New for 2015! We have formed a partnership with world reknowned cheese refiner Rodolphe le Meunier and are now able to offer tours which include a private cheese tasting or wine and cheese pairing session.
Hard mountain cheeses maturing in Rodolphe's controlled atmosphere cellars.
Rodolphe works from surprisingly modest premises just down the road from the iconic chateau of Chenonceau, so it is easy to combine a wonderful chateau visit with a very special opportunity to taste the best cheeses France has to offer. Either Rodolphe or his assistant will personally take the tasting sessions.
If you love cheese, make sure you email us and let us know. We will design a tour for you that includes this very special experience.
Our clients in July and August really enjoy the fields of sunflowers which are widely grown here as a commercial crop. They love that we have the flexibility to turn off onto a narrow country road and stop to photograph the impressive yellow flowers.
Martha and her daughters Sharon and Laura had fun photographing each other, Célestine and the sunflowers between Loches and Chenonceau one day in mid July. If you would enjoy a similar experience, email us and book a tour for July or early August. We'd be delighted to use our local knowledge to show you the most photogenic patch of sunflowers in the area.
Join us in our classic Citroen cars for a tour of the Touraine Loire Valley. Early birds are rewarded by getting their 2015 tour at 2014 prices if they book and pay in full before the end of March. Email us to book now!
One of the great attractions about the chateau of Chenonceau is that it spans the river Cher. Its feet are in the river and on a still sunny day the reflection of the chateau in the water is truly beautiful.
If you would like a chance to take the perfect photo of Chenonceau, email us and book a tour.
If you would like to put yourself in this picture, email us and we will design a tour for you in the Touraine Loire Valley. All 2015 tours booked and paid for in full by the end of March will be offered at 2014 prices.
PS If you want to see sunflowers you need to book a tour for July or August.
Because we specialise in small groups (maximum 4 people) we can be flexible and take advantage of things that come our way when we are out with clients. If you are interested in traditional building techniques there is often a building undergoing repairs in one of the villages as we pass. It's easy for us to stop and take a look. Likewise, if you are a cyclist, we may cross the path of a cycle race, giving us the opportunity to join the locals and cheer the riders on. There are lots of instances like this when our clients have experienced life in a French village in a way that bigger tours never encounter.
A conical roof is repaired in a small village where we often take clients.
If you are interested in how the passage of history becomes part of the present in Touraine Loire Valley villages, email us and we will design a tour that takes you off the beaten track and into hidden corners. You never know what you might be lucky enough to see.
One of the highlights of many people's visit to France is a visit with us to one of the best traditional produce markets in the Touraine Loire Valley. Fruit, vegetable and mushroom growers, fishmongers, butchers (some of them specialists in pork products or horse or even offal!), poulterers, apiarists, cheesemakers and bakers all have stalls to sell their locally grown produce. It's lively and full of locals, the stalls are laid out with appetising and tempting displays of fresh food.
People queue at the offal butcher's on the left, for vegetables grown just across the river on the right and chat with friends in the middle.
If you would like to soak up the atmosphere at a typical rural farmers' market in the Touraine Loire Valley email us and we will design a tour for you that includes a visit to Loches market (Wednesdays and Saturdays only).
Tarte Tatin, the famous French upside down apple tart, was created by a pair of sisters who ran an inn in the Sologne, the area around the Chateau of Cheverny. It was an instant hit with the diners and can now be found on menus all over France.
A baker turns out Tarte Tatin in the sun at a local market. His apprentice is making little deep fried garlic and parsley puffs (samples freely offered).
If you would like to sample Tarte Tatin or other local delicacies, email us and we will design a tour where we lunch at restaurants serving traditional food produced in the area and shop at markets like the one above.
Most of our clients never get to see the spectacular Christmas decorations which adorn the interior of the chateau of Chenonceau from late November. The lavish flower arrangements in every room throughout the year, changed twice a week and created from flowers grown on the estate, are an unexpected treat for many clients, so it is rather a shame we don't often take clients during the festive period, when the chateau really goes into overdrive with the flowers and other seasonal decorations.
Our apologies for the quality of the photo above, which is from late November 2013, and taken by Susan. She was with clients at the time, and her rule is that if she is taking good photos while she has clients, she isn't focusing on the clients sufficiently. One thing you will notice is that she and her clients, an American family of four (11 year old Harrison is hamming it up in the background), were the only people in the room (in this case the servants' dining hall). Normally this room is packed with people and it is impossible to take a photo that doesn't have a crowd in it.
If you are going to be in France in late November and want to see chateaux virtually empty of visitors other than us, email us and we will design a tour for you. March is also very quiet in the Loire Valley, but by then the Christmas decorations will be all packed away again.
