Guide to the Loire regions

Val du Loir

The Vineyards of Jasnières, Coteaux du Loir and the Vendômois

Attractions

 
Le Loir at Lavardin

Through the course of the Loir’s 312 kilometre journey there are many attractions that extend either side of the wine region. Below is a selection of worthy detours, starting from the close to the source to the Loir’s confluence with the Sarthe just north of Angers

Châteaudun


Château and le Loir

Châteaudun is situated some 44 kilometres south of Chartres, at the point where the prairies of the Beauce meet those of the Perche. Between the early 18th and mid 19th Centuries the town was the granary of France and prospered as a result. Its demise as an important trading centre began in 1846 when it was bypassed by the main Le Mans to Orléans railway, leaving it stranded some 130 kilometres away across the plain.

 
Château de Châteaudun

The name is derived from its feudal fortress - castellum (Latin) and dunum (Celtic) - which is the town’s main attraction. It is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in France. The forbidding looking château stand on a bluff on the south bank of the Loir and dominates the landscape, and according to the writings of Gregory of Tours, the limestone cliffs were already fortified by the 10th Century. The imposing 12th Century tower was built by Thibaud V, the Count of Blois, whose family controlled the town until 1392.


Château de Châteaudun

The last of the Counts sold the provinces of Blois and Dunois to Louis of Orléans, brother of Charles VI. Châteaudun passed by succession to the poet Charles d’Orléans who, after being captured at Agincourt and held captive in England, showed no interest in the place and offered it to his half brother Jean (1403 - 1468) - the ‘Bastard of Orléans’ and the Chateau’s most famous resident. He was the acknowledged illegitimate son of Louis I of Orléans. A military captain to Charles VII and the companion of Joan d’Arc. Jean was to ride into Orléans alongside La Pucelle in April 1429, liberating the city from a six month siege by the English. He played a significant role in the liberation of France between the 1420s and the 1450s. The eventual defeat of the English ensured that the need for a fortress was negated, and the original building was built upon incorporating the architecture of Renaissance France.

 
Château de Châteaudun

The Sainte Chapelle houses a fine collection of Gothic statues, and the adjoining buildings that date back to the 15th and 16th Century illustrate the transition between classic Gothic and early Renaissance style; something that can be seen replicated throughout the rest of the Loire valley.


Châteaudun – old town

Today, the centre of town has a modern feel as it is all set out geometrically. It was destroyed, accidentally, by fire in 1723 and rebuilt in accordance to the plans of the architect Jules Mansard-Hardouin. It was not the first, or the last time the town would be devastated in this way; in 1570, during the Wars of Religion, it was the turn of the inhabitants of Blois and Tours who joined forces to burn it down. It had only just been restored when it was razed again by the Catholic League in 1590 as a Huguenot stronghold. It was sacked and burnt for a third time by 10,000 besieging German soldiers in October 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War.


Vendôme


Le Loir and Abbaye de la Trinité

Since being granted its own station on the Paris to Bordeaux TGV line, Vendôme has become something of a weekend retreat for Parisians looking to escape the big city. The town is set between a steep southern crag and the gentle vine covered slope of the pente de Coutis to the north. The old town, once a fortified island, is encompassed by two branches of the Loir and crossed with a number of miniature canals and water courses. The Loir is at the very heart of Vendôme and appears, unexpectedly, everywhere through its centre. It is a special place to visit, blessed with fine architecture and art.

Its origins are as the site of a Celtic settlement, known as Gaulois du Vendomois and it was occupied by the Carnutes, a Gallic tribe that ruled the plains between Chartres and Orléans. By BC52 the Romans had completed their conquest of the Gauls in northern France and the settlement was duly fortified. During this Gallo-Roman period it was known as Vindocinum, or ‘white mountain’. Come the end of the 10th Century it was controlled by the Counts of Vendôme, one of the most powerful feudal families in Capetian France. It was pillaged by the English in 1361 and became their fiefdom during the Hundred Years’ War. The town was elevated to the status of a Duchy by François I in 1515 and was heavily disputed during the Wars of Religion after the residents sided with the Catholic League in 1586. It was eventually recaptured by its overlord, Henri IV, three years later and made to suffer for its disloyalty.

