Thursday 12 December 2013

Lovely Views

The Loire Valley is a photographer's dream location. There aren't many places you have such an abundance of beautiful scenes to photograph. Look down any village street, out any chateau window and you will be enchanted. We took the photo below from inside the chateau of Azay le Rideau in early April, but it is just as lovely any time of the year.

If you take your camera everywhere and love to photograph a stunning view, email us and let us design a tour of the most picturesque places in the Loire Valley for you.

Monday 2 December 2013

Fighting in the Forest -- what happened after D-Day

It's the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in June 2014. Also known as Operation Overlord, the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy in northern France turned the tide of the Second World War. We've noticed that quite a few of our clients have either just done a Normandy Beaches tour, or are off on one immediately after they leave us.
Because of this, we thought many people would like to know what happened in the Loire Valley in the centre of France after the D-Day landings in the north. The region is very rural, with many forests, and throughout those forests and on roadsides you will encounter the simple graves of Resistance fighters who were killed in the summer of 1944. The stories behind each of these graves are remembered and honoured by the local people.

If you are interested in Second World War history, don't think that the Loire Valley is just about chateaux. We can introduce you to more recent historical events (as well as show you a chateau or two...). Email us if you would like a tour that includes the history of our own times and an insight into how the Second World War changed France. (Note that we do not organise tours of the Normandy Landing Beaches.)

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Surprise Stops

One of the things we pride ourselves on at Loire Valley Time Travel is our local knowledge, especially of the smaller and lesser known sites of interest. We often don't formally include these in the itinerary that we give to clients before they arrive. We like them to be a surprise, that we fit in to the day if we have time.

Especially at the beginning of the season, many of the lovely gardens in the Loire Valley have not yet reached their peak. That is why we may end up with a little time on our hands if we visit, for example, Villandry, in March. Not all of the world famous garden will be ready to receive visitors. But not to worry -- we have a fascinating little stop to fill the gap.

Some of the very old churches in the area have amazing interiors, and one in particular has become a favourite with us. It has superb, and very rare, wall paintings dating from the 12th century, and even if you are not religious you can't fail to be engaged by the lively and quirky cartoon like stories painted all over the walls and ceiling.

If you would like a day with us, full of surprises and special visits to historic sites of significance, email us and we will design one of our popular day trips just for you.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Staff Meeting

Our two senior staff members get together before starting work, to discuss the day's route.
If you want to be transported in style by these elegant vehicles, email us and we will design a tour to suit your interests in the Loire Valley.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Our Tour Prices for 2014

We hope you are all out there planning your vacations and holidays for next year. If you are, we've got some really good news.

We've decided not to increase our prices in 2014.

And for those of you who are really organised, we are offering 5% off all tours for 2014 that are booked and fully paid for prior to 31 March 2014.

If you would like to benefit from our special offer tour prices email us and let us know where in the Loire Valley you would like to visit. Whether you opt for one of our standard tours, or we custom design one just for you, you will be eligible for the discount if the tour is paid for before the end of March.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Step into History

Our Citroen Traction Avant tour vehicles are special. Every French person will know exactly what they are and can tell you the history of this iconic car. They often want to come up to chat and pass on their memories of the Traction in their family. If we are driving by they will smile, stop to look, wave or flash their lights in appreciation as we pass.
In their day, everyone from gangsters to the police used Traction Avants. They were the professional man's choice of car and the family man's. During the Second World War both the French Resistance and the occupying Germans used them. As a consequence many became casualties of war and were destroyed in the fighting. Both our cars are post war, and the remaining pre war examples are rare and precious. However, only minor details changed in the look of the car, and it is quite possible to imagine yourself back in those times when you are travelling through the forests or small villages of the Touraine.

If you want to get a feel for the past by stepping into a classic Citroen Traction Avant, email us and ask to spend the day in the Loire Valley with Claudette or Célestine.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Make a Wish at the Winery

We often visit really tiny wineries. We love being able to highlight the unique producers we have in the Loire -- those that don't export, that sell all their product locally. These are the people you won't get to meet anywhere else.

