Wednesday 28 December 2011

Friendly Restaurant Service

We choose the restaurants we take clients to because the food is good and the service friendly. At many of the restaurants we use the staff speak some English and are always pleased to welcome visitors to their establishment in the most hospitable way.

These restaurants are managed and staffed by the owners and their families and a small team of professionals. They really care about your impression of their restaurant and go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and relaxed.

In this picture, our table has been set up in a shady niche on the sidewalk in front of the Hotel de la Gare in Montrichard and the owner, Sébastien, is serving us our main course.

If you would like to dine in friendly, informal surroundings during a day out in the Loire Valley, email us and book a tour.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Good Reason for Booking Early

There are a number of reasons why booking your tour early is a good idea.

The first is our availability: last year June, July and September were really hectic months and we had to disappoint a number of people because we already had bookings for the dates they were in France. Already we have a number of tours booked for May, and we will soon be closing bookings for that month. We restrict our availability so that we can ensure the car is in tip-top condition before we start tours: being an older car Célestine needs more attention than most.

Book now to put yourself in this picture in 2012
The other reason for booking early is that for any 2012 bookings receive and paid for before the end of May 2012 we are offering a 10% discount. That's right - 10% off our 2012 prices simply by booking and paying for your tour before May and helping us plan our year!

This offer will be particularly attractive to citizens of countries where the currency is currently strong. For Australian bookings, if you were to book then pay while the Australian dollar is worth 74 eurocents, no matter what the exchange rate does between the day you pay and the day of your tour the price will not increase. You tell us when you're ready to pay, and we tell you the amount in Australian dollars at that day's commercial rate. You pay by bank transfer into our Australian account and save commissions and transfer fees as well.

Thursday 8 December 2011

It's Your Tour

It's your tour and we like to make it special for you. If we know you have specific interests we will design a tour that has those interests in mind. If you are a horse lover like dressage rider Marla from Iowa, we can arrange for you to meet some selles francais (French Saddle Horses) on a stud near the lovely chateau of Chenonceau.

Other clients are particularly interested in World War II history or wine, cheese or charcuterie, textiles or topiary. We can see a couple of great chateaux and still visit sites that are relevant to your passions. If you want us to design a tour just for you, email us and tell us what you love.

Monday 28 November 2011

A Good Cheese Board

At Loire Valley Time Travel we choose the restaurants we use carefully. Typically they are family run, friendly establishments where local French people eat. One of the things many people look forward to in French restaurants, whether they are local or just visiting, is the multitude of delicious cheese varieties. Cheese is so much a part of the daily diet here that many restaurants include it as a standard part of the menu. Diners are invited to serve themselves from a trolley or a platter that is passed from table to table as required. The cheese selection normally includes some hard mountain cheese, some blue, some local goats milk cheese, some camembert or similar and some soft mild creamy cheese along with the occasional unusual or surprising flavours. There really is something for any cheese lover here.

The cheese and dessert trolley pictured is from the Hôtel de la Gare in Montrichard. As well as the cheeses there is a selection of classic desserts such as îles flottantes or, after the generous meal you get here, you may want to stick to fresh fruit and a handful of locally harvested walnuts.

If you love cheese and want to experience a typical French lunch in a small country town as part of your sightseeing tour, email us and book a day trip in the Loire Valley.

Friday 18 November 2011

Ever heard of bernache?

If you visit the Loire Valley in October you will be in for a seasonal treat. With the grape harvest finished the winemakers set about their art. For a brief period, little more than a fortnight, the grape juice in the fermentation vats, not yet wine, but no longer just juice, is available. In the Loire region it is known as bernache. At the wineries we visit you can sense the excitement amongst the staff. The new wine is on its way, and even while it is still at the sweet and fizzy stage they are already forming an opinion about what the vintage will be like. Every year is different because here in the Loire we are reliant on the weather to deliver the right amount of sunshine and rain. No irrigation is allowed and the winemaker must watch the conditions very carefully to judge the perfect time to harvest.

Bernache is drawn directly from the vat
for clients to sample.
If you would like to sample this regional and seasonal speciality, then email us and ask us to design a tour for you in late September or October.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Part of the Fun

Part of the fun of a day out with us is that you get to drive around the lovely rolling countryside in a car that is a French icon. Back in the fifties and earlier, many comfortably off French families owned a car like Célestine, and she elicits excited comments and friendly waves from people on the street. You'll feel like celebrities, travelling with us!

Quite a few of our clients are car enthusiasts and own classic cars themselves. They are always keen to get a peek under the bonnet and discuss the finer points of the workings and design. Kim, from Boston, is the daughter of a mechanic, and loves old cars. She is seen here with her friend Katie checking out Célestine's engine in the carpark of the Relais (French style truckstop) we had lunch at.

If you want a nostalgic day out in 'chateaux and wine country', whether you are a classic car fan or not, email us and we will design a tour just for you.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Snuggle up in the Back of a Classic Car

Brian and Jennifer, from Los Angeles, have only just got engaged. We met them on the first really cold and frosty day of autumn and they loved being able to snuggle up together in the back of Célestine. We drove through picturesque villages and romantic rolling farmland, visiting a stunning Renaissance chateau, a wonderful winery, a spooky troglodyte alley and lunching in a stylish restaurant in the heart of a charming medieval town.