During the Renaissance, Vendôme’s fortunes were built on glove making and printing. Honoré de Balzac attended school here and made no secret in his writings of his loathing for hia alma mater. In 1870 it was the scene of battles in the Franco-Prussian war, and was attacked heavily again by the Germans in 1940.

ABBAYE DE LA TRINITÉ

Within the centre of the town is the Abbaye de la Trinité, one of the most illustrious abbeys in France. It was founded by Geoffroy Martel, the Count of Anjou in 1032. Geoffroy was the son of Foulque Nerra, the ‘Black Falcon of Anjou’ (972 – 1040) who established a string of fortified keeps throughout the Loire , including those at Loches and Langeais. The Abbey was consecrated in 1040 and given by Martel to the Benedictine monks of Marmoutier, who were established in Tours.

Under the Benedictine Order the Abbey became one of the most powerful religious bodies in France. Until the Revolution, pilgrims flocked here to venerate the Sainte Larme, the Holy Tear, said to have been shed by Christ upon the tomb of Lazarus. The relic had been supposedly bought back by Martel from Constantinople during the Crusades.

 
Misericord

The Abbey is primarily Gothic, with fine ribbed arches above the entrance which are characteristic of the angevin style. The 14th Century chancel has choir stalls decorated, between 1522 and 1529, with some excellent misericords depicting scenes from the period, including that of a hungry looking vigneron. The 75 metre high free standing belfry with its pointed spire dates from 12th Century and said to be the inspiration for the clocher vieux, one of the two steeples of Chartres cathedral. Its bell was cast in the 16th Century.


L’Abbaye de la Trinité

CHATEAU DE VENDÔME


Château de Vendôme

Above Vendôme and the Loir on an outcrop of rock known as La Montagne, sits a ruined fortress. It too was built in part by Geoffroy Martel. Already derelict by the time of the Wars of Religion, it was finally pulled apart in 1793. Today, it forms an ornamental park and has lovely panoramic views overlooking the town and Loir valley.     

Les Roches L’Eveque
Located on the north bank of the Loir, this troglodyte village with its 14th Century church built partly into the rock is sandwiched into a narrow strip of land between the steep cliffs and the Loir below. It is recommended as a detour in many a guide. In reality it is dull and a little grey, although the by-pass that is currently being constructed may diminish its drabness .

Thoré-la-Rochette


Maison de Vin

During the high season the old station is home to the Maison du Vin and offers Vendômois wines and other local products, such as goat’s cheese and preserves. From here, an authentic 1950s railcar runs a 36km round trip between the village and Trôo for the benefit of tourists between June and September.


Manoir de la Possonnière


Manoir de la Possonnière

More a country house than a grand château, this pretty manor is set against the hillside about five kilometres back from the Loir. It was built by Louis de Ronsard in the early 16th Century after returning from an inspiring trip to Italy. The building is covered in Latin and French inscriptions.

Pierre de Ronsard (1524 - 1585) was the son of Louis. He suffered deafness following a childhood illness and turned to writing sonnets. He was known in France as the Prince of Poets and was born at the Manoir. The French regard Ronsard in the same light as we in England esteem Shakespeare and indeed their lives overlapped by some 21 years; although it is unlikely they knew of each other’s existence. Ronsard studied the works of the Ancients and was the founder of the Pléiade, a group of seven Loire based poets, named after a cluster of stars in the Taurus constellation. There are many references to the Loir in Ronsard’s poetry.

 
Isle Vert

Ronsard wanted to be buried on the Isle Vert, an island in the Loir just north of La Possonnière, although his tomb lies at the now semi-ruined Priory of Saint Cosme some three kilometres east of Tours, where Ronsard was the Prior for the last 20 years before his death. The tombs of his father and mother, Louis de Ronsard and Jeanne de Chaulorier, lie in the modest church in Couture-sur-Loir, where Ronsard was baptized. 


