Thursday 30 December 2010

Over the Rooftops

Many towns and villages in the Loire are built on the banks of the big river itself, or its tributaries. It means that you can often get high enough to look down on the town below, giving you a glimpse of otherwise unseen architectural detail and traditional building techniques.

If you enjoy seeing lovely old buildings from a different perspective, why not contact us and book a tour now?

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Preserving Your Memories

At Loire Valley Time Travel we really enjoy our photography, which means that we are always happy to stop and take photos wherever possible. Quite often our photos are snapshots, taken to act as reminders of places we have been and people we have met.

At other times we like to get a little artistic and take photos for their own sake. We can suggest unusual or little known views and if you let us know you are a keen photographer we will do our best to ensure you capture some special memories. Don't worry about getting home with photos you can't put a place name to - just email the photo to us and we will remind you of the name and the story. Remember, in a vehicle like ours, we can go where the coach trips can't, so why not contact us now to book your tour?

Wednesday 22 December 2010

A Local Delicacy

When you book a whole day tour with Loire Valley Time Travel you will be treated to lunch in one of a selection of local restaurants, which we have chosen very carefully.

The restaurants are almost invariably the kind of places that locals use eveyday, so they have to maintain a certain standard of food, and because people are proud of their local produce this forms the basis of many of the dishes. Luckily the produce in the Loire Valley is second to none for quality.

An example of this is the Sainte Maure de Touraine chèvre. Ste Maure de Touraine is an AOP (AOC - Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) cheese from an area which roughly follows the boundaries of the old Province of Touraine. It has to be made by traditional methods - this just about means that all the cheese is made by hand from fresh ingredients, either on farms or in dairy co-operatives.

The cheese is made in the shape of a log about 17cm (7") long and has a rye straw running through it to help roll the cheese as it is being formed. The straw is stamped with the name of the maker and the tradition is to use a knife that isn't too sharp to cut around the straw so it is left in the cheese.

We think Ste Maure de Touraine is the finest goat's cheese you can buy. If you email us and book a tour, you can make your own decision.

Monday 20 December 2010

More than Just Châteaux

If you tell your friends that you are visiting the Loire Valley while you are on holiday they will immediately think of chateaux. That is understandable, because it is what the area has become most famous for.

However, there are a million and one other reasons for visiting the Loire Valley. There are many prehistoric sites in the area: stone circles, burial sites and standing stones, and the museum at Grand Pressigny holds the national collection of prehistory. The Romans were here and left traces which are still visible, and some of these became the foundations for what are now the medieval and renaissance monuments your friends first thought of.

Once you look past the monuments, you will notice that the local towns and villages are just as old. The streets of Tours still show the influence of the Roman town, and many of the villages still have their medieval street patterns and buildings.

Book a tour with us, and we will make sure you have time to appreciate more than just the big chateaux. We plan our trips to allow time for unscheduled stops, and are always willing to stop for "just one more" photo.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Our Most Popular Destination

Of all the chateaux in the Loire Valley (and there are claimed to be 3000) the one that tops the list for most people is Chenonceau.

Built on the site of a water mill in the 1500's the chateau has a long and varied history, much of it connected to women of power and influence: Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medici, Louise de Lorraine and Gabrielle d'Estrées.

You can see Chenonceau as part of a custom tour designed specifically to visit the places you want to see, or take our most popular set tour which visits the chateaux of Chenonceau and Montpoupon.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Why Not Visit Loches?

Loches has a lot to offer the visitor, but because it doesn't have major transport links many visitors give it a miss. This is a shame. We think it easily rivals Chinon for the dramatic beauty of its medieval citadel and historic importance. Added to this, it has one of the best markets in the district, twice a week and packed with colourful stalls of local fruit and vegetables, meat, cheese, mushrooms and bread, intermingled with handmade soaps, jewellery and baskets.

The Logis Royal sits high above historic Loches.
Because it is not quite so well known, we have to sell Loches a little bit harder to our clients. They tell us that they weren't too sure about spending time here because when we suggested it they looked the town up and found very little information. Once they've been here though, they are totally convinced, and wonder like we do, why more people don't make it to these lovely winding old streets lined with charming creamy stone houses.