These small wineries all do things their own special way. Each of them has a particular way of managing their vines and converting the grapes into wine. They pay immense attention to detail, and are only too delighted to share their opinions and experience with visitors. Charmingly, they don't see themselves as tourist attractions, and there is no obligation to buy their wine in the unlikely event that you haven't enjoyed it.

All of them have quirky traditions and practices. Some of these rituals are widespread, but some are restricted to individual families or single wineries. For instance, at one winery we visit, you are encouraged to stick a coin to the yeasty goo clinging to the cellar walls. The wine maker explained that it is like throwing a coin into a fountain in Italy. You can make a wish and it will bring you luck.

If you want some good luck, email us and we will design a tour of the Loire Valley that includes one of these special small wineries for you. Santé!

Monday 23 September 2013

Photographing Sunflowers

Michaela and Derrick from Connecticut did a day trip with us in late August. They were on their honeymoon and the tour had been a surprise wedding present. All they knew was that they would be picked up from their chateau hotel near Amboise at 9 am on a particular day.

We had designed a typical tour visiting chateaux and gardens, driving through picturesque countryside and lunching at a small restaurant frequented by the locals, tucked away in a side street. We hadn't been given much to go on by their friend who booked the tour, so we hoped we had chosen sites they would be interested in. What we didn't know until we met them was that they had bought themselves a new digital SLR camera for the honeymoon, and were still enthusiastically learning how to use it.

Derrick in photographer mode in front of the sunflowers.
One of the things they really wanted to photograph was a field of sunflowers, but they had noticed on their way to the chateau hotel the day before that the sunflowers were almost finished. As soon as they mentioned this to us, we started taking routes where we were fairly sure we would be able to find sunflowers still looking photogenic. Our familiarity with the area paid off, and not only were Michaela and Derrick able to get their sunflower shots, they got to eat wild blackberries for the first time, straight off the bush!

If you have something you really want to see in the Loire Valley and would like the extra flexibility that booking a tour with us gives you, email us and we can make sure your special wish comes true.

Friday 13 September 2013

Remembering the Great War A Hundred Years On

Many of our clients combine visiting Paris with shorter side trips.  They often take advantage of the great train service to Tours and come to the Loire Valley, but they often also go to the north of France to see the historic First World War sites. We've had quite a few clients fit both side trips into their itinerary. If they are American or from any of the Commonwealth countries, the chances are they have a relative who saw action up north, so the visit has real significance to them.
Visiting the cemeteries is a sobering and moving experience. We know. We've done it. The impact of the War on the countryside is clear to see, and many places evoke strong emotions. But have you ever wondered how the First World War impacted on the rest of France? With the hundredth anniversary of the War coming up in 2014, we will be thinking of life in France in 1914, and how it changed.

If you have an interest in this period of history, but want to see more than the Front Line Zone, we can incorporate information and sites of relevance to your tour of the Loire Valley. For example, the Loire Valley was in what was referred to as the Intermediate Zone and the famous chateau of Chenonceau was a convalescent hospital. Hundreds of thousands of troops, French and Allies, passed through camps in this area on their way to or from the Front. Email us if you would like to book a tour and learn more. (Note that we don't organise tours in northern France, only in the Loire Valley.)

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Article in French Online News

We often take clients to visit the fascinating underground world of the mushroom caves at Bourré. The family who own the former quarry switched from stone to mushrooms when they needed some alternative means of making an income. Once there were hundreds of these mushroom growing businesses, but now they are rare.
We wrote a post on our other blog about the caves, which has been picked up and republished in French Online News. You can read the article here.

If you would like us to organise a day that includes a visit to the mushroom caves, email us and we will be delighted to put together one of our food and wine tours for you.

Saturday 24 August 2013

A Benchmark for Potager Gardens

When Joachim Carvallo bought the Villandry estate in 1906 his main objective was to save the building. It was only later, after restoring the chateau to a habitable level that he considered the garden. Faced with a pleasant enough but fairly ordinary 'English park' style garden that was there when the family moved in, he started thinking about the possibility of doing something quite different.

Thus it was that the famous potager was created. Its design influences are from manuscripts and records of Renaissance gardens, a bit of archeology and Joachim's individual vision. The resulting garden is something extra-ordinary, deservedly the most famous garden in France.

