Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Visit Loire Valley Winemakers

Loire Valley winemakers are happy to welcome visitors all year round, but they are not the tourist destinations you may be familiar with in North America or Australia. The wineries here are all about growing grapes and making wine, and their passion for it shows every time you speak to them. They don't have restaurants or art galleries, children's playgrounds or boutiques attached, but this means that the wine is allowed to take centre stage.

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 or one of their trainees. 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.

Last year we added cheese and rillettes to the experience of visiting our favorite Vouvray producer, so as well as tasting their large range of white wine you will learn about matching wine to food, and experience some local food specialities.

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.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Visit One of France's Favourite Villages

Every year the French television channel France 2 holds a competition to find the favourite village in France. Villages are nominated and featured during the series as it airs throughout the year. A viewer poll is held and the winners announced at the end.

This year the village of Candes-Saint-Martin, in the Loire Valley, came third. Last year another village in the area, Montrésor, came second. We love them both and regularly take clients to both. Just strolling around the picturesque streets is a treat.

 The elegant porch of the church in Candes-Saint-Martin, 
where you can see one of the very few contemporary portraits of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Candes-Saint-Martin fits in well for a day visiting the Abbey of Fontevraud and the Chateau-Fortress of Chinon. If you are a fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine this could be the perfect day for you.

Montrésor is a charming village that is well off the beaten track, with a beautiful late medieval church with rare original stained glass and a privately owned chateau from the same period that on the inside is like a time capsule of 19th century aristocratic life in the time of Napoleon III.

If you would like to see small French villages and quirky out of the way sites, email us and we will design a tour for you, so that you see the places others don't get to.

For other tour ideas, visit our website or click on the tabs at the top of the blog.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Why Book Early??

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

We are a small company, just myself as driver and Susan as guide. This means that once we have accepted a booking for a date there is no more possibility of taking another tour the same day. There are a couple of weeks that are really popular with people visiting the Loire Valley - for instance, this year we had one weekend in September we could have sold four times over, and next year that weekend is booked already. In previous years May has been really popular, and we have had to disappoint people wanting to book at the last minute.

Another reason is that we need to ensure that at least one of our cars is ready to go at all times: being over 60 years old, both Célestine and Claudette need more attention than most. This means we have to schedule regular maintenance - if we are at a busy time of year this could mean that at least once a month one of the cars will need an oil change, greasing and a health check.

Booking early helps us to plan your perfect tour - we like our visitors to make suggestions about where they want to visit, and be involved in the planning. Of course, we will book the restaurants and plot the route, but we need time to make reservations (especially if we are visiting a popular restaurant) or research a restaurant if the location is new to us.

So - book early, and relax in the knowledge that your trip is being planned to give you a relaxing day discovering the treasures of the Loire Valley.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

It's Wine Making Time!

In October when we visit wineries in the Loire they are very busy. The harvest is happening, 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, thewinemaker is checking the grapes as they are being gently pressed to release the juice that will make award winning wine. The underground cellar he is 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 may be able to 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.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Gazing in Awe

This photo shows why travellers choose us to tour the Loire Valley. The clients booked at the beginning of the year and were travelling in July. They requested to see sunflowers.

Despite the year being a difficult one for farmers and their sunflower crops, we knew the area well enough to provide this magnificent view of sunflowers at the peak of perfection on the day. What's more they were located on a quiet side road where we could just pull over and stand admiring them for some time (there was also lots of taking photos and a certain amount of frolicking in the sunflowers...ahem...but we won't go into too much detail there...)

If your ambition is to see sunflowers in France, email us and let us know. We will make sure to include a 'sunflower stop' in your personalised itinerary.

PS You will have to visit in July or early August if you want to see sunflowers in bloom -- even we can't provide this sort of view all year round.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Floral Splendour

Chenonceau is by far the most visited chateau of the Loire Valley, and with good reason. It is the one to see if you only have time to see one.

Something that most people do not expect is that the chateau is full of the most magnificent and large scale floral arrangements in every room. It is definitely one of the features that makes this chateau so memorable.

If you love flowers email us and let us know. We will make sure to include the chateau of Chenonceau in your personalised itinerary.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Waiting Patiently by the Patisserie

We specialise in personalised tours of the Touraine Loire Valley. Because we use a classic Citroën car to travel around in we can visit tiny picturesque villages and join in the relaxed pace of life in la France profonde.

In the picture above, Claudette waits patiently for us to return after visiting a time capsule of a chateau in one of the plus beaux villages de France. Invitingly, she is parked right outside the traditional boulangerie pâtisserie which supplies the village with delicious breads, pastries, cakes, desserts and icecreams. Just around the corner is a wonderful restaurant with terrace bar where everyone, villagers and visitors alike, hang out.

If you would like to spend a day in the slow lane with the local Loire Valley residents, email us and book a tour. We will design it just for you.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Where to Wait at a Station

We have written before about the proceedure for stamping your ticket before you board a train, now it is time to look at where to wait on the platform.