If you have someone special you want to spend some special time with, email us and we will design a tour just for you.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Watching the Winemaker at Work

In September and October when we visit wineries in the Loire they are very busy. The harvest has just finished and the winemaking is beginning for another vintage. Because we have forged excellent relationships with several wineries in the region, our clients are allowed in to see the magical transformation of the grape juice into wine taking place, and the winemaker is available to answer any questions you may have.

In the picture below, the assistant winemaker checks sugar and alcohol levels in the new wine. In the background another member of the team comes forward with glasses of bernache (the Loire name for partly fermented grape juice) for visitors to sample. The underground cellar they are working in has been used for storing and making wine since the 17th century, and the cave has sections which date back to the 10th century. The variety of grape they are using here has been grown in this area since the 4th century.

If you visit at the right time, we can sample the wine in its early stages of development, and gain an insight into which wines will be good for each vintage. If you would like to learn more about winemaking at a traditional family run vineyard in the Loire Valley, email us.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Wildlife at the Chateau

The chateaux of the Loire all have large and attractive parks. Many of them are managed with wildlife in mind and it is often possible to get wonderful views of wild birds and animals. At Chenonceau it is not uncommon to see a Red Squirrel scooting across the lawn, rummaging in the leaf litter or peering cheekily at the visitors from a tree. They are the cutest little creatures!

We are experienced wildlife watchers and always point out the native birds, animals and flowers to clients that are interested. The chateaux gardens are home to many beautiful butterflies, the moats and rivers to glittering dragonflies and the woods full of song birds. If you would like to combine a visit to a fabulous chateau with some nature watching, email us.

Thursday 22 September 2011

This Summer in the Touraine du Sud

The weather may not always have been good, but visitors came in good numbers to the Touraine du Sud (the area around Loches, south of Tours) this year and those in the tourism industry are happy. The Loches Tourist Office reports that 28 000 people passed through this summer, an increase of 2000 on last year. Foreign tourists were a high proportion of the visitor numbers this year. The Tourist Office is pleased that their promotional campaigns seem to have been effective, and Loches is now recognised as a warmly welcoming destination by those outside France.

From the Logis Royal, Loches spreads out before you.
Across the sector, one noticeable trend has been more short breaks, taken at the last minute. We certainly received a lot of last minute enquiries, but sadly we had to disappoint many travellers, as we are usually booked out well in advance.

As well as making the decision to take a holiday later, visitors are being careful with their spending, demanding value for money. We are entirely sympathetic to this approach and we pride ourselves in always choosing restaurants that combine a friendly atmosphere with tasty well presented food at an affordable price. Many visitors come for the chateaux and other cultural sites, but those wanting a gourmet experience are starting to notice Loches and surrounds too.

If you would like a few days in the Touraine du Sud, visiting grand chateaux and gardens, hidden gems in villages still far from the main tourist trail and eating at restaurants that use fresh local ingredients, then email us.

Monday 12 September 2011

Be the First to Taste a Unique Wine

In August we visited the Vouvray winemakers at Chateau Gaudrelle with Ann and Steve from Los Angeles. We were met by Charles, the Visitor Services Manager and given a tour of the cellars and winemaking facilities followed by a tasting and the opportunity to purchase the wine.
In the cellar Charles pointed out a crate of a new wine that they are developing. He thinks they may be the only winery making a sparkling sec tendre (a wine that has just 1g more sugar than a true dry style). It wasn't quite ready to be put on the shelves and sold yet, but it was maturing very well and he said he would like our opinion on it. We were all very favourably impressed and felt it was a wine that would appeal to a wide range of tastes. At the end of the tasting Charles very generously gave the opened bottle to our clients to have with their evening meal.

We work hard at developing relationships with quality wineries such as Château Gaudrelle, and as a consequence our clients are offered an exclusive experience. If you are interested in more than just a standard wine tasting, email us and let us arrange your winery visits.

Friday 2 September 2011

Meeting the Gardener at la Chatonnière

One of the highlights of Sue Pearlstine's week with us was meeting Ahmed Azéroual, the award winning Head Gardener at la Chatonnière. Sue is a professional landscape gardener from California. She asked us to design a 5 day tour which covered as many of the important Loire Valley gardens as possible.

We chose la Chatonnière because it is a beautiful garden, close to the more famous Villandry, so we could visit them on the same day. As part of the visit we arranged for Sue to spend some time with Ahmed, who prior to coming to la Chatonnière, was Head Gardener at Villandry. They were firm friends immediately, and their mutual love of plants and gardening shone through.

If you would like us to arrange something special just for you, email us and ask.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Young Winemakers Forge Links

Earlier this year we took Californian clients Bob and his grandsons Andrew and Zachary to visit one of our favourite Vouvray producers. Andrew's father is a winemaker and he is studying oenology at college. We thought they would get a lot from a visit to a local wine producer, and even curtailed our visit to the fabulous Chateau of Chenonceau in order to have more time at the winery.

It proved to be a good move. Andrew and Charles, one of the winery's young staff members, hit it off immediately. It was a real pleasure to see these two interacting - from different cultural backgrounds, but with a shared passion for wine. It was clear that Andrew got a lot from talking 'shop' with Charles, and the wine itself was quite a revelation for him. He wasn't familiar with Vouvray whites at all, and had no idea they would be so complex, varied and interesting - and all from a single grape variety.

If you are interested in wine and would like a private tour of a small family run winery that produces a range of very reasonably priced but high quality wines, then email us.

Our thanks to the client R. Drinkward for his kind permission to use this photo, and to Carol Wexler of Cadence Travel, La Jolla, California, for sending us such nice clients.