The tomb of Louis de Ronsard and Jeanne de Chaulorier


Lavardin


The gothic bridge at Lavardin

A pretty village on the south bank of the river, justifiably venerated as ‘One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France’. The approach is made from the neighbouring Montoire-sur-le-Loir by an eight arch gothic pack-horse bridge than spans the Loir .  Here, the Loir runs fast and shallow and is a favourite spot for fly fishermen.

 
Fortress at Lavardin

The considerable remains of a Château, one of France’s finest examples of feudal military architecture, occupies a rocky limestone salient above the village. The fortress is vast, once covering four hectares and accessed only by a Gothic bridge that spans a deep ravine. It was the principal stronghold of the Counts of Vendôme in the 12th Century, forming the border between the Plantagenet’s and the Capetian Kings of France. In 1188, Henry II of England and his son, Richard Coeur-de-Lion (Lionheart) made an attempt to take the Château, but unable to breach the triple ring of ramparts and massive towers, they turned away defeated. In 1448 the Treaty of Lavardin was signed here between Charles VII and the English. During the Wars of Religion, the troops of the Catholic League won control of the castle in 1589, only for it to be recaptured the following year by the Prince of Conti, a King Henri IV loyalist. Henri ordered the castle be dismantled to prevent further religious squabbles and the stone was plundered to build local houses. Despite the ruined state, the château still gives the impression of solid impregnability.


Frescos, Prieuré Saint-Genest

In the village, the Prieuré Saint-Genest, built in Romanesque style with a square belfry porch, has well preserved mural paintings which date from between the 12th and 16th Century.


Montoire-sur-le-Loir


Le Loir at Montoire

This is quiet provincial market town straddling the Loir. It too has an 11th Century château that lies in ruins on the south bank of the river; just a few kilometres along from the fortress of Lavardin. Off the market square (markets are on Wednesday and Saturday) lies the Romanesque chapel of St Gilles which also dates from the beginning of the 11th Century and, like Lavardin, contains many murals. However, Montoire is notorious for other reasons. On the 23rd October 1940 Adolf Hitler met Maréchal Pétain in armoured railway carriages at Montoire station. The German Chancellor tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the head of the French Vichy government to declare war on the British.

 

Trôo


Troglodyte existence

Rhymes with ‘No’. Trôo is a strange little village on the Loir’s north bank that has been an historical monument since 1886. It is a labyrinth of around 30 troglodyte houses and galleries with four kilometres of connecting tunnels, staircases and underground alleys, known locally as caforts (caves fortes) which have all been cut into the tufa. Until recently it was half abandoned, but was once home to 4,000 inhabitants. Its 12th Century Romanesque chapel is dedicated to Sainte-Catherine.


Château de Poncé
The existing structure was built during the second quarter of the 16th Century on the site of a medieval moated castle. It is famous for its six flight renaissance staircase and its formal gardens in which there is a retaining wall of Neo-Gothic brickwork erected in 1830. Part of the central section collapsed in 1985. There is particularly impressive dovecote with a master timber beam dating it to 1728, although it is generally accepted that the origins go back to the time of the Renaissance. There is a mechanism of rotating ladders which allows access to the 50 stories of pigeon holes above. 


Lhomme
Not a particularly distinguished place, despite it playing the same role as Gevrey does to Burgundy’s most renowned red wine vineyard, Le Chambertin. Perhaps if the maire were to propose to hyphenate the village with the Loir ’s own (unofficial) Grand Cru vineyard to become Lhomme-Jasnières things might be different. So, for the time being at least, the sole reason to make time to visit Lhomme is to see the small and somewhat amateur Musée du Vin that is situated in the centre of town. Created in 1985, it is crammed with interesting documents, tools and photographs. Opening times are limited; it’s only officially open during high summer, although if you have a friendly word with one of the vignerons, they may be able to arrange a fairly spontaneous visit.

