Loire Valley - ITINERARY

    Wine, History, Culture:


    12 Days: Sunday, June 09 - Thursday, June 20, 2024
    Accommodation: 11 nights:
    Night 1: Sunday, June 09

    Oceania l’Hôtel de France in Nantes, a 4-star true Nantes institution in an 18th century mansion ideally situated in the city center and a stone throw from the majestic Passage Pommeraye. The hotel has recently been completely renovated and very tastefully combines old world charm with a contemporary off-beat twist.

     
    Nights 2 + 3: Monday, June 10 + Tuesday, June 11

    Hôtel d’Anjou in Angers, a charming, recently updated 4-star hotel in the heart of the city of Angers welcoming sophisticated guests since 1857. New additions to the hotel are the restaurant in an exceptional space decorated with mosaics dating from the 1930s and the great spa area with sauna, hammam, and Nordic bath.

     
    Nights 4 + 5: Wednesday, June 12 + Thursday June 13

    Hôtel Mercure Bord de Loire in Saumur, a modern 4-star hotel located on an island in the Loire River with a panorama terrace overlooking the Château de Saumur, the old town, and the historic monuments. 

     
    Nights 6 + 7: Friday, June 14 + Saturday, June 15

    Hôtel Mercure Centre in Blois, a 4-star modern hotel on the banks of the Loire River within a five minute walk to the city center of Blois and the Royal Château of Blois. We are also close to some of the most beautiful and important Loire Châteaux such as Chambord. The hotel has a very nice indoor pool, sauna, and a hammam.

     
    Night 8: Sunday, June 16     

    Hôtel Château de Prey, a 4-star romantic hideaway in the heart of the Loire Valley. The origins of this magnificent Loire Château dates from the 12th century. It is situated a couple of miles from the town of Amboise and is tucked away in a vast park with a very nice outdoor pool and a huge terrace to relax. 

     
    Night 9: Monday, June 17 

    Auberge du Bon Laboureur, a 5-star very charming, luxury hotel in the heart of the little town of Chenonceau, steps away from Château Chenonceau. The building dates from 1786 and was once the town's post house. There is a beautiful garden with a very nice pool and an excellent restaurant.

     
    Nights 10 + 11: Tuesday, June 18 + Wednesday, June 19

    Le Panoramic Hôtel in Sancerre, a wonderful, recently completely renovated 4-star hotel with breathtaking views over the Sancerre vineyards and a stone’s throw from charming old town Sancerre. 

     

     

    DAY 1: Sunday, June 09

     

    MORNING / EARLY AFTERNOON

    Arrival in Nantes, check-in at Oceania l’Hôtel de France.

    Welcome coffee and meet & greet in the Oceana Hôtel in Nantes.

     

    AFTERNOON

    Guided visit of the Château des Ducs de Bretagne.

    This is our first visit to a Loire Château and the place where we will trace the fascinating history of Brittany and France.

    Today Nantes is France’s sixth largest city with a population of about 320.000 in Nantes proper and roughly 1 million in the metropolitan area. The ancient gallo-roman city of Namnetus, founded at a narrowing of the Loire and the confluence of the Erdre and Sèvre Nantaise, owes its rise to its extremely favorable geographical location. Located at the mouth of the river, Nantes was not vulnerable to attacks from the sea and was considered one of the safest seaports when overseas trade began. Nantes took on the status of an industrial and commercial metropolis. Nantes was conquered by the Bretons in 851 and was the capital of an independent Brittany for hundreds of years. In 1207 a fortress and château -the Château des Ducs de Bretagne-, was built which served as the residence of the kings of Brittany and the center of the historical province of Brittany. In 1446 the last Duke of an independent Brittany François II rebuilt the castle and this is the architecture as we see it today. After Brittany was annexed to France in 1532 -Anne of Brittany married the king of France- the  Château des Ducs de Bretagne was used by the kings of France when they visited the region. After centuries of being the home to dukes and hosting kings and their courts, the castle, gradually abandoned, was put to use as both a barracks and a prison. In 1915, the City of Nantes acquired the building and had a museum added in 1924. In Nantes French history was written: in 1598 the “Edict of Nantes” was issued which legalized Protestantism to put an end to the religious wars and to unify France.

     
    Time to visit the Passage Pommeraye, a spectacular 19th-century glass-roofed shopping mall, and the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul of Nantes as well as old town Nantes with its half-timbered houses.
     

    EVENING

    DINNER at restaurant "La Cigale" in Nantes.

    This brasserie across from the opera house of Nantes, established in 1895, displaces all the images of the classic, voluptuous style of the late 19th century: an intoxication of ornamental decoration and on top of it a superb meal.

     

    DAY 2: Monday, June 10

     
     Exploring the Loire Valley wines

    We start off exploring the Loire Valley wines in the Atlantic region of the Pays Nantais or Lower Loire, the easternmost and last Loire Valley wine region before the Loire River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Muscadet Sèvre et Maine wine-growing region is located on a southern slope, at the confluence of the rivers Sèvre and Maine. The soils are mainly different types of schist. This region is almost exclusively devoted to white wine, the “Muscadet” - made from the “Melon de Bourgogne” grape - with crackling acidity and sleek citrus fruit. These are sea-side wines with an emphasis on freshness and the perfect pairing with all sorts of seafood. I quote Flatiron Wines: “Oysters and Melon de Bourgogne: a magical pairing, the two together really are more than the sum of two.”

     

    MORNING

    Visit of Vignobles Günther Chéreau, Château du Coing in Saint Fiacre-sur-Maine, Pays Nantais.