Saturday 13 August 2011

You Never Know Who You Might Encounter

We took Caryn and Joe, from Washington DC, to the Château de Montpoupon as part of their day trip with us. It's the sort of smaller, less well known château that many people don't make the time to visit. But sometimes these smaller places give you a much richer and more personal experience.

After exchanging a few words with the owner, Count Louvencourt, who popped his head out of an upper storey window to make sure we weren't going to miss part of the display, we crossed the courtyard to where we had noticed a man dressed in splendid red velvet regalia.

This gentleman turned out to be a retired French general, now a member of the well regarded la Gourmandière wine co-operative in Francueil, just down the road from the more famous château of Chenonceaux. The co-operative is rather like a guild and winemakers were there for a meeting, dressed in their formal costumes. The general was affable and knew Washington well. It was a delightful and genuine interlude.

If you would like the possibility of encounters like this, why not email us and ask us to design you a day trip?

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Meeting the Owner at Villandry

This summer one of our clients was landscape gardener Sue Pearlstine from Several Seasons. She requested 5 days of nothing but gardens and that's just what we designed for her. Wherever possible we arranged for her to meet the owners or the gardeners too.

At Villandry, Henri Carvallo, from the third generation of his family to run this world famous garden, was kind enough to give us half an hour of his time. He explained that the garden is entirely self-supporting, with entry fees covering the cost of salaries and garden upkeep. This is testimony to just how popular the gardens are, but also to how good a manager he is. He learnt entirely by watching his father and grandfather and by working with the team of 9 dedicated gardeners all his life. It is extremely rare for an historic site like this to receive no government grants at all, but Monsieur Carvallo says he no longer applies for them as the place earns enough not to need them. He also mentioned that he has recently been invited to join an advisory committee at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. Not only can he pass on his expertise to American colleagues, but he confided that in return he hopes to pick up tips to improve Villandry's already excellent customer service, as this an area in which he believes that America excels.

It was a real privilege to be given these insights into managing such an influential garden, and we are very grateful to Monsieur Carvallo for his generosity and openness. Sue appreciated the extra effort that we went to in order to create a tour that fulfilled a lifetime dream and if you are interested in a tour that gives you more than the standard tourist visits email us and we can work with you to design your exclusive tour.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Meeting the Winemaker

Because we visit small and medium sized wineries it is often possible to meet the winemaker. Wineries in the Loire Valley tend to be family run, often involving multiple generations and sometimes hundreds of years. The winemakers come to the role already imbued with a sense of what their wine should be like, full of passion for their craft and fiercely proud of their background. But these days they all go to college too, to learn the latest scientific principles of winemaking and about the wine industry in general. Many of them take a year out and work in wineries overseas.

Joe and Caryn, from Washington DC, got to meet Alexandre Monmousseau at the Château Gaudrelle cave, who gave them a personal tour of the winemaking facilities and took them through a tasting afterwards. Here you see them engaged in a lively discussion about why Vouvray wine is made according to very strict rules, and why vintage and terroir matter so much in France. They came away with a genuine appreciation for the dedication, knowledge and skill of people like Alexandre, and they 'really liked the guy'.

If you are interested in wine and would like to meet small producers in the Loire Valley, email us.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Fine Dining in the Loire Valley

In the past few years, according to local food broadcaster Patrick Prieur, 'a pile of young chefs have come' to the Loire area. They've brought with them a style that is modern, intelligent and light, he says.

They wisely offer a limited choice menu, so they are making the best use of local, seasonal fresh produce. Good restaurants here will use about 80% fresh ingredients, and have a choice of three main courses at the most, changing daily. At the moment, there isn't a Michelin 3 starred restaurant in the area, but Monsieur Prieur is convinced it will happen soon.

He also advocates taking a tour off the beaten track if you want to discover the best food the region has to offer, and particularly recommends the area around Loches, to the south of Tours. We agree entirely with this advice, and often encourage our clients to visit the beautiful medieval town of Loches with us, where we lunch at an outstanding restaurant offering an exceptionally high quality experience for no more than you would pay in an ordinary working man's restaurant.

If you are interested in fine dining and want to be ahead of the crowd, email us and we will design a tour that will delight your tastebuds.

Friday 27 May 2011

The Amazing Aigronne

At Loire Valley Time Travel we are always looking for new and interesting places which are off the beaten track - and we think this half-day tour is the perfect example.

The Aigronne River is only about 29km (18 miles) long, yet in that short distance it manages to pass sites ranging from the neolithic (a prehistoric burial mound) to modern history (the site of a World War 2 battle), taking in medieval grottos and a the point where the demarcation line cut France in two in 1940 along the way.

Medieval grotto, cut into the cliff edge of the Aigronne
The half day (3 hour) trip along the Aigronne in a classic car is ideal for anyone staing in the le Grand Pressigny or Preuilly sur Claise area and is offered at the bargain price of €120 for up to three people. If you would like to explore this fascinating river, email us.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Gorgeous Gardens

In the Loire Valley, often referred to as the Garden of France, we are fortunate to have many lovely gardens open to visitors.

One of the most famous is Villandry, a recreation of a medieval parterre garden. These gardens, designed to be both strolled through and looked down upon from the terrace, are filled in with a different arrangement of vegetables every year. The range of colours and intricate patterns that can be achieved with vegetable plantings have to be seen to be believed! This garden truly deserves its international reputation.