Although ordinary domestic potagers are everywhere in France, supplying fruit, vegetables and flowers to almost every rural family in the country, Villandry has created a benchmark for the style outside of France. When visitors think of potagers, what they are really thinking of is Villandry.

If you would like to see for yourself this wonderful and inspiring garden, email us and we will gladly include it in your itinerary.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Weddings, Honeymoons and Proposals of Marriage in the Loire Valley

We don't very often use Célestine or Claudette, our classic Citroën Traction Avant cars, for weddings, unless the couple getting married are celebrating at one of our partner chateaux. If we have a suitable gap in the calender when we are not booked for a tour, we are happy to offer a car and driver at a very reasonable rate. It can be difficult fitting weddings in though, as people get married at the same time as visitors come here on holiday, so we are often too busy to be involved in a couple's special day.

More often we will be asked to design a special day out for a newly married couple on their honeymoon, or someone who wants to 'pop the question' somewhere romantic. With the latter request, we are very happy to leave clients alone for a suitable interval in a rose covered bower at Villandry, for instance. It is best to time these sorts of requests for when the roses are flowering though! (We've had requests to find somewhere romantic to propose in February, and believe me, that isn't so easy!)

If you would like us to design a romantic day in the Loire Valley for you, email us and we will be delighted to take you to some of those charming little corners of France that you've seen in the movies and books.

Sunday 4 August 2013

We're Excellent!

Not to blow our own trumpet (much...) but we're excellent! We've received a certificate from TripAdvisor which says so, and we are thrilled.

The certificate is the result of all our clients who have posted such wonderful reviews about us on the travel forum, and we are very grateful indeed to anyone who takes the time to write a review.

The Certificate of Excellence is issued to the top 10% of tourist businesses world wide. TripAdvisor reviews are tremendously influential and most of our clients have chosen us because they have read our many very positive reviews on TripAdvisor.

If you would like to experience what our previous clients rave about, email us and we will design a tour to suit you, using our extensive network of local contacts and knowledge. We love to show visitors the best the Loire Valley has to offer, and to take people to places both world famous and those lesser known gems that are only known to the locals.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Stained Glass in the Loire Valley

All churches in France have lovely old stained glass right? It's one of the things you will want to see when you visit.

But what if you don't know much about stained glass and want to make sure you see something really special? Most of the stained glass in churches is 19th century -- so it's pretty and colourful and from highly skilled workshops, but you could see the equivalent back in North America or Australia. Hardly any really old (ie pre-Reformation) glass survives, even in France. There are perhaps half a dozen churches or chapels where original glass remains intact in the whole of the Loire Valley that we cover. And they are extra-ordinary! Far more vibrant and jewel like than the vast majority of 19th century examples. They are also relatively unknown and in quite unspoilt locations.

If you want to get away from the crowds, see gorgeous glass, and find out why it is so rare, email us and we will make a visit to one of these special places part of your itinerary.

Monday 15 July 2013

Visiting a Winemaker in the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley wineries welcome visitors all year round, but they are not like the large establishments you may be familiar with in North America or Australia. The wineries here are all about growing grapes and making wine -- and that's pretty much it. They don't have restaurants or art galleries or children's playgrounds or boutiques attached. They are just wineries, and when you visit you speak to the winemaker.

 A typical Chinon vineyard, in early spring.
We think that makes for a much more personal and intimate experience. When you visit a winery with us you don't get someone trained in customer service, you meet a winemaker. He or she most likely has made wine with their father and grandfather before taking over the business themselves. If they are lucky, there is a teenager in the family who is starting to take an interest, and the succession is assured.

Typically, the people working at Loire Valley wineries are family members, with perhaps one or two salaried staff. Everyone mucks in together and can turn their hand to everything, from pruning to picking to packing. Although the wineries are small and everyone is busy, because we have established a relationship with the winemakers, it is rare that they tell us we cannot bring a client to visit them, so with us, you can visit the Loire wineries any time you like.