    There is evidence that the lands in this region have been cultivated since Roman times. One can see cellars, hewn from the ground and built up with schist and sandstone. The origins of the Château du Coing go back to the 15 th century. In 1973 the domaine was acquired by Bernard Chéreau and his wife Edmonde Carré. In 1990 their daughter Véronique Günther-Chéreau, a trained pharmacist, took over. Today her daughter Aurore takes on more and more responsibilities. They cultivate 110 acres of vineyards, almost all are planted with the Melon-de-Bourgogne grape and with a small percentage of Chardonnay. 60 acres are planted with vines that are over 80 years old. Winemaking is according to “Lutte Raisonée”. The yields are kept down to 50 hl/ha and spontaneous fermentation is the rule. I quote Chris Kissack, The Winedoctor: “All the same, these are wines of considerable polish, depth and substance at the upper level. I’m impressed.” 

     

    LUNCH

    Visit of Vignobles Günther Chéreau, Château du Coing in Saint Fiacre-sur-Maine, Pays Nantais.

    This We will have a delicious lunch with matching wines at Château du Going. Véronique Günther Chéreau and her daughter Aurore will join us and pour wines which will match the dishes served.

     

    AFTERNOON

    Visit of Domaine de l'Écu in Le Landreau, Pays Nantais.

    The history of Domaine de l'Ecu dates back to 1973 when it was founded by Guy Bossard. He was one of the pioneers in the region to embrace organic and biodynamic farming methods. His philosophy was centered around working with nature and respecting the environment, using which led to the winery's certification as biodynamic in 1998. He produced some of the best Muscadet wines in the Nantais. 2007 and 2008 were terrible vintages in the Muscadet with sometimes yields of single figures. Without an heir -neither of his children showed an interest in the domaine-  Guy Bossard decided to sell. Luckily he met Frédéric Niger, a renowned entrepreneur and wine enthusiast, and in 2011 they teamed up to save the domaine. Frédéric overhauled the wine portfolio and besides the wonderful minerally Muscadet he started to produce an eclectic range of other white and red wines, using a diverse array of varieties and a similarly diverse array of fermentation vessels from stainless steel to amphora. 

     

    EVENING

    Arrival and check-in at Hôtel d'Anjou in Angers.

    Time to relax before we take a short walk to dinner.

     
    DINNER at Restaurant Les Petits Près in Angers.

    This is the restaurant of Samuel Albert, who won the 10th series of the French version of the show Top Chef. The menu is created with local incredients and is the expression of Samuel Albert’s travels: a fusion between Europe, Asia, and America.    

     

    DAY 3: Tuesday, June 11

     

    The next days we scout out the Anjou-Saumur wine region. The maritime influence fades and one can sense the shift towards a continental climate. Anjou and Saumur’s most famous grapes are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet-Franc. However, we will also taste fantastic wines made from a range of other grapes mostly unfamiliar to us until now. Two subregions meet and here are the most prominent wines of the regions: 

    Anjou: dry white wines: Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, where Savennière is the top region for Chenin Blanc; noble sweet Chenin Blanc along the Layon river, a tributary of the Loire; red wines: Cabernet Franc, Gamay and blends; the well-known Rosé d’Anjou, mostly a blend of Cabernet Franc and Grolleau. Saumur: red wines from Cabernet Franc, where Champigny is the most prominent region; and for the bubbles afficionados: Crémant de Loire

     

    This morning we explore the AOP Savennières appellation. The fact that great Chenin Blanc, bursting with power, depth, elegance, and freshness, are produced in the Loire Valley, in particular in Savennières, is not on everyone’s radar. These wines compete with the great Chardonnays of Burgundy. The reputation comes from some seriously strict regulations in the AOP Savennières concerning vinification: Chenin Blanc is the only grape allowed in the region, harvesting must be by hand, and mandatory low yields guaranty optimal flavor and ripeness in each grape. 

     

    MORNING

    Visit of Domaine Thiboud Boudignon in La Poissonnière, Savennières, Anjou.

    Thibaud Boudignon is unquestionably one of the most exciting figures in wine today. Originally from Bordeaux, it was in 2009 that he began to make wine under his own name from a scant 3.5 ha in the heart of Anjou and Savennières. Knowing that the quality of his fruit was of most importance, he committed himself absolutely to the health of his vines, choosing to farm organically and spend the majority of his time in the vineyards. His devotion paid off quickly, for in just a few vintages, his name began to circulate among Loire growers, eventually to top restaurants in Paris, and finally overseas. The speed at which he has garnered so much praise speaks to the remarkable quality of his wines.” says Skurnik wines, Thibaud Boudignon’s importer in the US. Thibaud Boudignon farms 15 acres of vineyards according to the principles of organic farming. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel and ageing takes place in wood for at least a year. The handling of wood needs to be precisely tailored to the particular batch of wine or blend to give just the right impression after the ageing process. Depending on the soil composition he uses traditional barriques from different coopers, cigar-shaped barriques, or 600 liter foudres.

     
    Visit of Château des Vaults, Domaine du Closel in Savennières.