Nearby is la Chatonniere, a new garden made with traditional values. It is less restrained by a sense of wanting to recreate what was once there, and more able to create gardens which reflect the personal taste of the owner. The garden has roses in every possible setting and in the summer is a feast for the eye and the nose.

If you love gardens as much as we do, email us to book your day at Villandry and la Chatonniere.

Sunday 1 May 2011

The Perfect Anniversary Present

Over the May Day holiday weekend we had the pleasure of showing Jason and Katerina some of the best the Loire Valley has to offer.

Katerina booked a day trip with us as a surprise 10th wedding anniversary present for Jason. She particularly wanted to see Azay-le-Rideau and go to a winery, so we worked with that to create a wonderful day for them both.

After picking them up at their hotel in central Tours, we started the day by visiting Chenonceau. On a warm holiday weekend it was inevitably busy, but although this is the most popular chateau by far, it is rare to feel really crowded.

A busy day at Chenonceau, but Jason and Katerina were still
able to step out onto the balcony without being part of the crowd.
Once we had enjoyed a delicious lunch provided by Laurence at Le Detour we followed the river Indre through pretty villages and past lovely old mills, through the forest and lush green crops, to spend a relaxed hour or so at Azay-le-Rideau while Katerina took some classic photos and bought some fun gifts for their small daughters at home. Then it was on to Chateau de l'Aulee for a tour of the winery and a tasting before heading back to Tours.

Jason had a great day, appreciating the opportunity to see a couple of outstandingly beautiful Renaissance chateaux without feeling rushed, and experience the friendly atmosphere and superb food in a small family run restaurant off the beaten track. We were able to suggest a few things they could enjoy independently for the rest of their stay and we feel sure they will go back home with many happy memories of their time in the Loire.

If you have a special date you want to celebrate, email us and let us create the perfect anniversary present for you.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Demarcation Line

When many people think of the Loire Valley they think of Renaissance chateaux.

Today we took Jimmy (who flew with the Royal Air Force in World War II) to some of the lesser known, but still fascinating, sites in the South Touraine. Jimmy was interested to hear about Jean Delalez - known as "Charlemagne" in the Resistance movement - a local schoomaster and organiser of the escape network for downed aircrew and undercover agents, who is remembered today in the name of the school at which he taught.

We also stopped at a memorial which markes the spot where the demarcation line between Occupied and Free France once crossed a field in the middle of the country, and we wondered at the disruption this must have caused to everyday life in the area.

In between, we visited a forest where some of the nastiest encounters between the Resistance and occupying forces took place, and a prehistoric burial site - all in one afternoon. If you would like to spend an afternoon discovering little known sites which are part of a world wide story email us and tell us what interests you.

The cost of an afternoon tour in the South Touraine is 120euros for up to three people.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Orchid Walks

Not many people know this, but parts of France have a serious number of orchid species, and in another three weeks and they will be starting to flower. At Loire Valley Time Travel we are really fortunate to have the expertise of Susan to call on when it comes to the orchids of the Claise river valley. Susan trained as a field taxonomist and is extremely knowledgable about the flora and fauna of the area, specialising in orchids and insects.

The first orchids to appear are "early purple",
seen here with cowslips
During the orchid season Susan leads "follow my leader" walks of some of the local orchid hotspots. These are for groups of up to 6 people, and cost 50Euros per group. If you are going to be in the area and would like to see some of these little jewels, email us to arrange a walk.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Fizz and Pop

Almost all of our tours include a visit to a winery, and we particularly like the Vouvray area. The vineyards here produce still and sparkling white wine.

30 000 bottles of Chateau Gaudrelle sparkling Vouvray
maturing in a cave.
The sparkling wine is made in the same way as champagne, although the grape variety is different. It's extremely drinkable and extremely good value. Many of the vineyards are situated in spectacular locations, with the cellars occupying old underground limestone quarries in the riverbank cliffs. This provides the perfect constant temperature for the maturing wine stored there.

If you are interested in learning more about how the wines at Vouvray are made, and having a tasting session hosted by the winemaker, don't hesitate to email us.

Friday 25 March 2011

Oh What a Beautiful Day!

The 2011 season got off to a fine start for us yesterday, with the loveliest weather imaginable - bright warm sunshine, a light breeze and deep blue skies. Our first clients for the year were Michael, Terri and Sarah, a charming family from Pennsylvania, and we were delighted to be able to show them Loches and Chenonoceau in virtually perfect conditions.

After visiting the church of Saint Ours, where the lovely Agnès Sorel is buried, and the Logis Royale where she lived, we meandered down through medieval Loches to the Gerbe d'Or for a superb lunch of shrimp salad, steak with blue cheese sauce and citrus fruits in jelly accompanied by a local Gamay red wine.

Relaxed and happy in the sun, Terri and Sarah ham it up a bit
with Célestine, while we wait for Michael to find his prehistoric souvenir.
Michael was particularly interested in the prehistoric dolmen we stopped at on the way to Chenonceau and he spent some time intently peering at the ground hoping against hope to find a piece of worked flint. Not far away, the Chateau of Chenonceau was a big hit with daughter Sarah, who is studying Renaissance art at college.

The final stop before catching the train back to Paris was Chateau Gaudrelle, a magificently sited wine cave in Vouvray. Terri left her email address with them, because they are now working with a wine merchant in the US to deliver their wine to American customers.

All in all, just about the perfect day in the Loire.