If you would like the best possible experience at a small but high quality wine producer, email us and let us organise a session with a winemaker for you.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

International Art in the Loire

Art is everywhere in the Loire Valley and sometimes it is really unexpected. The chateaux are full of beautiful objects and fine paintings from the past, but more recent artworks of great significance can be encountered too.

The Arts are strongly supported in France, and the Loire Valley has attracted artists of international reknown to live and work here. Our art loving clients are amazed to see a large standing mobile by Alexander Calder in the middle of the picturesque village of Saché. They can walk right up and touch it, or have their photo taken with it.

If you want to enjoy art from throughout the ages, from medieval to modern, email us and we will design a tour so you discover the best the region has to offer.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Supporting Vouvray Wines

Very early on the morning of Monday 17 June a brief but devastating hailstorm ripped through the wine appellation of Vouvray. Here at Loire Valley Time Travel we often take clients to this area because we believe the wines are high quality and exceptionally good value.

We've been impressed that despite the damage, which has lead to some wineries losing 80% of their crop, the 180 winemakers that operate in the area are working together to mitigate the effects. Some of the worst affected will lose whole parcels of vines that have been shredded and bruised by hailstones as big as hen's eggs. The continuing warm and wet weather will mean that extreme vigilance on the part of the vine masters will be necessary if a major outbreak of fungal diseases is to be avoided.

A Vouvray vineyard before the storm.
We will continue to support the Vouvray winemakers and we hope that our clients will too. We already know that the quantity of Vouvray wine from the 2013 vintage will be much reduced, but the winemakers are only briefly daunted. Their naturally optimistic outlook doesn't stay suppressed for very long and they are already musing on the possibility that the quality could still be exceptional. If you would like to visit a fine winery in a unique location, email us and we will arrange for you to meet the characterful winemakers who continue to make wonderful wine no matter what the weather throws at them.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Always something new

Even if you've visited the chateaux of the Loire before, you will find something new and interesting on subsequent visits. Partly this is because they are big sites, full of detail that you don't always see first time round, but it is also because the curators, gardeners and families who run them are keen to improve them as visitor attractions all the time.

 Newly restored bedroom at Azay le Rideau.
New gardens are created, rooms refurbished and research reveals new facts or new interpretations, so the chateaux don't become stale.

If you've seen the chateaux before but would like to see what's new, email us and we will design a tour for you to show how differently they can be presented.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Winemaking in Action

It's every available person to the vineyard and winery during the harvest. The winery suddenly becomes a maze of pipes and machinery as everyone strives to process the grapes as quickly as possible to ensure the highest quality wine. The quicker the grapes can be pressed and the juice filtered, the less chance there is for bad flavours to develop and taint the wine.

The teenage son of the winemaker transfers freshly pressed and filtered juice into a vat.

We visit small family run wineries, and all the family helps out -- picking, tractor driving, sorting, cleaning and monitoring equipment, making sure everything is running smoothly. When they are not in school, even the children are there, getting their grounding in the family business.

If you would like the chance to see a working winery up close, email us and ask us to design a tour for you in September or October. The harvest time varies slightly each year depending on the weather, but even at quieter times there is always something going on in the vineyard.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Come and See the Sunflowers

In only a few weeks time it will be sunflower season again in the Loire Valley. The farmers sow them in May and harvest them in September. In between, for a brief but glorious period in July and early August the flowers cover the fields with huge sunshine yellow blooms. If you visit at the right time of year, you cannot miss the sunflowers all over the Loire Valley. Driving from one chateau to another is a guaranteed way to see them and we are always happy to pull over so you can photograph the spectacle.

If you want to experience the sunflower season in the Loire, email us and book a tour in late July.

Monday 13 May 2013

The Heart of France

One of the things you can do when you take a tour with us is truly get off the beaten track. There are some wonderfully peaceful spots, even near the major attractions, but you won't see them if you take a bus tour. This picture was taken in early March, very close to the bustling tourist activity of Chinon. Except for the leaves on the trees, this scene looks like this all year round.

If you want to walk in tranquil natural surroundings as well as visit magnificent chateaux and sample great food and wine, email us and let us use our local knowledge to create an itinerary that shows you the best rural France has to offer.