    Domaine du Closel is located in the appellation of Savennières and produces some of the most beautiful Chenin Blanc wines. The property, the impressive Château des Vaults, was first mentioned in 1495. The château we see today was rebuilt in the 19th century and the park was created in 1850. At that time the family of Emmanuel de Las Cases, biographe of Napoleon, inherited the château and a line of female winemakers and estate managers was born. In 2001 Evelyne de Pontbriand, a literary scholar, who had lived and worked in the US and Germany, took over the reins. The 35 acres of vineyards are spread out on the most western hill of Savennières and the best plots are Les Caillardières and Clos du Papillon. Evelyne de Pontbriand, who will show us her estate, is a lover of botanics and nature. She immediately started the conversion to organic and biodynamic viticulture and today the domain is certified organic and biodynamic by Ecocert and Demeter. Evelyn’s goal is to make wines that are expressing their origins. She says: “Thanks to grassing and plowing, the life of the soil is respected, the soil’s micro-organisms are active: oxygen comes into action allowing maximum exchanges between soil and vine. This is how we obtain the famous terrior effect: combination of soil, the precocity of its warming, plant material, and light.” Madame Evelyne de Pontbriand will be our host.

     

    LUNCH

    Wine Pairing Lunch at Château des Vaults.

    Chef Arthur Favé of the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Chenin, which sits right in the center of the very picturesque village of Savennière will prepare a delicious meal which Mme de Pontbriand will match with her wines.

     

    AFTERNOON

    Guided visit of the Château d'Angers and La Tapisserie de l'Apocalypse listed as UNESCO World Heritage Monument.

    Construction of this mighty fortress and castle started in 970 to protect the Anjou region from any invasion coming from the north from Normandie. You will feel tiny when you stand before this imposing Medieval fortress with its 17 defensive towers. The main attraction of this castle however is the exhibit of the Apocalypse Tapestry. This incredible monumental medieval work – designed to be transported from place to place – is the largest set of tapestry known to date. It was commissioned by Louis I, the Duke of Anjou in 1373 and it took seven years to finish. The tapestry describes the story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation in colorful scenes in 74 pictures: 103 meters long, 4.50 meters high, 74 scenes, virtuoso weaving, striking details, expressive characters, a fantastic story evoking wars, pollution, disease, famine, death, but also hope: an encounter with a masterpiece unique in the world.

     

    EVENING

    DINNER at restaurant Odorico.

    This restaurant is adjacent to the hotel d'Anjou.

     

    DAY 4: Wednesday, June 12

     

    MORNING

    Visit of Domäne Vincendeau in Rochefort-sur-Loire, Anjou.

    I let Liv Vincendeau speak: “Born in Darmstadt, Germany, where I also grew up, I first went to study (Master II in chemistry) in York (UK) and Strassburg (Alsace). Arriving in Anjou in 2000 during viticulture-oenology training, I have remained faithful to this beautiful province ever since. Creating my own domain – a dream!... and then a carefully prepared project. Many winegrowers from France and elsewhere have passed on to me their know-how and their passion for this magnificent profession. I thank them wholeheartedly. 2014 is the year of implementation and since then each vintage is a new adventure.” She produces racy Chenin Blanc, two types of Rosé produced from a blend of traditional and autochthon grape varietals, a noble sweet Coteaux du Layon Rochefort, and spectacular Crémant de Loire. Her Crémant “Zeitlos” is raved about in every single top wine magazine. The domaine is certified biodynamic by Demeter.

     
    Visit of Domaine de la Soucherie in Beaulieu-sur-Layon, Anjou.
    The viticultural domaine is part of the Château Soucherie which was originally a farm owned by the Duke of Brissac. He built this château as a leisure place. In 2007 the château was acquired by Roger-François Béguinot, who made his fortune in infant nutrition. The beautiful château and the winery sit on a high point above the Layon river. The 70 acres of vineyards are immediately around the château on gentle south-facing slopes running down to the river. The soils are various types of schist. Grape varieties planted are Gamay, Grolleau, Cabernet Franc for the reds and Chenin (94%) and Chardonnay (6%) for the whites. The view from the château over the valley down to the Layon river is breathtakingly gorgeous.
     

    LUNCH

    Wine pairing light lunch at Château Soucherie.

    The wines of Domaine de la Soucherie will be accompanied by charcuterie and local cheeses. The Loire is a paradise for cheese mongers! Some of the great cheeses of France are produced in this region.

     

    AFTERNOON

    We Visit of Domaine de la Roches Neuves in Varrains, Anjou.

    Owner of this domaine of 70 acres is Thierry Germain. I quote our friend and importer of fine wines Heiner Lobenberg: “Thierry Germain can, without exaggeration, be counted among the greatest winemakers in the Loire. He masters the diversity of the Loire like only a few others.” Thierry comes from a family of winemakers from Bordeaux. In 1991 he decided to leave Bordeaux since he felt at that time that Bordeaux was boring for him and he started working in the Loire. In 1991 he bought the Domaine des Roches Neuves which was then a tiny winery and built it up to 70 acres. Thierry Germain is passionate about terroir and nature and immediately started to convert to organic viticulture. The domaine is certified biodynamic by Demeter since 2000. I recently had the 2016 Les Mémoires, Cabernet Franc, AOP Saumur-Champigny: just the right tannins, moderate alcohol level, incredibly beautiful floral character. Since then I am in love with the Saumur-Champigny Cabernet-Franc.

     

    EVENING

    Arrival and Check in at Hôtel Mercure Bords de Loire in Saumur.

    From our hotel we have a fantastic view towards the Château de Saumur and the town of Saumur. Saumur is an incredibly cute town at the confluence of the Loire and Thouet rivers worth exploring. The pretty Château dates from the 14th  century, but Saumur is most known for its excellent cavalry school with its Cadre Noir, a counterpart of the Spanish riding school in the Hofburg in Vienna, its Crémant de Loire wines, and mushroom cultivation. 

     

    DINNER  at restaurant L'Alchimiste in Saumur.