We are gardeners too, so we love having keen gardeners book a tour with us. We are happy to talk plants and gardening all day long, and share our knowledge of the local gardens and gardeners.
For example, several famous gardens in the Touraine Loire Valley feature apple trees. But they are apple trees the like of which most of our clients have never encountered before. Benefit from our excellent gardening background to learn about the delightful 'stepover' apples you will see at Villandry and Chenonceau.
If you love to spend time in your garden, or looking at other people's gardens, email us and ask for a tour that focuses on the charming, very French gardens of the Touraine Loire Valley.
We think the Touraine Loire Valley is fabulously photogenic and we take about a thousand photos a month to prove it. Consequently, we love it when serious photographers book our tours, and never mind that everywhere we go we have to stop for photos.
John, a semi-professional photographer and his artist wife Nina were great clients back in the spring. Both had an eye for an interesting image and were delighted that we could stop on the roadside so John could shoot something he'd seen.
Nina and Susan patiently help John untangle his several
cameras and lenses before any photography can start.
In the photo we've stopped for a photo session in a tiny out of the way village, with something really special at its heart. Our local knowledge really pays off for photographers, as we know many out of the way places, and are aware of seasonal changes which can make all the difference to getting a good photograph. And in case you were wondering, this is what we had stopped to photograph.
If you are a keen photographer, or an artist seeking inspiration, email us and let us plan an artist photographer's tour for you.
Cheryl and Brad run Allure on Currumbin, a highly regarded French restaurant on the Gold Coast, Australia. Earlier this year they visited France to see for themselves what was current and fashionable in French restaurants on their home territory. They were looking for new ideas, new takes on classics and just soaking up the atmosphere.
Brad and Cheryl after a good lunch at Le Clos aux Roses in Chedigny.
They asked us to organise a day for them in the Touraine Loire Valley and we were delighted to design a food focused day. We started by visiting the twice weekly produce market in Loches. We thought we were never going to get them out of there. They were interested in everything, from fish to fruit, cheese to chickens, rillettes to rabbits. Then we took them to lunch in a little out of the way village in a typical local restaurant, serving fresh local produce, immaculately presented and full of intriguing flavours. Cheryl took photos of everything and Brad had fun identifying ingredients in the menu de jour and checking with the owner if he was right (which he always was!) After a slight diversion to visit a chateau, we finished at a Vouvray winery, where they were very interested in how boutique the operation was and bought two completely different wines.
If your time in France is as much about business as pleasure, why not email us and ask us to design a tour with your requirements in mind. Especially if you are in the hospitality industry there is a lot going on in the Touraine Loire Valley.
This year for the first time we have started getting Brazilian clients. Earlier this year we enjoyed the company of Rafael and Marcelle as they celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary by taking a tour with us. They run a small import business in Brazil, specialising in gourmet food products and wine. They only stock products that you will not find in the supermarket, and come from small scale producers who are interested in quality not quantity.
Marcelle and Rafael talking to winemaker Alexandre Monmousseau of Chateau Gaudrelle.
We were very pleased to be able to introduce them to one of our favourite winemakers and wine. They exchanged details and talked about the aims of their respective businesses. It seemed like a great fit, and hopefully the couple will be importing a pallet of high quality Vouvray wine to sell to discerning Brazilians any day now. From Alexandre's point of view, he would rather deal with people who sell a small quantity of a product they know and love, rather than a large quantity of a product that they neither know nor care about. From our point of view it is nice to be able to put some business his way, as his team is always so generous with their time and knowledge for our clients.
If you are interested in more than just visiting historic chateaux, but want to mix in some business networking too, let us know and we can arrange introductions to producers who would be interested in forging links. Email us with your ideas and we will design a tour for you that includes meeting people in your field.
Very few of our clients have ever heard of the Chateau de Candé, but we encourage them to visit it anyway. Originally built in the 15th century, surprisingly it is its 20th century history that is the most glamorous and intriguing.
If you want to learn about the extraordinary Frenchman who became the 5th richest person in America in the 1920s and 30s, his beautiful wife and their notorious friends (including royalty), email us and we will design a tour that includes a visit to this almost unknown chateau. (And even if you are not interested in the history, the glorious setting will enchant you.)
The fairytale chateau of Azay-le-Rideau sits on an island in the Indre River, right in the middle of one of the loveliest villages in the Touraine Loire Valley. Over the last few years the curators have transformed the interior of the chateau, with the highest quality restoration of the roof spaces (engineers love this section!) and recreating the luxurious bedroom of the woman who built it (textile lovers are in heaven!). The building epitomises the architecture of the early Renaissance in France and it is furnished with a wonderful collection of 16th and 17th century furniture.The ground floor is furnished with pieces from the 19th century, many of which belonged to the last family to own the chateau before it was acquired by the state.