Thursday 17 March 2011

How we choose a Restaurant

You may have noticed in some of our posts about our tours (and on the Loire Valley Time Travel website) we refer to "workingman's restaurants" and wondered what we mean by this.

In many parts of France lunch is the biggest meal of the day, which makes life difficult for artisans who are working away from their workshop, or who are always working on site. In order to cater for these people, many restaurants specialise in three or four course lunches aimed specifically at people like roofers, plumbers, stonemasons, many of whom who dine at restaurants every lunchtime.

The meals may be inexpensive, but
the surroundings can surprise
These meals are incredibly good value, and are often made from top quality ingredients, prepared and presented skilfully and served with wine. We take great care in selecting where we take you to dine (it involves many lunchtimes of research) so we are confident you will enjoy your 90 minutes eavesdropping the chatter and banter that accompanies any meal in these restaurants.

If you would like to join us for lunch, email us, and experience a part of everday life in France.

Monday 14 March 2011

A Friday Mystery

"Roll up, roll up, step right this way"... anyone who owned "Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band" will recognise we are talking about magical mystery tours.

Loire Valley Time Travel's mystery tour is available only on Fridays, and concentrates on places in the immediate vicinity of Tours. Sit back in Célestine's lounge room like back seat and relax while the surprises keep coming.

No photos of the destinations -
that would ruin the mystery!
Being close to Tours doesn't mean a lack of chateaux - on this tour we visit two historic buildings: one chateau has links to the biggest scandal of the 1930s, whilst the other was the home of the greatest of all French renaissance poets. Along the way we will see three of the major rivers of the Loire basin: the Loire, the Cher and the Indre.

The cost for this tour is € 380 for two people starting in Tours. If you would like to be surprised, email us.

Friday 11 March 2011

Rillettes de Tours

Ask anyone who grew up in the Touraine what their favourite local dish is and they will say rillettes de Tours (pulled pork terrine). Everyone is delighted that this regional delicacy has recently been awarded Indication Geographique Protegee certification. This means the authentic dish can only be made within a certain geographic area around Tours.

It is made from pork cooked slowly for many hours which is then pulled into strands by hand, mixed with simple seasonings and local Vouvray white wine then pressed into a terrine, all according to an age old recipe. Sometimes it is served scooped from a large terrine, sometimes it comes in little round pots. Real gourmands, like Balzac, who affectionately dubbed it 'brown jam', eat it with a spoon straight from the pot, although in restaurants it will be served with toast. Last year 300 tonnes were made by the 20 local certified artisanal producers. With the new certification guaranteeing quality and authenticity, the producers are confidently expecting sales to double in the future.

If you think this sounds delicious (it's a great alternative if you don't like liver patés) and would like to sample some yourself, please email us and we will design a day that includes gourmet treats.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Spring is almost with us

This year holds the promise a wonderful spring: last year the weather was unseasonably cool until June, but this year the sun is already out and the plants are really starting to grow.

We have an orchard which is managed to make the most of the wild orchids of the area, and it looks like this year we will have even more orchids than last year. Already we have signs of over 300 plants. There is a substantial colony of Early Spider Orchids (Ophrys sphegodes), which will be the first to flower, along with Lady Orchids (Orchis purpurea). Some weeks later, Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) and Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) should start to flower in nearly as great a number.

Bee Orchid
Last year there was also a single tiny specimen of Greater Butterfly Orchid (Plantathera chlorantha) which we are hoping will have spread its seed. The roadsides also have substantial orchid colonies, so in the space of two hours it is not unusual to see 10 or 12 different orchid species.

Luckily, at Loire Valley Time Travel we have a nature and wildlife expert: Susan is a trained Field Taxonomist. If you are visiting the Loire Valley or South Touraine and would like to take an orchid walk with Susan, email us to arrange a "follow my leader" tour. These walks are available in May and June (and late April or early July if the season is favourable) for groups of 2-6 people. All of the sites are privately owned, and in some cases special access has been granted for these walks. The cost is €50 per group .

Tuesday 1 March 2011

A Stylish Taxi Service

I think all of us like the idea of travelling in style. These days it is difficult to find any sort of style in air travel, but the train system in France can still be fast, comfortable and hassle free. For many people the idea of a weekend away where someone else takes the strain is becoming really attractive, and this includes not having to drive yourself everywhere.

Your car awaits - 1950's style in the 21st century

The South Touraine has many attractions that bring millions of tourists to the area every year. It also has miles of unspoiled countryside, amazing wildflowers, forests, and small villages with comfortable and friendly chambres des hotes (B&Bs), hotels and gites. If you travel light and need to get to or from your accommodation, book a station pick up from Châtellerault, Tours or Poitiers. If you have less time to travel but still want to make a stylish entry we can also pick you up from Tours or Poitiers airport. Likewise, if you want to dine out but no one wants to drive, we will pick you up and take you to the restaurant.

We can reserve accommodation with one of our partners, book restaurants, and advise the best methods for getting to this beautiful unspoiled part of France for a weekend or longer. Email us for more information.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

There's Scaffolding on My Chateau!

Every now and then we hear visitors complaining that they visited somewhere and it was swathed in scaffolding or even completely closed to the public because of building work.

We sympathise with how disappointing it can be when a dream doesn't live up to expectations. Chateaux are supposed to be the fairytale homes of knights and ladies, shining in the sun and always photogenic. The truth is that they are centuries old buildings requiring careful and constant attention from stone masons, plasterers, carpenters and roofers. Most chateaux and cathedrals will have some scaffolding erected somewhere all the time, but because the management is well aware that visitors have not come to see ugly modern metal staging, they are careful to minimise the impact.