Friday 3 May 2013

Meet Cristina

Cristina is an intern at one of our favourite wineries, Chateau Gaudrelle. She is a remarkable young woman, Romanian by birth, who has come to France to further her wine studies. Her placement at Chateau Gaudrelle is part of her programme while she works towards a Master of Wine qualification. Her ambition is to work in wine tourism and she has a dream that one day she will buy a parcel of vines in Romania and become a winemaker in her own right. In the meantime, she is impressing everyone here with her hard work and dedication.

She already knows more about wine than we will in a lifetime, and often conducts the tours of the winery and the tasting sessions when we visit with clients. We are very proud to be a small part of her professional development and very much appreciate the experience she offers our clients.

If you would like to meet people living and working in the area who are passionate about the Loire Valley and its traditions, email us and we will design a tour so they can present the wine, food and history of the area at its very best.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Visiting the Loire Valley in July

This year the Tour de France goes right through the heart of the Loire Valley and will stay overnight in Tours. This means that if you want to visit the Loire Valley you need to book early for accommodation around 11 and 12 July, when the Tour will be passing through.

The peleton streams through our village in 2008.

If you are planning a visit at this time be aware that some places may be impractical to get to, because the cycling will dictate which roads are open. Why not email us and rely on our local knowledge to get the best out of your time in the Loire. We may even be able to get you participating in the crowds following the big race. All the locals will be there and it is a lot of fun.

Saturday 13 April 2013

It's not just about history

If you visited a chateau and spotted a little cardboard triangle discreetly placed under a chair, would you be intrigued and want to know more? You might guess it was a pest trap, but there is no information available in the leaflet you are given for a self-guided tour.

With Loire Valley Time Travel, your guide through the chateau is someone with a background in caring for historic collections, so she will be able to tell you just what the staff are doing with the pest traps. It's more complicated and more interesting than you might think.

If you want to know more than just history when you visit a chateau, email us and we will tell you about the science of managing a historic collection too.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Red Hair Rules OK!

Our 2013 season has opened, with the first clients having arrived in mid-March. Quite by coincidence, we seem to have had a series of people with the most glorious red hair to start the year.

We hope they've enjoyed 'meeting' one of our historic characters in particular. Many people know before they visit that the Chateau of Chenonceau is associated with generations of women who have lived there and loved the place. What they may not know is that one of those women was Mary, Queen of Scots -- herself a strikingly beautiful redhead.

She grew up in the French court, and was Queen of France before she was Queen of Scotland. If you are fascinated by the history surrounding this notorious and tragic young woman and want to get a feel for the Renaissance period she lived in email us. We can take you to the very surroundings where she spent her youth and was part of a glittering circle of intrigue and passion.

Monday 1 April 2013

Prices go up today

We are sorry to have to increase our prices this year, with a change on some tours of between 5 and 10 percent. This is mainly to cover the rapid and quite savage increase in fuel prices.

The good news for you is that the value of the euro has dropped so your dollar will go further!

So, the upshot is that you probably won't pay any more to do a tour with us. If you would like to book a tour, perhaps you had better email us immediately, before the exchange rate moves in an unfavourable direction...

Our website has been completely revamped too, and we hope you will like what you see there.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Glorious Gardens

If you are a garden enthusiast you will have been enjoying Monty Don's French Gardens from the BBC lately (and if you haven't seen it, we recommend it!). The French are famous for their gardens, and typically, they approach it like an art form. It's important that the garden is both functional, producing as much fresh food as possible, but it must also look fabulous.

It is no wonder that the best known garden in France is here in the Loire Valley, where you can grow almost anything. Villandry has established a benchmark for beautiful, productive gardens, but there are many others worthy of the garden loving visitors time. Chaumont hosts an annual themed garden festival, full of quirky details and practical design ideas. Patrick Blanc has installed one of his marvellous living walls in the stable block there, and other garden artists enliven the park with their work.

Chenonceau doesn't heavily promote its gardens, but they are magnificent, and provide the restaurant with much of its fresh produce and the interior of the chateau with stupendous flower arrangements.