If you would like to visit this small but perfectly formed chateau from the time of the Touraine Loire Valley's most fabulous period in history, email us. We will design a tour for you that includes Azay-le-Rideau.
The Chateau of Cheverny is one of the big name Touraine Loire Valley chateaux, and one of our favourites. It is special because, unlike other well known chateaux, much of its interior is original and it has retained the decorative scheme from the early 17th century date of its construction, along with furniture and objects collected by the family from that time to our own time. The same family continue to live in the chateau and have done so since it was built, again unlike the other well known chateaux.
If you would like to visit a thoroughly authentic chateau, this is the one we would recommend (and there's a special treat for you here if you are dog lovers). Email us and we will design you an itinerary that includes a visit to the Chateau of Cheverny.
Would you like to get more than just a glimpse of this chateau through the trees? email us and we will create an itinerary that includes visiting its sumptuous interior and magnificent grounds. It has strong links to some of our favourite historical characters and even its more recent past is testament to the fact that this is no ordinary building.
Our tour vehicles are Citroen Traction Avants dating from the mid 1950s. For their time they were tremendously advanced, and the company could be likened to Tesla today. Unlike Tesla though, Citroen were not targetting the luxury market, but the middle class professional and family man.
The French have an expression, 'dans son jus' ('in its own juice'), which is used to describe things which are old and have been maintained, but are not in 'as new' condition because they have been used over their lifetime. Our cars are like this. They are not in concours condition, but are kept in good working order. We like them to have the feel of well loved classics, restored, but not at the expense of patina and character.
If you would like to spend the day touring the French countryside in an authentic Citroen Traction Avant, email us and we will put together an itinerary that will include visiting a couple of chateaux, maybe a market, lunch in a relais style restaurant and a visit to a winery, just like the original owners of these cars would have enjoyed.
The winemakers we visit in the Loire Valley all admit it -- they could talk for France on the subject closest to their heart, winemaking. They are happy to spend considerable time with our clients when we visit, explaining all aspects of the process and the industry. All your questions, from the most banal to the most probing will be willingly answered. Their mission, as they see it, is to make the best wine possible and share it with as many people as possible. The wineries we take clients to are not tourist traps, they are businesses run by people passionate and expert about what they do.
Charles Morand, explaining the finer points of vineyard management in Vouvray to me and Jeff from San Francisco.
If you would like to learn more about the Loire Valley wines, email us. We can arrange visits to one or more wineries, including the vineyard, winemaking cellar and of course, a tasting session and the opportunity (but no obligation) to buy any of the wines you have enjoyed. At some wineries you can arrange to have the wine shipped direct to your home, at others the winemaker will give you the contact details for his importer so you can buy them in your home country if you don't want to take something right away. (Note that not all of the wineries we visit export, and those that do may only export to a few countries.)
Local traditions abound in the Loire Valley. They range from the choice of wine you drink with the local goats' cheese to little personal rituals like the one above. This is a tree stump carved so that it has legs, which stands in the porch of Saint Ours church in Loches. Visitors are invited to purchase 3 tacks for a euro, and whilst hammering them in to the stump, make a prayer. The money raised goes to Catholic Aid.
If you would like to experience a day where you can join in traditional daily activities such as shopping at the market, eating at a typical restaurant full of locals and taking your turn in local rituals, email us and we will design a tour for you that includes mingling with the locals as they go about their daily lives.
Do you ever come across old photos and wonder where they were taken? We do all the time, and very often we've been able to identify the place and find something out about the story shown in the photo. It means we often know small but significant details about an otherwise unremarkable place, and we regularly pass this history on to our clients.
If you like to know more than just the standard tourist stories about a place, email us and book one of our customised tours for the day.
(If you are curious about the photo above, go to our daily blog Days on the Claise, for an explanation of what the scene is about. It's a little bit of the largely unknown World War II history of the Loire Valley.)
Visitors love to see the fields of sunflowers in the Loire Valley but they don't always time their visits for the right season. They are only at their golden best for a couple of weeks each year, so you have to make your plans carefully.
Weather conditions change the sunflower season slightly every year, but if you come in the second half of July or the very beginning of August you will see massed fields of yellow. We can be guaranteed to drive by some at this time of year, no matter which tour you book. We are always happy to stop for some photos amongst the sunflowers.
If you would like to see the sunflowers in the Loire Valley, email us and book a tour for late July or early August.
One of the owners of a winery that we visit regularly with clients used to be a cheese exporter. As a consequence we often go there and find that there is cheese laid out to go with the wine. All the local wines are designed to be paired with food, so it is always more interesting to try wines that are presented to their best advantage ie with food.
