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Loire Valley: Villages Off the Beaten Track

From 01/01/2011 to 26/02/2012

Towns & Villages

It's the perfect time of year to motor through the Loire Valley.

As the bells of Westminster Abbey toll in honor of the Royal Wedding next April 29, many will be rejoicing in the prospect of a long break: the wedding is sandwiched between Easter weekend and the May 2 bank holiday, meaning 11 full days of holiday with only 3 days leave. It's the perfect time of year to motor through the Loire Valley. Mosey down the peaceful back roads, map in hand, and visit some of the region's many villages and small towns that will enchant you with their history, charm and authenticity.

All the sites selected are part of one of the following Associations: ‘Les plus beaux villages de France', ‘Les plus beaux détours de France' and ‘Villes d'art et d'histoire'.

Near Blois: Lavardin, Trôo and Vendôme

Lavardin, listed among the most beautiful villages in France, is tucked below the remains of a medieval fortress with a 26-metre-high keep. Its flowered alleyways are lined by carefully restored 12th to 16th century houses.  There is a lovely Romanesque church, cave dwellings, Roman wall paintings and even hidden wine cellars where you can enjoy a glass of local ‘cru'.

10 km away is the troglodyte town of Trôo, one of the most picturesque and unusual villages in France. There are no true streets or town centre, just a mysterious maze of small, superimposed paths and stairways that wind their way from one level to another.

A ‘City of Art and History', Vendôme, 20 km from Lavardin, is located in a magical site by the Loir River and crisscrossed by canals; its gardens total 250 acres and are lovingly tended: the town has been awarded the Grand Prix for Flowers since 1994.

Near Tours: Candes-Saint-Martin, Montrésor and Crissay-sur-Manse

Touraine has 3 sites on the most beautiful villages list. Be sure to stop at Candes-Saint-Martin (10 kms from Chinon), a former port that sprang up where the Rivers Vienne and Loire meet. The town's steep black slate roofs contrast with the white walls of the houses and the Collegiate Church of Saint-Martin. Follow the stone path to the top and enjoy the panoramic view and gentle play of the sky on the water.

Montrésor, 8 kms from the royal city of Loches, has massive feudal ramparts which stand out against the delicate Renaissance architecture of its church and château. Oddly enough, this town in the heart of the Touraine has many streets with Polish-sounding names, evidence of a large Polish community that established itself there during the 19th century.

Crissay-sur-Manse, a rural village on the banks of the Manse, will delight you with the joyous disorder of its tiny streets, gardens and flower-bedecked walls. The houses, made of the white stone from Touraine, feature square turrets and mullioned windows. 

Near Orleans: Yèvre-le-Châtel, Beaugency and Montargis, the ‘Venice of the Gâtinais'

Who could resist the charm of this little village, once a royal stop-off on the road between Paris and Orléans? Stroll the shaded streets with their multi-coloured flowers and old limestone houses, stop off at the Romanesque church with its unfinished nave, or head up to the 13th century fortress flanked by four big towers. Yèvre-le-Châtel is a magnet for artists and is alive with exhibitions, concerts and performances of all sorts.

It is hard to imagine that the quiet village of Beaugency was a constant French-English battleground during the Hundred Year's War because of its bridge over the Loire. The 26-arch bridge still stands and provides a splendid view of the medieval heart of the town.

Montargis, with its 131 bridges, islets, and canals is known as ‘the Venice of the Gâtinais'. Take the ‘bridge circuit' or the unusual ‘Chinese circuit' tracing young Chinese intellectuals, including Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlaï, who came to Montargis in the early 20th century to study and later played a key role in the Chinese Revolution.