    This unassuming small restaurant (a 2 person affair: François Deplangne is in the kitchen, his wife is front of house) is just fantastic: no chi-chi, an honest, refined cuisine: wonderful!

     

    DAY 5: Thursday, June 13

     

    MORNING

    Guided visit of the Abbey of Fontevraud.

    This majestic abbey and the monastic order “Order Fontevraud” was founded by a preacher in 1101. The order was recognized as a religious community by the Bishop of Angers. It was a unique order as it was a double monastery: there were nuns and monks following the same rules. The French revolution put an end to the monastery. Luckily, for a long time the buildings served as prison and that saved the monastery from dilapidation. Still today the monastery is of high historic relevance: we will pay a visit to the tombs of the Plantagenêts who like no others shaped Frances’ history: The union of Henry II, Duke of Anjou, later the king of England and most powerful ruler of the Middle Ages, married Eleonor of Aquitaine, herself one of the most powerful women of her time. Because of this union large parts of France came under English rule – for wine lovers: Bordeaux and the Loire Valley were English for 300 years. Henry II, his wife and their two sons Richard Lionheart and John Lackland and daughter-in-law Isabella of Angoulême are buried here. 

     

    LUNCH

    Lunch at L'Orangerie Saumur - Le Bistro du Château.

    L’orangerie is a traditional bistro located in an exceptional setting, the courtyard of the Château de Saumur – the origins of the château go back to the 10th  century -on the top of the hill above Saumur. Enjoy great views of the historic heart of the city and the panorama of the Loire and its valley, listed as UNESCO world heritage site.

     
    Visit of Château de Villeneuve in Souzay-Champigny, Anjou.

    The magnificent château sits on a plateau above the Loire. In the shadow of the steeple of the fifteenth century and the Romanesque church, the vineyards of the Château de Villeneuve climb up behind the château. Château de Villeneuve is steeped in history, with vineyards dating back at least five centuries. One son of the de Villeneuve family was killed in the American Revolution War in the battle of York under Lafayette’s command. The estate changed hands several times before it was bought by the Chevallier family in 1969. In 1997, after extensive renovation and modernizing the wine estate, the Château de Villeneuve returns to its original cellars giving back to the property all of its original charm. Since 1982 Jean-Pierre Chevallier is at the helm and he immediately moved into organic viticulture. The 62 acres of vineyards sit on chalky and clay soils and are planted with chenin and Cabernet Franc. In the meantime Jean-Pierre has begun implementing biodynamic practices in his constant quest for making quality wine.

     
    Visit of Maison Bouvet-Ladubay in Saumur, Anjou.

    Maison Bouvet-Ladubay is one of France’s greatest producers of méthode traditionnelle sparkling wine. It is also one of the oldest sparkling wine producers in the Loire valley with a history of more than 170 years. In 1851 Etienne Bouvet and his wife, Celestine Ladubay purchased 8 km of underground tunnels in Saumur with the intention of turning them into cellars. By the 1870s, Etienne was exporting his wines to England, became an official supplier to the House of Lords, and had built a majestic château, a theater, and his own power plant to serve the estate. At the turn of the 19th / 20th century Bouvet Ladubay was one of the largest sparkling wine producers in the world with an annual production of 7 mio. bottles. The couple did not have any direct heirs and after their death the Monmousseau family acquired the estate. Today it is Juliette Monmousseau who runs the business. French wine law dictates that “Crémant” must be produced in the traditional method and that the bottles need to age a minimum of 9 months on the lees before disgorgement. Very often the Crémant spend many more months on the lees to enhance quality.

     
    Evening and dinner on your own.

    Explore the lovely town of Saumur. There are many bistros, brasseries, restaurants to choose from.

     

    DAY 6: Friday, June 14

     
    The next four days we divide our time between focusing on wine and history, i.e. visiting a few Loire Châteaux where history was written. It is fascinating how events taking place at some of these châteaux shaped France’s and eventually Europe’s course of history. We move on to the Touraine region.
    The Touraine wine region is the Loire Valley’s most diverse subregion. The climate is continental and the terroir is enormously varied: from chalky tuffeau to flinty-clay, some sands and gravels from the river’s deposits. Main grape varieties are Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, but also lots of fantastic Gamay, and Côt -the local name for Malbec-. Delicious wines are produced from autochthone varieties such as Romorantin for whites, and Grolleau and Pineau d’Aunis for reds. The most well-known appellations are Vouvray -always from Chenin Blanc- and Chinon for red wines.
     
    Today is our "Chinon" day.

    Today we focus on wines from the AOP Chinon. The river Chinon is next to is not the Loire, it is the Vienne, a tributary of the Loire originating south of Chinon in the Auvergne mountains.

    The medieval town of Chinon is also very important: it is steeped in decisive events having shaped the course of history in France. On the border between the three historical regions of Anjou, Poitou, and Touraine, the fortress-castle occupied a strategic place that was hotly contested in ancient times. From its rocky spur it dominates the entire territory, but also several centuries of history. It was here where the Plantagenêt court of Henry II. and Eleanor of Aquitaine was held and where Henry II. and his son Richard Lionheart died. Much later, in 1429 Joan of Arc met here with King Charles VII. to ask for providing her with an army to defeat the English which eventually ended the 100 year war and gave the territories north of the Loire and the Bordelais back to France after 300 years under English rule

     

    MORNING

    Visit at Cave M. Plouzeau in Chinon, Touraine.