The front of Chenonceau was hidden by
scaffolding for several months last year.
Really well run sites include the visitor in the experience, by explaining the conservation work that they are undertaking. Where this is not possible, they do the most intrusive work during the winter, or if it is a really long term project, all sorts of creative strategems are used to lessen its visual impact. One of the favourite techniques is to print the scaffolding screen with a lifesize photo of the building it is hiding (as was done at Chenonceau).

Your visit provides important revenue for many of the chateaux that you love best, so please don't be discouraged if 'your' chateau is being repaired or maintained on the day you visit. We will do our best to let you know what stage any building work is at prior to your visit, and because of our background in heritage conservation are able to provide fascinating insigts into many conservation issues. If you are interested in how these very old buildings remain in such good condition despite the large numbers of visitors, email us and book a day trip. We will design a tour which includes some heritage conservation and archaeology.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Montpoupon Wins an Award

One of our favourite destinations has been awarded the Qualité Tourisme stamp by the Tourism Minister. This designation is only awarded to venues which can demostrate to an independent committee that they are thoroughly professional in all aspects of presenting their site to the public. After two years of work, Montpoupon has succeeded in gaining their reward from the committee.

The chateau is privately owned by Comte Amaury de Louvencourt, who has instigated considerable improvments focusing on the hunting life. Today the Musée du Veneur (Hunting Museum) has 25 rooms bringing together a multitude of objects that give an insight into the daily lives of 19th and early 20th century professional and sporting hunters. It is a fascinating glimpse of rural and sporting social history, covering not just hunting, but country house life in general as well as wildlife photography and natural history.

The back of the chateau, showing the entrace
to the recently enlarged kitchen exhibition
Added to that, the chateau is one of the most charmingly located of any you will encounter, with beautiful views and dozens of photo opportunities.

Our heartiest congratulations to Matthieu, the Visitor Services Manager, who always gives us a friendly welcome and we know has worked very hard to present Montpoupon at its best. If you would like to see the chateau and its museum, please email us.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Classic Car French for Beginners

One of the advantages in having a classic car is all the doors that open for us. The Citroën Traction Avant is an iconic car in France, and many people we meet when out and about have stories to tell or questions about the car.

We often attract a crowd
Just in case you are the person standing nearest the car when questions are asked, we have prepared some information to help you sound multilingual:

There is one question that is always asked, and that is:

"how old is it" : quelle âge a-t-elle - (kellarj-atell

"what year is it" : quelle année est-elle? - (kellannay etell

The easiest answer to both is
She is a 53 : elle est de 53 - (ellay desankon twa

We can't promise to make you perfectly bi-lingual but one or two well chosen phrases can help you feel more comfortable. As long as you remember to say "hello" to people and wish them a good day before saying "goodbye" you are well on the way to being seen as polite.

Grab a French phrasebook, then email us so that you can practice on some real French people

Friday 11 February 2011

One of our favorites

We wrote a while ago about how Chenonceau is the number one requested place to visit by our clients. We can totally understand that: Chenonceau is the most iconic of the Loire châteaux, and is near the top of many people's list of places to see.

When we visit Chenonceau it gives us a chance to visit one of our favorite restaurants in the Loire Valley, and then after lunch to visit a château that many tours miss.

Montpoupon is one of the smaller châteaux, still family owned, and is furnished as if the family have just stepped out. Apart from the château there are the kitchens, and a hunting museum. It is one of the more easily photographed château (we have plenty of photos to prove that!) and many of our visitors have asked to have their photo taken outside the château with Célestine.

If you would like the opportunity to have your photo taken at Montpoupon, email us, and we will arrange a very special day for you.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Why we don't collect you in Paris

There are some tours which will collect you from your hotel in Paris, take you to the chateaux of the Loire Valley, and return you to Paris. We are not one of them.

It takes at least 2½ hours to drive from Paris to Tours by motorway. Using Célestine it might take three, or even four hours, depending on traffic. Usually our clients are with us for ten or eleven hours, which allows time for visiting a couple of chateau (and having time to explore), a decent lunch break, and a visit to a winery. Adding at least six hours to that would make a very long (and tiring) day.

We recommend to our visitors that they come to us using the French train system, more particularly the very fast train (TGV). This train travels from Paris Montparnasse to St Pierre des Corps (the main station for Tours) at 300km/h (186mph) and takes about an hour to do the trip. We can't book your rail tickets for you, but we will give you a handy guide to make the process easy. If you book early enough, the tickets can cost less than €20 per person each way.

If you would like to mix a 1950's car travel with a futuristic train trip, contact us.

Saturday 5 February 2011

The Hounds at Cheverny

If you are a dog lover, one of the not to be missed châteaux in the Loire Valley is Cheverny.

This privately owned estate is home to a pack of magnificent anglo-french hounds with bloodlines going back many generations. Visitors can see them any time that the château is open, either at the kennels, or if they are lucky, out being exercised, when they swarm around their handlers, cheerfully lolloping through the grounds.

The dogs live communally in a large kennel. Mostly they just lounge around, like hounds anywhere, relaxing, taking a drink from the water trough, settling the odd dispute about hierachy and standing about looking noble for the tourists.