If you are catching a train at a terminus station (Gare du Nord, Paris Montparnasse) you wait until the train and platform is announced - usually about 20 minutes before departure - and then you walk the length of the train until you reach your carriage (voiture, or car).

 This ticket is for seats 43 and 44 in carriage 20

 If you are catching your train at an intermediate station, go to the platform once the train is announced, then find the " Composition des trains" board. This will show the train carriages and where they are stopping at the station.

The ticket above shows voiture 20, so you look for that number on the board and see that it corresponds with the letter G. All you have to do now is locate the Letter G on the platform - it will be on a board hanging from the edge of the canopy - and stand there. Almost magically, when the train stops the door to your carriage should be immediately by the sign.

If you want to combine a day of 186mph in a fast train with 55mph in a classic car, email us and we can start planning your trip to experience the treasures of the Loire Valley.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Old Loire Vintage Wine

We like to include a winemaker in our tours. It rounds off the day nicely and winemaking is an important part of the culture here. One of the wineries we visit specialise in old vintages from the area. A tasting with them gives you the opportunity to sample wines from the last few years, which you can lay down in your own cellar, or you can benefit from the perfect cellaring conditions in a Loire Valley troglodyte cave and buy something from the 1980s, 1970s or 1950s. Only the finest quality Vouvrays, Montlouis, Chinons and Bourgueils are kept this length of time and it is fascinating to experience how different they are from the younger vintages.

A happy client with a bottle of 1959 Vouvray he has just selected.

The operation is so small scale they do not own a labelling machine and all the bottles are labelled by hand. You will be guided through the tasting with tips on what to expect from each of the wine, how to taste like a professional and shown the difference taking the wine with food can make.

If you would like to learn more about the wines of the Loire Valley, email us and let us know. We would be delighted to include a visit to a specialist wine cellar in your tour.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Looking after the Grandes Dames

When we chose the Citroën Traction Avant as the car we would use on our tours we knew that we would have to be extra careful about maintenance.

As anyone who has owned old cars will tell you, unlike modern cars they need regular greasing and oil changes - 600 miles between greasing, and 3000 miles between oil changes. They also develop squeaks and rattles that need tracking down and fixing, and quirky little problems often occur.

 Célestine and Claudette receiving their winter maintenance.

We are lucky, because where we live there are trained mechanics who did their apprenticeships on the Traction Avant, enthusiasts who retired from their regular jobs to spend all day fixing classic cars, garages that specialise in car restoration, and young mechanics who can repair anything from a lawnmower to a Group B rally car.

This means that although our cars are not museum pieces, they are in tip-top working condition.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Village Streets

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 often means that we travel down roads too narrow for a bus, to villages that the larger tour companies can't reach. If this sounds like your kind of break, email us and we can start planning your trip to the hidden corners of the Loire Valley.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Watching Experts at Work

Old buildings and objects require a lot of maintenance, and much of the important conservation work at chateaux takes place between the end of September and the beginning of April. Far from spoiling your visit, this can often enhance it. You can see close up the detailed work of repairing and maintaining these priceless buildings and their contents.

Sometimes the conservator is even happy to talk about his or her work and can provide fascinating behind the scenes facts about how a decorative element was made or the particular problems of caring for certain objects. 

October and March are ideal times to visit if you are interested in how the chateaux are cared for. Visitor numbers are low, but the weather is often mild - just the sort of time delicate conservation work will be scheduled. After all you can't do precision work with frozen hands, and many old fashioned materials cannot be used when it is too cold.

If you are interested in the behind the scenes management of historic monuments email us and ask about tours in the spring or autumn. We can't guarantee you will get to talk to a conservator, but we will do our best to give you an idea of what goes in to the care of the wonderful Loire chateaux.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

On the Road with Loire Valley Time Travel

If you're travelling in a group of between four and seven people, we have a real treat in store for you; a 1950's style convoy.

We have two 1950's Citroën Traction Avant cars, and a second driver. When we have larger groups we use both cars and drivers, and take to the road in convoy. Travelling with just the one car always causes people to stop and stare, travelling with two cars in convoy makes people forget their inhibition and wave to us as we pass.

When we stop, we get into converstaion with people who remember the cars from their childhood, or who learnt to drive in one, and we often return to the cars to discover people having their picture taken with them.

If you're travelling in a group, and would like to see the chateaux of the Loire valley in 1950's style, email us, and we will design your special day out.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

French Farmers Markets

Every village and town in the Touraine Loire Valley has a weekly market. Often they are very small, just a few stalls selling the basics. Locally grown fruit and vegetables, a local butcher, an oyster farmer up from the coast and a local goats cheese producer would be a typical mix.

Some of the markets are much more extensive and lively though. We have a particular fondness for Loches market and often encourage clients to include it in their itinerary. It has 220 vendors who come on Wednesdays and Saturdays (that's 34 stalls for every 1000 persons in Loches!). It is the second most important market in the area. It is big enough to offer plenty of choice, but not so big as to be overwhelming. The streets in the old centre of town are pedestrianised on market day and the local population all turns out to support it. Markets like this depend on the resident population, and almost every household will purchase certain items from the market. It is a great chance to chat to friends and find out more about your food, directly from the producers.