    In 1846 the Plouzeau family acquires Château de la Bonnelière on the left bank of the Loire river near Chinon. Pierre Plouzeau replanted the neglected vineyards in 1980. A winery was constructed at Château de la Bonnelière in 1989. Marc Plouzeau took over in 1999 and converted to organic viticulture. His wines are aged in a unique space: the cellars under the fortress of Chinon. Here, in these caves, hewn from limestone in the 12th century, the Plouzeau wines mature in oak or concrete eggs and the bottles are also stored in these caves. I quote Marc Plouzeau: “Our cellars under the fortress of Chinon are a major asset for an optimal breeding. Our mono-parcellaires improve slowly in half-muids, at a constant temperature of 12° C and at high hygrometry. In these conditions, our wines are refined and stabilize naturally. The winemaking techniques are ancestral but use all the modernity that allows to preserve the best potential of grapes.” We will have a tasting of the Plouzeau wines in these incredible caves and Marc will tell us everything about his idea of winemaking.

     
    Visit of Maison Couly-Dutheil in Chinon, Touraine.

    I let klwines.com speak who perfectly describe Couly-Dutheil: “Maison Couly-Dutheil is undeniably one of the finest estates of Chinon, with eighty acres of prime Chinon vineyards as well as seventeen acres of Saumur and Saumur Champigny. The estate's Chinon holdings are impressive indeed as they spread over three distinct Chinon terroirs: Sand and gravel along the Vienne River which produce light and fruit driven wines, siliceous slopes and plateaus which impart a certain finesse and elegance to Chinon; and finally clay and limestone slopes which produce Chinon's most serious and profound wines. The Domaine's masterpiece, the Clos de l'Echo, lies within this calcareous clay soil and is the stuff of legend. This walled vineyard and its castle earned its nomenclature from the echo sent back by the castle walls. Once owned by the great French satirist Francois Rabelais and his family, the vineyard was purchased in 1952 by the Couly-Dutheil family and re-planted the following year. The Clos de l'Echo is a wine of grand proportion, complex, structured, and very ageworthy.”

     

    LUNCH

    Lunch at restaurant Le Lion d'Or in Chinon.

    The restaurant sits right in the center of Chinon. We will have a great view of the ruins of the Fortress of Chinon.

     

    AFTERNOON

    Visit at Domaine La Grange Tiphaine in Amboise, Touraine.

    This family domaine was founded in 1850 on the outskirts of the town of Amboise and has been passed down through four generations. Today Damien Delecheneau and his wife Coralie, both accomplished oenologists, are running the domaine. They met when both attended the oenological school in Bordeaux. After their diploma Damien went to work in Irancy, Chablis, at Lafon-Rochet in Bordeaux, Napa Valley and finally in South Africa where he reunited with Coralie. Coralie holds a second degree from Reims where she studied the wines of the Champagne, then she took off for the US and the Beaujolais before meeting up with Damien in South Africa. The 42 acres of vineyards are in the Montlouis-sur-Loire and Touraine appellations. The soils are generally clay and flint over deeper limestone. The vineyards are planted with Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Côt (Malbec), Gamay, and Cabernet Franc. In 2008 they started the conversion to organic farming and today they are certified organic by Ecocert and biodynamic by Biodyvin.

     

    EVENING

    Arrival and check in at Hôtel Mercure Centre in Blois

    The hotel is nicely located on the Loire river bank but close enough to walk to downtown Blois.

     
    DINNER  at Le Bistrot de Leonhard in Blois.

    This bistro is just a five minute walk from our hotel.

     

    DAY 7: Saturday, June 15

     

    MORNING

    This morning we discover the Vallée du Loir region.

    The appellations in the Vallée du Loir (yes: with out an "e", not to be confused with the Vallée de la Loire) belong to the lesser-known regions and are hidden gems. There are three appellations: Côteaux du Loir, Jasnières, Côteaux du Vendômois.

     
    Visit of Domaine Braziliér in Thoré-la-Rochette, Vendômois, Touraine.

    Current owner and winemaker is Benoît Brazilier, the 7th generation of a family of winegrowers and winemakers in Thoré-la-Rochette in the Vendômois. This region is situated in the valley of the Loir river, one of the few tributaries of the Loire originating in the north between Le Mans and Paris. The wines of this region have a historic reputation but were overlooked for a long time. In 2000 the Vendômois was granted AOP Côteaux du Vendômois status. This regions gains more and more attention because of the fantastic wines produced here. Domaine Brazilier has 65 acres of vineyards planted with mainly Chenin and Pinot d’Aunis, an autochthone red grape variety in the Loire valley as well as Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. They work the fields with respect for the environment and are certified Terra Vitis. The soil is typical for the Touraine region: chalky limestone with some flint, called “tuffeau”. Benoît uses historic limestone caves for much of his wine production and the tasting room. These caves were carved out centuries ago when the rocks were used to build the châteaux.

     

    LUNCH

    Lunch at restaurant Le Moulin du Loir in Vendôme.

    To visit the town of Vendôme is worth a detour. We have time to visit the beautiful Trinity Abbey church and its incredible flamboyant Gothic facade. The monastery was founded in 1035 and was under the direct authority of the Pope in those days.

    This village restaurant sits over an old wooden mill in the Loir river. There is a nice terrace overlooking the water. 

     

    AFTERNOON

    Guided tour of Château Chambord.

    Château Chambord was built by François I. in the 16th century. It is the largest and most known Loire Château and also the most unusual one. With its 400 rooms, it never served as a residential palace, but rather as an impressive backdrop for State Visits. Charles V., Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations, commented after a stay: “an epitome of what human art can produce."

     
    Horse and Pray Show at Château Chambord.