It's not just the grand estates who garden in this artistic style either. Along the river at Amboise are the jardins familiaux, allotments tended by local people, and full of clever homemade ideas for getting the best out of a kitchen garden, whilst all the while feeding the eye with their meticulous arrangement of plants and objects.

If you are a gardener and have been inspired by scenes of the gardens in France in books and on the television, email us. We'd be delighted to work with you to design a tour so you can see French gardens for yourself, and maybe even talk to the gardeners. And remember, we are still offering tours at last year's prices to anyone who books and pays in full by the end of March.

Friday 1 March 2013

Preparing for the New Season

Here at Loire Valley Time Travel we are busy preparing for a new season of showing visitors the best the Loire Valley has to offer. Bookings are coming in steadily, and we've been visiting or contacting our local partners to check what's new with them -- new objects on display in chateaux, new wines released for this year, new menus in restaurants.

Célestine has been to the mechanic to check she is in tip top shape for touring. Classic cars need more regular maintenance than modern cars, and we are very lucky that we have a young mechanic in the next village who has a real passion for vintage vehicles. She may be 60 years old this year, but Célestine is in great shape.

If you would like us to design a tour of the Loire Valley, travelling in a car that is a French icon, email us and we will be delighted to work with you. Don't forget, if you book and pay before the end of the month, you will only pay 2012 prices.

Friday 15 February 2013

Book by the End of March

The end of March, when our prices go up for 2013, is only 6 weeks away. If you've been thinking of booking a tour to see the best of the Loire Valley, now is the time to get in touch with us.

All tours booked and paid for in full by 31 March 2013 will be at 2012 prices, no matter when you actually take the tour in 2013. Email us and let us know which of the wonderful Loire chateaux or attractions you've always dreamed of seeing.

Monday 14 January 2013

Mirror Image

There are always fun ideas for gardeners at the Chaumont International Garden Festival, held in the grounds of the chateau there. The Festival has been running for over 20 years, inviting garden designers to create small gardens based around an annually changing theme. The budgets tend to be relatively small and so there is plenty that the home gardener can take away and easily achieve in their own garden.

Susan from LVTT and Australian client Louise
demonstrating a clever 'not a mirror'
arrangement in a 2012 Festival garden.
The gardens often have a humorous or fantasy twist to them, but they are also serious about putting the right plant in the right place. These are not typical show gardens, in that they have to survive from April to October. Occasionally a garden will be so good it is kept permanently and that is a real testament to the designer and their knowledge of plants.

Recently the chateau acquired another 10 ha of land just beyond the area the Festival takes place in. Work on the landscaping was undertaken in 2012 and soon the new garden will be open for public visiting.

If you want novel ideas for your garden, or are keen to see where garden design in France is heading, email us and we will design a tour that includes the International Festival of Gardens at Chaumont, as well as other notable gardens in the area, such as the world famous Villandry.

Friday 4 January 2013

Book Early for May

May has the most public holidays of any month in France and this year they fall in a way that means the period 8 - 12 May is likely to be the busiest in the whole year. Wednesday 8 May is Victory in Europe Day. It is immediately followed by Ascension Day on 9 May. Ascension is usually considered the real opening of the main tourist season in the Loire, because by then the weather is likely to be good, the days long and everyone will look forward to making a long weekend of it by taking Friday off (faire le pont, literally 'making the bridge') and taking a mini break in the country from Wednesday to Sunday. Wednesday 1 May is also a holiday (Labour Day) and Sunday-Monday 19 - 20 May is the Pentecost holiday.

A village ceremony for 8 mai in the Touraine.

These holidays can prove problematic for visitors, and catch them unawares in various ways. For instance, in our experience, the Friday after Ascension is the busiest day of the year in the popular chateaux. Likewise, many of the family run wineries won't be open for visitors in the afternoon, as they don't see themselves as tourist attractions and choose to spend time with their family rather than take the commercial opportunity. Trains will run on a reduced service, and accommodation books up fast.

If you are planning a trip to France in May and are worried about how the public holidays might affect your trip, email us and let us design a tour for you with the benefit of our local knowledge. Remember, any tour booked and paid for in full before the end of March 2013 will be at 2012 prices.