Amicale du Musée du Vin
Lhomme
T: + 33 2 43 44 43 62


Dolmen de Maupertuis


Dolmen de Maupertuis

This Neolithic monument made up of seven huge perrons, boulders of silex, is situated on the plateau above the vines of Jasnières and well sign posted.


La Chartre-sur-le-Loir
La Chartre comes highly recommended as a base for exploring the immediate wine regions of the Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières. It’s a small place centred round the town square, but has a couple of good restaurants and bars. As at Vendôme, the river divides itself into several branches as it runs through the town. There are also the ruins of a Château here, dismantled by Henry IV in the 16th Century.


Fôret de Bercé
This woodland, which can be accessed to the north of the village of Chahaignes, is all that remains of the great forest of Le Mans which once extended between the river Sarthe and the Loire itself. In the 16th Century it was owned by the Crown and was a favourite hunting ground of Henri IV. Today it covers 5,400 hectares of woodland and conceals valleys and fresh water springs. It is renowned for the quality and age of its sessile oaks which are felled on rotation when they reach between 200 to 240 years of age. The oak here is used widely in for the production of wine barrels, adopting the name of Jupillé, a village to the south of the forest. The oldest tree in the Bercé is believed to be the Roulleau de la Roussière at over 240 years old.


Château-du-Loir
Despite its name, it is neither on the Loir, nor does it have a château of which to speak; the dismantled fortress being nothing more than a ruined keep. The town’s fortunes were built on cloth and cotton which grew with the arrival of the Tours to Le Mans railway. It is a busy little market town and a good base to explore the wider region, although it offers little in itself.


Le Lude
Once a great strategic border lying on the south bank of the Loir, Le Lude is an old frontier town, separating Anjou from Maine and equidistant from Le Mans, Tours, Angers and Saumur, each approximately fifty kilometres away. It was essentially an Angevin stronghold throughout the Middle Ages, when it was known as Luz or Ludes, but became a key English target during the Hundred Years War. It has, since the 13th Century, been one of the grander market towns of the Sarthe, although it now technically sits in Maine. Market day is Thursday.

Le Lude, which was elevated to a dukedom in 1675, is noteworthy for its château which it appears to hide (rather than display) despite it being one of the most important and magnificent buildings of Renaissance France. It can be accessed, when open, from a quiet back street in the town. It was erected initially as a crude feudal fortress by Foulques Nerra towards the end of the 10th and early part of the 11th Century. Perched on a rough stump, the central courtyard is surrounded by three wings, each with a tower at each corner. There is a dry moat on three sides whilst the east wing gives way to a 180 metre terrace which falls down to the Loir below. The château fell to the English in 1425, but was recaptured two years later. It was acquired in 1457 by Jean de Daillon (d.1480) childhood friend and chamberlain to Louis XI and then entirely rebuilt by his son.


La Flèche
La Flèche was another major frontier post between Maine and Anjou. It is a charming market town, straddled by the Loir which again divides into several branches and winds around the town. Today it is considered the capital of Maine-Angevin. It used to be a place of convents and monasteries – at least a dozen at one point in history. The fortress that the town was founded upon was established in the 11th Century. In the 15th Century ownership passed into the Bourbon dynasty, and in 1604 Henri IV (who was conceived in the town although born in Pau) offered up the château for use as a Jesuit college. After the Jesuits were expelled from France in 1762, the college became a preparatory school for the école militaire in Paris. Later, Napoleon established the Prytanée militaire here, a school for the sons of soldiers, also destined for a career in the military.

Jean-Antoine de Baïf, one of the seven members of the Pléiade was born here, and the nearby precipitous village of Saint-Germain-du-Val was the birthplace, in 1836, of composer Léo Delibes.


Durtal
Durtal is the last town on the Loir before it meets the Sarthe at Briollay. It is a pretty little town on the north bank, with its main street running down past the château towards the river and the Vieux Pont. The centre is dominated by its defensive stronghold: host to Henri II, Charles IX and Catherine de Medici.  


Château and bridge at Durtal

 

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