    “In the stables of the Maréchal de Saxe, the audience embarks on a grand cavalcade to the rhythm of the horses. Birds of prey brush against the visitors’ shoulders and the show plunges them into the atmosphere of the court of François I.: his reign holds no  secrets for them.” Quote Château Chambord.

     

    EVENING

    Evening and dinner on your own.

    Explore the beautiful historic city center. Blois is sitting on a rather steep slope on the banks of the Loire river. It is dominated by the Royal Château de Blois.

     

    DAY 8: Sunday, June 16

     

    MORNING

    Guided tour of Château Royal de Blois.

    Seven kings and ten queens lived at this place. This Château is a synthesis of all Loire Châteaux. Its four sides are all different. On the walls you can read the history of French architecture from Louis IV to Louis XII. The Château is also the scene of the drama of Blois: the assassination of the Duke de Guise instigated by Katharina de Medici because she thought him becoming too powerful: high point of the religious wars between the Catholics and Protestants which ravaged France in the second half of the sixteenth century. This château is interesting to visit: to get an idea on court etiquette, to look at design in Renaissance times, and because people actually lived here.

     

    LUNCH

    Lunch at restaurant La Croix Blanche in Veuves Commune de Veuzain-sur-Loire.

    This restaurant has a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin guide. I quote the guide:” At this former coaching inn, you can enjoy the modern cuisine of chef Jean-François Beauduin, who learned his trade in Michelin-starred restaurants. His tempting menu abounds with wonderfully indulgent treats, which does not preclude finesse – the warm duck and foie gras pâté, shredded Brussels sprouts and langoustine sauce is a case in point. Seasonal and local ingredients are de rigueur. Note the selection of more traditional dishes, such as beuchelle tourangelle (creamed kidneys and sweetbreads). Charming service courtesy of the chef's wife, in a delightfully rustic setting. The pleasant terrace in the shade of mulberry trees is a real highlight.”

     

    AFTERNOON

    The town of Amboise. Discover the town on your own.

    Time to discover the small town of Amboise on your own. The impressive Château Royal d’Amboise is regarded as the cradle of the Renaissance in France and French history was written here for over a century. Five kings of France resided in the Château d’Amboise. Under King Charles III. and his wife Anne of Brittany, Italian splendor and enlightened thinking unfolded here. The metamorphosis from a feudal fortress to a Renaissance palace dates back to this era and the triumpf of the Renaissance began here. Much later, in 1560 during the religious wars an unimaginably horrific bloodbath that lasted several days occurred at the château when Catholics brutally killed hundreds of Protestants. 
    Worth visiting is the richly decorated jewel from the Gothic period, the St.-Hubert chapel, on the castle grounds. This is the burial site of Leonardo da Vinci.

     
    Guided visit of Château du Clos Lucé and the Leonardo da Vinci Park.

    King François I. was fascinated with Leonardo da Vinci and has lured the genius to Amboise with three convincing arguments: a castle at his sole disposal, a monthly pension, and -most importantly- the promise of artistic freedom. Leonardo da Vinci spent his last three years at this château before he passed away in his bedroom on May 2, 1519. An interactive cours runs through the park, impressively showcasing the genius’s many visions.

     

    EVENING

    Arrival and check in at Château de Pray in Amboise.

    As soon as we step into this beautiful Château – close to the town of Amboise - with its gorgeous garden we leave the modern world behind and get carried back to the glory days of life in the Vallée de la Loire. This authentic Loire Château is still privately owned. It was the first one that was converted to a hotel and restaurant in 1950. In 1992 it achieved its 4-star designation.

     
    SUPPER at Château de Pray.

    Since the main restaurant is closed on Sundays we get served a light fare on the terrace - weather permitting - or in the beautiful rooms indoors.

     

    DAY 9: Monday, June 17


    Today we explore the famous Vouvray region. I found the perfect description of Vouvray on Kevin Pike’s Schatzi Wine (one of the great importers to the US of German and other European wines) website: “Vouvray is one of the Loire’s great terroirs for Chenin Blanc. As part of the Paris basin, the soils are largely fossilized marine based. The bedrock, from which the region’s myriad historic cellars are cut, is tuffeau. The topsoils are flinty clay, limestone, gravels, and marls. The climate is marked by the tension between moderate maritime and more extreme continental influences. This, and the fact that Vouvray is traditionally one of the last parts of France to harvest, opens vignerons here to great risk -first, of severe weather, foremost hail (as Denis Meunier experienced in the string of vintages between 2014 and 2016, when he and many around him suffered devastating crop losses), later, of disease. The reward is a cool climate that allows both the acid edge and haunting, subtle depth of chenin to develop to maximum potential. Multiple vineyard passes are key to producing the traditional range of style from sec to moelleux to sparkling. The wines can fall anywhere between austere and opulent, depending on the ripeness and botrytis levels of the vintage.” The Vouvray AOP classification only allows Chenin and Pineau d’Aunis grapes.
     

    MORNING

    Visit of Domaine Denis Meunier in Vernon-sur-Brenne, Touraine.

    This family winery was founded in 1927. In 2012 third generation Denis Meunier took 
    over and immediately started to move the domain towards organic viticulture. The 42 
    acres of vineyards are mostly on south-facing gentle clay and limestone slopes and are planted mainly with Chenin and some Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau. Denis produces wines in the classic expression of “Vouvray”: Chenin that are sec (dry), sec tendre (with little residual sugar), demi-sec and moelleux where the fermentation is stopped to arrest the sugar level at a certain point, liquoreux, a noble sweet wine, made with a selection of botrytized berries which can only be produced in very good growing seasons. He also makes a ‘Pink’, a cuvée of Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau as well as a Crémant de Loire Brut Zéro with 36 months on the lees before disgorgement. 