If you want to see for yourself what people love about Loches, email us and ask about a day trip. You may already know Joan of Arc, and how she convinced the heir to the throne to save France, but we'll introduce you to the other woman in his life, his tragic soulmate Agnes Sorel.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

France Still Number One

74.2 million. That's the number of tourists who visited France in 2009. According to the World Tourism Organisation, France has stayed number one, and by a considerable margin. The United States, Spain and China are second, third and fourth respectively, all with between 50 and 55 million visitors.

Many of the visitors to France aren't setting foot outside of Paris, so beautiful places like the Loire Valley are remarkably untouristy. It's really easy to catch a train down from Paris to Tours and enjoy a day trip in the land of 3000 chateaux. Why not email us and ask us to create your dream day?

Sunday 12 December 2010

Choice of Accommodation in the Loire Valley

No matter what your tastes (or budget) the Loire Valley is a great place to spend time, whether a weekend chilling out, or a week exploring little travelled roads.

One of your options is to stay at a family run hotel in a small town. These represent great value, and have the added bonus of bringing you into close contact with the locals as they go about their business. If you're staying for a week and would like to try cooking some authentic French recipes, you could book a fully equipped gite (self catering cottage). These are usually just outside towns and so are a really quiet place to while away the hours.

Some of our accommodation partners
For those times when you're feeling like a luxury weekend away a chateau is ideal. Many of these historic buildings have been turned into quality hotels and make the perfect place for a romantic break from everyday life.

If you book a holiday with us we will make recommendations based on your preferred budget and location. We know the owners of the places we recommend and are confident in the comfort, cleanliness and warmth of welcome you will receive.

Friday 10 December 2010

Why it is best to book early

To make you day with us more special, all the tours at Loire Valley Time Travel are done in our 1953 Citroën Traction Avant. Due to the age of the car we limit the number of times we take her out on a tour and the distance we travel each week. This approach and our meticulous maintenance programme explains why we have never missed a booking due to the car being unavailable. All of which means that if you want take a private tour of some of the Loire chateaux, it is best to contact us before you leave home to be sure we have not reached capacity for the week you wish to travel.

Greasing the car. This has
to be done every 600 miles
Classic cars need regular and careful maintenance if they are to be kept in top condition. Oil changes, greasing and tuning has to be done about once a month when the car is travelling long distances, and we also wash and polish the car before every booking. Being an old car, if anything needs replacing, parts need to be ordered in. Any major work is done at a specialist garage, but this is rarely needed: regular planned maintenance keeps most problems at bay.

We may be available at short notice, but why take the risk? You can make a booking by emailing us, or using the phone numbers shown in the panel on the right of this page.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

How to Avoid the Crowds

The Loire Valley is a big place and comfortably absorbs the visitors it gets. It's rare to have to queue for entry or struggle to find a restaurant or accommodation for the date you want. Even inside the popular sites like Chenonceau, the most visited chateau in the Loire, you may encounter a few bottlenecks in narrow doorways, but nothing that a little give and take doesn't resolve. We visit Chenonceau at least once a month between April and October and have never encountered crowding to the extent it made you sorry you visited.

Chenonceau at the end of June - a bit of a jostle for the
balconies, but nothing to ruin the visitor experience.
According to the Conseil général of Indre-et-Loire (the equivalent of the state government) the real beginning of the peak tourist season is getting later and later. This is because the majority of French people take their summer holiday in August, and the high season is concentrated into the 6 weeks from mid-July to the end of August. This year the busiest time didn't arrive until about 20 July, but by the beginning of September, French children have to be back at school, and the crush ends abruptly on the last day of August.

So if you want to avoid any possiblity being caught up in a heaving crowd, we would be very happy to see you in May and June or September and October. We can recommend a number of outstanding but lesser known sites which only have a few visitors at a time in these months, providing a wonderfully intimate and special experience.

Sunday 5 December 2010

The Chinon Effect

L'effet Chinon - that's what the local tourist office has dubbed the upsurge of interest in this most historic of sites. The chateau at Chinon reopened this year after the biggest heritage conservation project in France was completed. Visitor numbers were up by 30% and during the summer the site welcomed an average of 1300 people per day. This is testiment to the great success of the restoration and improved interpretation facilities at this magnificent royal stronghold.

