of history in France to travelers,” says Geoffrey Weill. “France is one of our favorite destinations in the world, and we are honored to have been invited to be a part of such a significant anniversary.”

Highlights in the Loire Valley region will include a large traveling digital show mixing contemporary artistic and musical creations, an international architecture competition, numerous exhibitions held in and around the châteaux of the Loire Valley and a variety of guided tours, banquets and international symposia.

To learn more about Geoffrey Weill Associates’ complete list of clients, visit their website.

European Cycle Routes for Newbies

Knowing where to go in Europe for a leisurely cycling vacation can be tricky. It helps to have good advice from the experts. Freewheel Holidays, the international specialist in self-guided bicycle vacations in Europe, suggests three routes for those new to multi-day bicycle touring who may prefer routes without steep climbs or descents.

UK-based Freewheel Holidays arranges bicycle vacations along mainly traffic- and challenge-free routes. Because guests cycle across mostly flat terrain, the fatigue and frustration factors of challenging inclines are kept out of the equation.

Following are Freewheel Holidays’ suggested itineraries for newbies in Spain’s Catalonia, along the Danube in Austria and in the Loire Valley of France. As with all of its self-guided vacation programs, rates (per person, double) include lodging with breakfast, detailed route notes, point-to-point luggage transfers, 24-hour emergency support, complimentary bike rentals and suggested attractions along each route. E-bike options are available on all of these itineraries. For additional vacation-by-bicycle suggestions see: http://www.freewheelholidays.co.uk/.

The 7-day Catalonia Greenways itinerary begins with an exploration of a preponderance of extinct volcanoes in Garrotxa Natural Park in the Girona Pyrenees. After wandering the streets of the 13th century market town, Olot, and sampling the local goat cheese, Garrotxa, it’s on to a disused rail line, the traffic-free Carrilet Olot cycle path, downhill through the wood countryside in the mountains, destination the medieval town of Girona. The beach on the Costa Brava awaits, with perhaps a dip in the sea on the northeastern tip of Spain. The per person double rate is from £789 with departures beginning in early January and continuing through end October 2019. See: http://www.freewheelholidays.co.uk/cycling-holidays/all-cycling-holidays/family-cycling-holidays/catalonia-greenways

The 8-day Danube Cycle Path – Passau to Vienna itinerary explores an ancient military and trading route on paths along the Danube River once traversed by Romans, the legendary Nibelungs (think Wagner) and even Europe’s powerful kings and emperors. The adventure begins in the baroque town of Schärding or in Passau, the town of three rivers, before moving on through Upper and Lower Austria and finally to Vienna. The per person double rate is from £549 with departures beginning in early April and continuing through mid October 2019. See: http://www.freewheelholidays.co.uk/cycling-holidays-austria/passau-vienna-danube

A 7-day Loire Valley Castles itinerary guides guests through the Loire Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage region, that is also known as “garden of France.” Here is a display of one-time wealth and imminence as reflected in the more than 200 castles. Among these is the Clos-Luce manor in Amboise where Leonardo lived for three years (and died) and where some of his remarkable inventions are on display. Cycling through this luxuriant countryside rife with fields of wheat and barley, poppies and centennial oaks is joy in and of itself, with opportunities aplenty to sample the wines of this renowned food and wine region. Concluding the tour is one of the most famous and majestic of all Loire castles, Château de Chambord, that lends its name to a liqueur and that after 288 years in construction, served as a royal hunting lodge. The per person double rate is from £609 with departures beginning late April and continuing into mid September 2019. See http://www.freewheelholidays.co.uk/cycling-holidays-france/loire-valley-castles

To check trip availability, make reservations, or to find out more about Freewheel Holidays’ leisure cycling tours call +44 (0) 161 703 5823, email info@freewheelholidays.com or visit www.freewheelholidays.co.uk.