     
    Visit at Domaine Huët in Vouvray, Touraine.

    This is one of the most famous domains in Vouvray. The domain was established in 1928 by Hugo Huët and his son Gaston. In 2003, after Gaston’s death, American-Asian businessman Anthony Hwang became the major shareholder of the estate. The Hwang They are also owners of a domain in Tokaji. Currently Hugo Hwang and his sister Sarah run the estate. Flagship of Domain Huët are the sweet wines ranging from demi-sec to noble sweet. The ratio between sweet and dry wines is about 60% sweet and 40% dry. The domain today has 87 acres of vineyards in the Vouvray appellation divided between three properties: Le Haut-Lieu, Le Mont, and Le Clos du Bourg. In 1988 the domain started to work with biodynamic principles. They were among the first ones spearheading the conversion to biodynamic winemaking in France.

     

    LUNCH

    Restaurant L'Orangerie, Château Chenonceau. 

    This beautiful decorated restaurant is located in the garden of Château Chenonceau.

     

    AFTERNOON

    Guided tour of Château Chenonceau.

    It is the most elegant, most endearing of all the Loire castles. It stretches gracefully across the Cher River, a tributary of the Loire River. Originally it was a mill. The war treasurer of King François I. ordered the castle to be built in 1513.         

    Six women played an important role in the architecture and decoration of the château, the most famous is Diana de Poitier. In 1547 it became the residence of Diana de Poitier, the mistress of Henry II, husband of Katharina de Medici. Chenonceau is one of the few privately owned castles. Since 1913 owner is the family of the chocolate manufacturer Menier.       

     

    EVENING

    Arrival and check in at Auberge du Bon Laboureur in Chenonceau.

    This place is magnificent with completely renovated rooms, a lovely garden, a great heated outdoor pool, a very good restaurant and all amenities of a 5-star hotel

     
    DINNER at Auberge du Bon Laboureur.

    The restaurant is located in an idyllic terrace and garden and the "Chef Antoine Jeudi knows his ranges like the back of his hand, and his tasty creations are accompanied by a nice choice of wines." Guide Michelin

     

    DAY 10: Tuesday, June 18

     

    MORNING

    Travel to the Centre region, to Menetou-Salon and Sancerre.

    Today we are travelling south-east to the Centre region, to Sancerre. Crispy, gorgeous Sauvignon-Blanc is produced here as well as fantastic reds from grapes such as Pinot Noir, and Gamay. In Sancerre, the eastern side of the Loire river, we find the famous silex soils, which is a type of a compact sedimentary soil that is rich in flint. Silex can have an almost metallic look. On the western side of the Loire River, in Poully-sur-Loire, on the eastern side, we find Kimmeridgian that we know from Chablis, which gives the wines a broader, more mellow character. We will figure out the differences between “Sancerre” and “Pouilly-Fumé”. On the way to Sancerre we stop in Menetou-Salon, a rather unknown appellation to the casual Loire wine drinker producing fantastic Sauvignon-Blanc and Pinot Noir, quality-wise equal to Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. When France introduced the AOC classification system, another -now an under-the-radar appellation in this area -Quincy- was the first appellation in France granted the AOC (today AOP) designation in 1936.

     

    LUNCH

    Lunch at restaurant Fluteau in Morogue.

    This is a country restaurant with a very warm welcome and excellent local fare.

     

    AFTERNOON

    Visit of Domaine Pellé in Morogue, Menetou-Salon, Centre.

    This domain has a 100 year long history of being involved in wine and winemaking in 
    the village of Morogue, some 30 minutes west of Sancerre. Today it is Paul-Henry Pellé, 
    who is the winemaker just like his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. Paul-
    Henry's grandfather, in fact, played an instrumental role in the establishment of the 
    appellation and lobbied hard to include "Morogues" on the label, which he felt essential 
    since it is unique in its high percentage of Kimmeridgian soils. When Paul-Henry took 
    over he immediately started to convert to organic viticulture. The 100 acres of vineyards 
    are exclusively planted with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir and are situated in                    the Menetou-Salon appellation, the Morogues appellation and in the Sancerre appellation. The soils are characterized by Kimmeridgian loamy limestone, flint, and fossil deposits. I quote Arrowine in Arlington VA: “we invite you to discover these distinctive, mineral-laden whites and reds from this under-the-radar appellation, Menetou-Salon, and from                 one of its true masters, Domaine Pellé.”

     
    Guided tour of Château de Mentou-Salon.

    IThe château dates from the 12th century. In the 15th century it was the castle of Jacques Cœur, financial superintendent of Charles VII. In 1773 the chateau came into the possession of the Brancas de Lauragais family who had inherited the property. In the same year their daughter Pauline married a German prince: Louis Engelbert, Prince and Duke d’Arenberg. In the 19th century Prince Auguste d’Arenberg, a key figure in the history of the château, decided to have it enlarged and embellished and he assigned the architect Paul Ernest Sanson to remodel the château. We will discover sumptuously furnished reception rooms,  an automobile and horse-drawn vehicle museum and last but not least, a saddlery. The château is still today the private residence of the Prince and the Princess of Arenberg.      The visit will transport us into the Prussian universe of the Romantic era. Around the   château we will see vineyards which belong to the château.

    At the end of the visit we will taste 3 wines from the Domain Viticole du Prince et Duc d’Arenberg

     
    Visit at Domaine Alphone Mellot in Sancerre.