Apart from stabilising and repairing the evocative but crumbling chateau walls looming over the town and river, the project has introduced videos and sound tracks to help visitors enter the world of rivalry and intrigue at the courts of Richard the Lionheart and Phillipe-Auguste. Remember all those scenes of a bickering royal family at Christmas time in The Lion in Winter? Well, this is where they really took place. It's one of the places where Joan of Arc came to plead with Charles VII to take up the crown and defend France too.

We took self-professed 'history nut' Bill, from Atlanta, Georgia, there in October and he loved it. He said he was sorry we couldn't spend more time there, as it was the most interesting place he had visited. Sadly, he had to catch his train back to Paris, but we managed to prise him away in time to drop him off at Chinon Station and he was back at his apartment in Paris in under 2 hours.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Arriving in Style

At Loire Valley Time Travel we like our visitors to feel special, no matter how much time they spend with us.

The Loire Valley is a great place to spend a couple of days unwinding, and what makes this even more relaxing is the number of ways you can arrive here without having to drive. During summer there are regular flights to Tours airport from London Stansted, Dublin, Porto and Marsailles, and there is a frequent and very fast train service from Paris.

Why not book a weekend with one of our accommodation partners and be collected at the airport or station by us? We can't guarantee that other passengers on your train or plane will be jealous, but we know they will watch and wish it was them travelling in such style.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

When to Visit the Loire Valley

It is at this time of year we all start planning for next year, and particularly our holidays. If you are reading this blog then you are likely planning a holiday to France and will want to choose the best time of year to visit.

Not many people choose the winter months, because they think the weather will be cold and damp and the days are short. However, February is often one of the most spectacular months, with clear days and bright blue skies that are a photographer's heaven. Spring is a favourite time for many, with gardens bursting into colour again, and orchids and cowslips flowering on the roadsides. Remember that this is the wettest time of year here though and be prepared with a lightweight raincoat for the sudden showers.

In February the light is perfect for
capturing architectural details
Summer is when we get the most reliable weather, usually with dry warm days for weeks on end, but rarely getting unpleasantly hot so air conditioning is not required. Of course, July and August are when most people visit the Loire, so you might like to avoid the crowds and come in the autumn. The countryside is mellow and golden and September rivals May as the most beautiful month to visit.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Being Part of the Community

As relatively recent arrivals to living in a small French town, we like to be involved in community life. Célestine is a great door opener for us.

This year we have been asked again to be involved in Téléthon, the annual television event raising funds for research into muscular distrophy. Our small part in this France wide extravaganza will be driving in convoy around the villages of the area, offering short rides in return for a donation to the cause.

Part of last year's convoy at Chaumussay, Indre et Loire
If you are in France on the first weekend of December you will see groups of cars and bikes from owners clubs driving from town to town, headlights blazing and horns sounding. Give them a wave, and if you see them stopped drop a coin into the collection bucket.

You never know: in exchange you might even have the opportunity to ride in Célestine or one of her sisters.

Friday 26 November 2010

Cars, Cheese and Chateaux

One of the towns in the Loire Valley area that possibly doesn't receive as many visitors as it deserves is Valençay.

Not only is there a great château at Valençay, there is a really interesting car museum which is sure to appeal to any car lover, and especially people who appreciate a really good fire-engine. The museum also holds a number of car related events during the year: rallies, sales, and conferences.

The area is also home to Valençay wines, which has one of the smallest AOC areas in France of 142 hectares - 350 acres, the size of Hyde Park in London. It will also come as no surprise that Valençay cheese, a soft white pyramid shaped goats' cheese is made in the area. What may surprise some people is that the region is the first in France to hold an AOC for both wine and cheese.

Loire Valley Time Travel offers a one day tour that takes in the museum and château, calling in at wine and cheese producers, as well as lunch in an authentic French working man's restaurant. The tour is all inclusive, but doesn't include the cost of train travel from Paris to Châteauroux. This tour is only available from the middle of March to the middle of November, but please check with us for exact dates.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Café Culture

I think that one thing we all like to try at some stage is sitting at a table in a typical French café, doing some serious people watching.

In small villages cafés appear to be dying out, but luckily they are not completely disappeared. These days the cafés are likely to look less romantic that the one in the photo (and have convenience stores attached) but the coffee is no less good. Call in at the right time of day and they will also have freshly baked croissants from the village baker.