It can also be an excellent demonstration of the concept of terroir, that mysterious French word that is so complex there is no adequate English translation. All the local cheeses are goat cheeses, the most famous of which are Sainte Maure de Touraine and Selles sur Cher. The goats and the vines are raised in the same countryside and share the same terroir, so a pairing of local wine and local cheese is inevitably a happy one.
If you would like to learn more about combining wine with food or about the importance of terroir, email us and we will include a wine and cheese pairing in your itinerary.
The Touraine and surrounding appellations in the Loire Valley produce a lot of sparkling wine. Within France appellations such as Vouvray are well known and available everywhere from supermarkets to high end restaurants. Increasingly they are being seen as a real challenge to Champagne. The Loire Valley sparkling wines are competitively priced at around €10 a bottle, and the quality is getting better every year. At the moment they are exceptionally good value, but almost no one outside of France has realised it. 90% of sparkling Loire Valley wines are sold in France.
If you would like to get some of this excellent wine before the rest of the world discovers it, email us and we will design an itinerary that includes a visit to a Vouvray or Touraine winemaker.
One of the best reasons for taking a tour with us is to take advantage of our local knowledge. We know how to ensure that you are in the right place at the right time.
For instance, if you book for early spring, at the end of March or the beginning of April, we can show you a very rare and beautiful wildflower if you choose one of our tours that concentrates on the area west of Tours (so that could be a day that includes the chateaux of Chinon, Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry, la Chatonniere or Ussé ).
For just a few weeks of the year the Snakeshead Fritillary will be flowering in the riverside pasture here. Nowhere else on earth can you see this lovely plant in the wild in such numbers, and we know exactly where to find it.
If you want to see something special on your Loire Valley tour, email us and we will design an itinerary that makes sure you don't miss out.
installation of a lift within the chateau, next to the Heurtault
Tower, which will serve three levels and allow fully integrated access
for the disabled.
in the Galerie des Dômes, at the beginning of summer, a space
will be especially dedicated to the contemporary history of the chateau,
such as the military hospital installed in the building from 1914 - 18.
It will be in recognition of all those wounded and carers who came here
during the four years of the Great War. More than 2250 wounded were
cared for at Chenonceau.
from April to November the fortress will stage a walk through the
history of the Templars, with the theme of 'East Meets West'. There will
also be an exhibition in the chateau on the soldier-monks and the
treasure of the Templars.
all summer the citadel and the royal chateau will celebrate the millenium of the Keep (Donjon) built by Foulques Nerra. For three weekends in August there will be a light show at night.
a big exhibition this summer on the birds of Villandry (the site is
classified by the League pour le Protection des Oiseaux) with an
exhibition of sculptures by Marine d'Harcourt in the Sun Garden.
We are often asked if it is worth visiting the world famous gardens of Villandry early in the year.
It's true they don't reach their peak until the summer, but the formal structure of the garden means that there is still something to see earlier in the year. The photo above was taken in late March, just as the first of the seedling vegetables for the potager were being planted out, and the tulips were up in the Garden of Love, but not yet flowering. It's still quite an impressive garden, even if the green of the clipped box is not set off by a myriad of cleverly arranged bedding plants. As gardeners like to say, it has good 'bones'.
Obviously we won't spend as much time in the garden as we would in the summer. There isn't as much detail to take in, and some of the garden is not open to the public in the early spring. But we have that covered. Because we know this area well, we offer a short visit to the gardens, together with visits to other, less well known sites. It could be to a local artisan, or a medieval church with a fabulous interior, or even a remarkable 2000 year old Roman monument. On a typical tour we will also visit one other major chateau and a winery.
If you like the idea of being able to tap into our local knowledge to get the best out of the Loire Valley at any time of year, please email us and we will design a tour that works with the local conditions for you.
One of our tour vehicles, the stylish and elegant Célestine, has a Facebook account. We take a photo of all of her new friends with her somewhere along the route of their tour with us so it can be posted on Célestine's Facebook photo album.
If you would like to be seen with Célestine, email us and book a tour of the Loire Valley.
We choose the wineries we visit very carefully. Naturally the first consideration is the quality of the wine, but for most people there is more to a winery visit than just the wine. We go to small estates where we can meet the winemaker. Usually we spend some time looking at the winemaking facility with the winemaker explaining the process and his/her philosophy, then repair to the tasting room to try a range of wine produced on the estate.
A typical example of the type of winery we visit is run by a personable young winemaker who has an inspiring story to tell of how he came to be making wine on the family estate. He has worked outside of France and came back determined to make wine at home and fulfill his dream. He is articulate, friendly and passionate, and it is his personality that makes the visit such a success, as much as the quality of his excellent wines.
If you would like to meet impressive young winemakers or those with years of experience behind them, all with a passion for producing the best wine they possibly can, email us and we will design an itinerary that includes at least one winery.