We've written about Loches market a number of times on our daily blog, Days on the Claise. In 'The Offal Butcher' and 'The Tarte Tatin Man' we wrote about specific stalls. In 'Local Green Asparagus!' we wrote about how pleased we were that a local asparagus producer now sells green asparagus at Loches market, when previously it had been more or less unobtainable (the local taste is for white asparagus). In 'Blessed are the Cheesemakers' we included a section on the various cheese stalls in Loches market. In 'The Last Market Day Before Christmas' we describe going to Loches market just before Christmas. In 'On the Road Again' we wrote about house hunting and the part Loches market played in our choice to live where we do.

If you would like to experience a typical French morning at the market, email us and ask us to plan an itinerary for you that includes Loches market. We will be delighted to share it with you!

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Sunflower Season

Many clients tell us that one of their hopes for their day in the Loire Valley is to see fields of golden sunflowers. They've usually been told that July is the season for the glorious sunflower fields stretching to the horizon. This is true, but not for the first week of July, and occasionally we get someone who has booked just that little bit early, only to be disappointed.

But for anyone who books for the last 3 weeks of July or the first week of August, the sunflowers will be out and proud!

If you want to see the sunflowers in all their glory, email us and let us design a tour that meanders from chateau to chateau through sunlit yellow fields.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Unexpected Luxuries

When our cars Claudette and Celestine were designed, it was the middle of the Great Depression, and when they were built it was the era of post-World War Two austerity.

But these are not budget cars. They were designed for professional people to use day in, day out. Doctors, bankers, the police (and gangsters) all relied on their great road handling and reliability. And once all the day to day stuff was sorted, you could fill the back seat with children and leave on vacation.

This is why we really like the Citroën Traction Avant as a car to tour in: the back seat leg room is enormous, easily big enough to have (in days of a maybe less enlightened past) three or four children running around. These days, it easily accommmodates people way over 6' tall, a rare feat for a car so old.

If you would like to tour the Loire Valley in style and comfort, contact us, and let us help you plan your perfect day of chateaux, food, and wine.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Varied Loire Valley

When they think of the Loire Valley most people immediately think of chateaux. That is understandable, because it is what the area has become most famous for.

There are a million and one other reasons for visiting the Loire Valley. There are many prehistoric sites in the area: stone circles, burial sites and standing stones.  The Romans were here and left traces which are still visible, and some of these became the foundations for what are now the medieval and renaissance monuments your friends first thought of. Once you look past the monuments, you will notice that the local towns and villages are just as old. The streets of Tours still show the influence of the Roman town, and many of the villages still have their medieval street patterns and buildings.

The Mysterious Roman Monument "The Pile of Cinq Mars."
 And then there is the food and wine, justifiably famous across France and the rest of the world for its quality and sense of tradition.

Email us, tell us what interests you, and we will work hard to may your stay in the Loire Valley your special holiday.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The most popular destination of 2015

Of all the chateaux in the Loire Valley (there is estimated to be about 700 in the central part of the Loire Valley) the one that topped the list again in 2015 is Chenonceau.

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

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

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Catching the Train at Montparnasse

If coming to the Loire Valley for a short break it makes perfect sense to 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.

Once you have your tickets (and we really can recommend the print at home variety) there is just the matter of the station to negociate. Paris Montparnasse is a big station, served by 4 differnt metro lines. If you arrive by Metro ligne  6 or Line 13, you are very close to the mainline station. Metro Ligne 4 and Ligne 12 are slighly further away, but served by a moving walkway.

Whichever metro you arrive at, follow the signs to "Trains Grande Lignes" (they look like this) to Halls 1&2. Your train will be shown on the departures board, and 20 minutes before departure the platform number will be shown. Customarily the trains to Saint Pierre des Corps leave from the eastern end of the grand hall (left hand side as you look at the trains).

If you have tickets you have collected at a station or SNCF boutique or have had posted to you, they need to be "composted" - not what you think, this machine stamps the date, time and station name on the ticket.

If you have print at home tickets all you need to is find your seats - the car number is shown on a display by the side of each door, and seats - the number is shown on the top of the divider between each pair of seats. Settle down, and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Planning to Watch the Tour de France

Watching the Tour de France is one of the great sporting spectator events in the world. Where else can you get so close to international sportsmen without any sort of barrier between you and them? The problem is knowing where to station yourself on the day. The Tour route is announced a few months before the event, but you need local knowledge to get yourself to that perfect spot.

One of the advantages of rolling up to an event like this in an iconic French classic car is that everyone is happy to see you and you get to park just about anywhere you like. In 2013 we managed to park in front of the cellar gate of the chateau de Montrésor. This allowed us to picnic on a grassy slope overlooking the race route and we had a choice of whether we were in the sun or the shade. Montrésor is a small but very pretty village, but there was not a great crush of spectators, just a nice friendly atmosphere.

If you want to use our local knowledge to get the best out of your visit in July when the Tour goes through, or any other month of the year, just email us and tell us what you are interested in. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.