In the late afternoon the atmosphere in the kennels becomes restless, as feeding time approaches. Eventually a line of meat and kibble is laid out. Not a dog moves, but they all watch expectantly for the signal that they may start eating. The tension is almost unbearable! The signal is given and whoosh! Everything is gobbled down in less than a minute!

The visitors breath out, and head off to look at the fabulous interior of the château itself, the picturesque canalside gardens or the museum dedicated to the Tintin cartoons.

If you are a dog lover and would like to meet the hounds, why not get in touch with us? One of our standard day trips includes Cheverny, or we can design a tour especially for you.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Why we are called Loire Valley Time Travel

When you only have limited time to take a holiday it can be tempting to rush everything and see as much as possible. We understand that because we have done it ourselves: once you have paid for an air fare you want to get as much value from it as you can. This can mean rushing from tourist icon to tourist icon without stopping to look at what is in between and only finding out what you have missed when you get home.

At Loire Valley Time Travel we believe that even when you have limited time you need a day where you just relax and take in the view. After a couple of hectic days let someone else take the strain of organising a day and go with the flow. Our days are never rushed, because we plan so we aren't travelling great distances. We plan to visit one or two chateaux, depending on your interests, have a long, relaxed (i.e. typically French) lunch, visit a winery or food producer, and stop along the way to take in some of the history and countryside views that you could easily rush straight past.

We like to think that this is how our parents travelled when they took their vacations, so to add to the sense of travelling in the style of a previous era we use a car of the appropriate age. If you want to sample the way that a previous generation took their holidays, email us.

Sunday 30 January 2011

A Wild Orchid Paradise

One of the best kept secrets of the Touraine is how many species of wild orchid grow here. Of the 44 species recorded, about half - some of them rare elsewhere - are easy to see if you know what habitat they prefer. At Loire Valley Time Travel we benefit from Susan's expertise in this field and it is not uncommon to see 10-12 species on a two hour walk with her.

The rare Mueller's Helleborine can be seen in a few places.
We offer orchid walks in May and June (and late April or early July if the season is favourable). These are for groups of 2-6 people, using your own transport to follow Susan to two different sites. All of the sites are privately owned, and in some cases special access has been granted for these walks.

The cost is €50 per group and it is essential to book at least 48 hours in advance.

Thursday 27 January 2011

I only have four days in Paris

Some people are lucky: they can take long holidays that allow them time to explore and decide from day to day what they want to do, but the rest of us have to plan a holiday and do as much as we can in a short time. This is why when planning a trip many people use a travel forum to ask questions recommending hotels to use and places to see.

Many times on the forums you will see answers like "a week is not enough to see everything Paris has to offer, don't spend your time travelling elsewhere". Even if you only have four days in France and want to see a winery or the Loire Chateaux don't allow them to put you off: it's your holiday and you should be seeing what you want to see.

Loire Valley Time Travel are here to plan your day away from the noise and bustle of Paris. Travel on a train for an hour, and in about the same time as it would take you to reach Versailles you can be in the rolling countryside of the Loire Valley.

Email us if you are in Paris for a short time, and we can show you something of what the rest of France can offer.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Taking Time to Explore

When you book a one day tour with Loire Valley Time Travel we like to plan so that you don't spend too much time in the car. This allows you more time to stop and enjoy how peaceful the area is, a perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle that is Paris.

This is why our most popular tour combines the Chateaux of Chenonceau and Montpoupon. The two chateaux are only a short distance from each other, which allows us time to appreciate some of the pretty villages we drive through and the rolling countryside of the Loire Valley. Along the way we visit a pre-historic burial mound, a World War Two war memorial, and other reminders of the lives of ordinary people during the long history of this area.

If you are interested in more than just the big houses of the Loire Valley, email us and we will plan a day that introduces you to some of the lesser known sites that many other people just miss.

Friday 21 January 2011

A Reminder of some of our Special Offers

First of all, a reminder that our 2011 prices are the same as they were in 2010. This applies to all excursions, whether custom made or a la carte.

Our Chenonceau and Montpoupon trip is proving as popular this year as it did last year. It is a good introductory circuit for people who have not visited the Loire valley before, and is available every day of the year except Christmas and New Year's day. For a couple of weeks at the end of December and January the chateau at Montpoupon is closed, but we substitute the chateau at Amboise. This trip is 460 Euros for two people, starting in Tours. As always, we will have lunch in a friendly family run establishment, and there is time for a winery visit at the end of the day.

From March until the middle of November our Cars, Cheese and Chateaux tour is available, visiting the museum and chateau at Valençay. This tour is show in more detail here, and can be booked at a cost of 530 Euros for two people. The day this time starts in Chateauroux.

Our Valentines special is also still available: read about it here.

If you have any questions about our tours, please contact us, either on any of the phone numbers shown on the right of this page, or by email.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Valentine's Day Romance

There are some truly romantic stories associated with the Loire Valley, and on this tour Loire Valley Time Travel aim to introduce you to some of the great love stories of the medieval and renaissance ages.

Of course, this can be done on any day of the year, but why not make it a special Valentine's Day tour for you and the person you love?

The tour includes a visit to the chateaux of Chenonceau and Loches, all entry fees, transport to and from St Pierre des Corps station (or your hotel in the region), lunch, and services of a driver and guide. The price is 530 Euros for two people.

