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
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!