We often start our tours at a café as this gives us a chance to meet our visitors and talk over the day's plans, have a coffee and a bite to eat, and start the day in a relaxed style.

If this sounds like your idea of the start to a special day in the country, email us.

Monday 22 November 2010

Visiting a Winery

The LVTT team have recently been enjoying some sparkling red wine from Domaine de Rablais, run by the Simoneau family. Célestine's boot (trunk) may not be as capacious as a modern car, but it can certainly hold important cargo such as a couple of boxes of wine. Our guests really enjoy visiting this small family run vineyard, especially during late September and early October, when the harvest and grape pressing is underway.

Sparkling reds are not traditional in the Touraine, so the wine is sold without the Appellation d'Origine Controllée certification. Nonetheless, it's a fun wine to serve for apéro, and we compare it very favourably to the Australian sparkling reds. It's not as heavy, not as syrupy as some of the Australian offerings, and comes across as a nice light red, albeit with bubbles. The Simoneaus are rather pleased with how their little off piste adventure has turned out, and have very sensibly included a decorative metal cap on the cork for the collectors, too.

We plan on attending the Simoneau portes-ouvertes this Saturday (the 27th of November) to try some of the new season's wines. However, the winery can be visited at any time of the year and the staff are enthusiastic about showing our visitors the cellars and winemaking process. Why not book a tour of the chateaux of the Loire and visit the winery with us?

Saturday 20 November 2010

Christmas Special Offer

It's only five weeks until Christmas, and at the moment we are looking at what we can offer our clients for the holiday period.

Many places in France don't close over the holidays: hotels and restaurants remain open, as do some of the chateaux and other tourist sites. Before we came to live in France we would travel here for Christmas to sample the season's foods and visit some of the more popular sites when they are quieter.

This year we are looking to offer two lucky clients a two night Christmas break in the Loire Valley. If you are interested in spending Christmas Day at one of the world's most famous buildings before returning to the warmth of a quality hotel, sampling fine wines and gourmet foods, email us.

Depending on the itinerary (and hotel/restaurants) chosen the cost will be about €1800 for two people. This includes all expenses excluding travel to the Loire Valley.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Bon Rapport de Qualité et Prix

French people will often recommend a restaurant by telling you it is a bon rapport de qualité et prix. It may not be cheap (although often it is) but the important thing is that it delivers a good quality for a fair price.

We like to offer the same approach. You won't see four chateaux in a day with us, but you will see a couple and be able to take time learning about what makes them special. In between chateaux we are able to visit smaller sites along the way - pre-historic burial mounds, memorials to the French Resistance of WW2 - because we never plan an itinerary that means we have to spend all day rushing from place to place.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

The Touraine in Autumn

Don't disregard the cooler months when you are planning a visit to France. Autumn in the Touraine (the heart of the Loire Valley) is a lovely gentle time, with the trees turning golden and tawny, every now and then with a spectacular red to provide a focus point. The wooded hillsides and rural roads are slipping into their winter slumber, but there are still a few wild flowers on the verges and conditions are perfect for all sorts of mushrooms to pop up.

Although the days are shorter at this time of year, if you stay in a well appointed gite you can come home to a cosy sofa in front of a log fire and your favourite comfort food in the evening, relaxing with a glass of the local red.

Contact us for further information about the attractions of the Touraine in Autumn and recommended places to stay. These range from cottages in the countryside to medieval castles in small villages and elegant townhouses in historic towns.

Monday 15 November 2010

Welcome to our Blog

Here at Loire Valley Time Travel we have been really busy, so we thought we would take this chance to set up a blog to share some of the things we have done and some of our upcoming events.

Last week we hosted visits by an Australian, a Frenchwoman, and an Englishman.

On Thursday night we visited La Bûche Pizza Restaurant in La Roche Posay, on Friday we visited the château at Montrésor, the pretty riverside town of Montrichard and the Simoneau winery in St Georges sur Cher, and on Saturday we spent the day in and around Loches.

Célestine at Montrichard

This coming weekend we will be visiting the open day (portes-ouvertes) at Huilerie Lepine, Availles en Châtellerault.