    The Domaine Alphonse Mellot was founded in 1513. Alphonse Mellot sen. is the 18th generation of the vintner family in Sancerre. He took over the domaine La Moussière in1970 and was the driving force in the transformation of the family winery towards thefocus on top quality. With conversion to biodynamic viticulture he went much furtherthan other domains in the region at that time. The domaine is certified biodynamic since 1999. Today the 16th  generation -Alphonse Mellot jun.- runs the domain. The winery sits in the middle of the town of Sancerre and occupies a maze of medieval cellars right under the town center, some date from the 15th century. The vineyard area is about 140 acres with a single plot of 75 acres of “La Moussière”, considered the best in Sancerre, solely owned by Mellot. “La Moussière” sits on a large block of Kimmeridgian soil whereas “La Demoiselle” sits on silex soils. There are also 33 acres of Pinot Noir and more vineyards (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) on the IGP Côtes de la Charité. Domaine Alphonse Mellot is an iconic producer in Sancerre and that was recognized by the King of France, Louis XIV. long before our times. He named César Mellot as his personal wine advisor in 1698.

     

    EVENING

    Check-in at Le Panoramic Hotel in Sancerre.

    The best lookout-point over the vineyards of Sancerre and Chavignol is from your window in your room! 

     
    Evening and dinner on your own.

    Enjoy a stroll through the medieval village. The village of Sancerre is perched on the top of a hill overlooking vineyards and fields. One can get lost in the maze of very narrow alleys crisscrossing the village. 

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    DAY 11: Wednesday, June 19

     

    MORNING

    Visit of Domaine de Vrillières in Sury-en-Vaux, Sancerre.

    Owner of Domaine de Vrillères is the husband and wife team Christian and Karine Lauverjat. The Domaine lies in the village of Sury-en-Vaux in the heart of the Sancerre appellation. The property has been in the family for several generations, but Christian and Karine are the first to make and bottle their own wines. The 30 acres of vineyards are on the slopes of one hill, with two main soil types. The upper part of the hill is dominated by a limestone clay soil, known locally as terre blanche which produces full bodied, well-structured wines. The lower part of the slope has a pebble limestone soil known locally as caillottes which tends to produce lighter and more fruity wines.

     
    Visit od Domaine Tinel-Blondelet in Pouilly-sur-Loire.

    Domain Tinel-Blondelet can look back at 400 years as a family winery. Annick Tinel is the 12th generation managing the domaine. They farm a total of 37 acres in the Pouilly- Fumé, Sancerre, and Pouilly-sur-Loire appellations. Sauvignon Blanc is the main varietal here but Pinot Noir and Chasselas are also grown on the unique terroir, which has three different soil types: marl in Pouilly-Fumé, limestone and Silex in Sancerre. The vineyards are located near the Loire river which separates the Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre appellations. All her vineyards have a perfect position: they are south-south west facing and the vines are on average 45 years old.

     

    LUNCH

    Lunch at Restaurant / Affineur Romain Dubois in Chavignol.

    Romain Dubois makes this delicious Crottin Chavignol and other goat cheeses. We are here in goat cheese country and will have chesses of different degrees of ageing. We will also enjoy some great home cooked food true to the region.

     

    AFTERNOON

    Visit of Domaine Henri Bourgeois in Chavignol, Sancerre.

    With determination and great commitment, the Domain Henri Bourgeois has placed         itself at the top of the Sancerre region. The secret of the success are the gentle hills in the municipality of Chavignol. Here is the home of Sauvignon Blanc – you only find a few acres of Pinot Noir in this sea of Sauvignon Blanc. This family domain is one of the largest producers in the region with 176 acres of vineyards, mostly in the Sancerre appellation but they also farm some acres in the Pouilly-Fumé appellation. The domain sits right at the foot of one of the most prominent top vineyard site, the Côté des Monts Damnés in Chabignol. We had a great conversation and tasting with Jean-Marie Bourgeois and Jean-Christoph Bourgeois and I can only second what the German importer Hawesko says: “The wines are a wonderful expression of the unique characteristics of the Loire Valley. They combine freshness, fruitiness, and minerality to create a harmonious taste experience. Each wine tells its own story and bears the hallmark of the passion that goes into winemaking at Henri Bourgeois.”  

     
    Tasting of wines from the Auvergne region.

    Before we head out to dinner we will have a tasting of wines from the Auvergne mountain wine region at the foothills of the Massif Central. This region is close to the Allier forest where the best trees grow for producing barriques and the town of Vichy, which manifested itself in the history books. This beautiful and remote region is about two hours south of Sancerre, parallel to Beaujolais and Northern Rhône close to the source of the Loire.

     

    EVENING

    WINE PAIRING DINNER at restaurant La Tour in Sancerre.

    This our last evening together and we will enjoy a fantastic meal prepared by chef Baptiste Fournier. 

     

    DAY 12: Thursday, June 10

     

    MORNING

    Breakfast buffet at the hotel and drive to Paris
     

    LUNCH

    Farewell Lunch at La Coupole in Paris.

    We will share a convivial meal with wines before we all head out to different directions. La Coupole is a historic Montparnasse café / restaurant (and an official French historic monument), which opened in 1927. This huge restaurant is a temple of Art Déco. It still symbolizes the “roaring twenties”. It was and still is to some lesser extent one of the hotspots of the intellectuals of Paris and abroad. Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemmingway, Picasso, Man Ray, Camus, James Joyce, Josephine Baker, Henri Miller, Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin and countless others were regulars at La Coupole.

    Despite its large size the cuisine is very good and every dish is carefully prepared.