If you are interested about learning more of the lives and loves of the French kings, email for more details.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Reduced Mobility? You can still visit the Loire Chateaux

Chateaux are difficult places to explore for people who have trouble with stairs: none of the chateaux of the Loire Valley have lifts (elevators), and some of the staircases are narrow and winding. An added problem is that even before you encounter stairs, the walk to many of the chateaux from the carpark can be quite long.

The back seat of Célestine is a most
comfortable place for anyone to sit!
Although we don't claim to have the perfect solution to these problems, we believe we have an itinerary to suit people who are mobile, but find walking distances (and stairs) difficult. The tour will take you to the chateaux of Montpoupon and Cheverny. We have chosen these chateaux as both have easy access from the carpark, and very wide, easy to climb staircases. Even if these stairs are too difficult, the ground floor levels of these chateaux hold plenty of interest.

At all times we will be available as an arm to lean on, and we also carry walking poles in the car, just in case.

If you have any questions about our tours, please contact us, either on any of the phone numbers shown on the right of this page, or by email.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Why a Traction Avant?

When Loire Valley Time Travel was in the planning stages we spent a long time thinking about the vehicle we would use for the tours. Most companies use either minibuses to carry 8 people at a time, or modern luxury cars - usually a Mercedes - for smaller groups. When we decided to concentrate on private tours we started looking for alternative to the car every other company used to help us stand out from the crowd.

A couple of times we had been driving around France, and seen Traction Avants on the road. The presence of the car and the way it turns heads wherever it goes was instantly obvious, and the appeal of driving such an iconic car through the French countryside was irresistable.

It was only after buying Célestine we realised just how loved these cars are. People we don't know will often walk up to us and start a conversation with "my uncle had one of those", or ask to take a photo. An added bonus is that it isn't just about looks - the legroom is amazing, and the ride really comfortable. For more information and photos of the car, we have a page on our website.

If you want to be the centre of attraction wherever you go in the Loire Valley, email us and ask about a tour. You never know - you may end up in a local's photo album!

Monday 10 January 2011

Tour de France

This tour has now been booked

On the 8th of July 2011 the Tour de France will be passing close to the chateaux of Chenonceau and Montpoupon. This gives us the opportunity to offer a really very special day in the Loire Valley to one group of travellers.

The day will be based on the tour of Chenonceau and Montpoupon which we offer every day, but will include a two hour interlude to watch the passage of the "caravan" and riders of the Tour de France. At the moment we cannot offer a complete itinerary for the day as the timing of the passage of the Tour de France has not be issued. If previous year's experiences are to be believed we estimate that the Tour will pass through the area a couple of hours after lunch, thus giving us the opportunity to visit Chenonceau, lunch in a relaxed style, then move on to see the Tour de France before, if time allows, visiting Montpoupon and a winery.

If the Tour passes the area earlier, we will prepare a luxury picnic lunch to eat at the roadside in one of the beautiful villages of the area.

Remember, our tours are for a maximum of three people, so if you are interested in this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit chateaux and see one of the world's greatest professional sporting events, email us. The cost of this very special tour is 500Euros for two people, including pick up at Tours (St Pierre des Corps) station, lunch, and entry to the chateaux visited.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Part of the Community

Here at Loire Valley Time Travel we are aware that sometimes newcomers have problems being accepted in a community. We have always tried to be involved, where possible, in the life of our small town. We always suggest, where appropriate, that people visit the village, not just because we live here and like the place, but because we can give them a small window into what life is like in rural France, seen through the experiences of people who are living it.

It was therefore gratifying that yesterday we were given medals at the Maire's annual presentation, welcoming us to the community, and acknowledging the effect of our blog in presenting Preuilly sur Claise to the world.

If you would like to visit a small French country town and discover for yourself some of what life in France could be like, email us.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Orchid Tours

At Loire Valley Time Travel we have a wide range of interests and expertise. Apart from having a passion for history, Susan is also a qualified field taxonomist, with a particular interest in orchids and insects. This means that in addition to the chateaux of the region, we can also show you the natural beauty of the area and identify the flora and fauna. The Loire Valley is a World Heritage area because of its history, the historic buildings, and its natural environment.

Early purple orchids and cowslips
This coming spring could be a good year for seeing wild orchids in the Touraine: already there are plenty of young orchid plants evident in meadows and on the roadside. These will be at their best throughout May and June, and Susan is an expert in finding them. In a two hour session it is common to see 10 species of orchids, numbering well over a thousand blooms. These tours were very popular last year, so booking early is advised.

If you book a day tour or a two day break in the Touraine we are always keen to point out the native plants and animals.

Sunday 2 January 2011

Some Dates for your Diary

If you are thinking of visiting France this year there are some dates you might like to write into your calendar. Public holidays in France are held on the date they fall on rather than the following Monday, so quite a few of this year's holidays are on a Sunday.

1 May Labor Day (Fête du premier mai)
8 May WWII Victory Day
(Fête de la Victoire 1945; Fête du huitième mai)
14 July Bastille Day (Fête nationale)
15 August Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
1 November All Saints Day (La Toussaint)
11 November Armistice Day (Jour d'armistice)
25 December Christmas Day (Noël)
Why not book a holiday in the Touraine and visit a small French town for Bastille Day with us? There may not be military parades, but there will be a flaming torch lit procession around town behind a band, then fireworks and a dance, lasting late into the night. The past 2 years visitors have enjoyed the celebrations with us, commenting on how much they valued the chance to party with ordinary French people in a small community.

Email us, and we will help you plan a week or weekend with us in the beautiful south Touraine.