The Loire is so lovely you can taste it – over and over again

AMY GLENDIN­NING sam­ples the stunning views and won­der­ful pro­duce of an iconic val­ley in France

Macclesfield Express - - TRAVEL -

SOME­WHERE in a vine­yard be­tween Tours and Bourges, in the mid­dle of France, there is a pair of rather ex­pen­sive sun­glasses.

They might be hang­ing on a vine – or ly­ing in the shade un­der a tree next to an an­cient stone cottage.

Ei­ther way, they were left by a jour­nal­ist from Manch­ester who went for a pic­nic with lo­cal wine-mak­ers and had a great time sampling rather a lot of the lo­cal Va­len­cay wine.

You’d think af­ter four days ‘sampling’ wine from the north of the Loire Val­ley the nov­elty of crack­ing open an­other bot­tle of white – or red, or rose – would have worn off, but, of course, it hadn’t.

Pic­nick­ing in the vine­yard of Va­len­cay is the last stop on a four-day trip around an area pos­sess­ing what is frankly an em­bar­rass­ment of riches where wine, cheese and spec­tac­u­lar hill-top views are con­cerned.

We start in Sancerre – yes, I’d never re­alised that bot­tle of de­li­cious crisp white stuff I crack open on a Fri­day evening was also a place! – with a visit to the town’s wine mu­seum.

The Ro­mans were canny enough to keep this dis­cov­ery to them­selves though – and de­spite its early pop­u­lar­ity, Sancerre didn’t ac­tu­ally be­come a na­tion­ally recog­nised ap­pel­la­tion un­til the 1900s. The se­cret’s out now though – as 15 mil­lion bot­tles of the stuff are ex­ported around the world.

Cre­ated on the hills around a stunning, an­cient hill­top town, Sancerre’s crisp, flo­ral and cit­rus notes are now just the thing to go with seafood and Thai food.

I’m con­tent to sip it on its own at Sancerre’s wine mu­seum, be­fore mak­ing a wob­bly trip up the stairs of the town’s 14th cen­tury stone tower for spec­tac­u­lar views of the coun­try­side be­low (it’s me that’s wob­bly – the stairs are per­fectly safe).

And if you’ve no Thai food to pair your Sancerre with – what bet­ter than the re­gion’s other badge of hon­our – goats cheese.

Vis­its to goat farms are a chance to find out how the cheese is made and taste it with wine grown a few fields away, such as at the Vallée La ferme des Chapo­tons just out­side Sancerre.

Known as ‘crot­tin de chav­i­g­nol’ the dis­tinc­tive pel­let-shaped cheeses are ap­par­ently named af­ter the type of lamp used in cheese-mak­ing cel­lars.

The creamy and slightly nutty taste of the cheese is cut through per­fectly by white Sancerre made with sau­vi­gnon grapes of the ap­pel­la­tion – fresh, light and fruity.

A smooth-drink­ing red Pinot Noir – the orig­i­nal grapes of the re­gion be­fore Sau­vi­gnon va­ri­eties were adopted – also per­fectly com­ple­ments the more ma­ture cheeses with an amaz­ing berry and vanilla fin­ish.

Even if you can’t get to this part of France it’s worth track­ing th­ese in­gre­di­ents down as they’re a match made in heaven.

Vis­it­ing this re­gion doesn’t have to be all about wine and cheese how­ever, as the towns in the area also have a lot to of­fer vis­i­tors.

One high­light was a visit to the Marais de Bourges – the marshes on the out­skirts of Bourges – ef­fec­tively a cross be­tween Venice and al­lot­ment plots.

Fiercely pro­tected by Bourges res­i­dents thanks to their in­cred­i­ble past, in­di­vid­ual plots have been passed down gen­er­a­tions since the time of the French revo­lu­tion.

Bourges was the di­vid­ing line be­tween the Vichy gov­ern­ment and un-oc­cu­pied France in World War Two – with the marshes used to hide re­sis­tance fighters who moved from shed to shed at night with the help of al­lot­ment hold­ers.

On a far grander scale just over an hour’s drive west of Bourges in the south­ern Loire Val­ley is Chateau du Va­len­cay in the town of the same name – a stunning ex­am­ple of French Re­nais­sance ar­chi­tec­ture with its own out­door ball­room hid­den in a for­est glade.

You can’t stay there – but keep driv­ing 15 min­utes fur­ther south west and re­cline in your own boudoir at the fab­u­lous Manoir de la Foul­quetiere in­stead.

A stunning 15th cen­tury cottage, chapel and dove­cote com­plex cov­ered in ram­bling roses and gera­ni­ums, it has been to­tally re­stored and lux­u­ri­ously fur­nished by Bri­tish cou­ple Rose­mary and Richard Con­quest.

The manoir has its own grounds and swim­ming pool – but it’s Rose­mary and Richard’s fan­tas­tic hos­pi­tal­ity which makes this my favourite stop on the trip.

Pop­ping bot­tles of cham­pagne in the meadow for the cou­ple’s dog Al­fie to catch the corks be­fore a de­li­cious din­ner in the dining room is a bril­liant way to spend the evening and I am loathe to leave the next morn­ing.

This is a stunning part of the world – hope­fully, I can re­join my sun­glasses there soon!

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