Say the phrases “Loire Valley” and wonderful chateaux, manicured gardens, expansive vineyards and biking holidays come to thoughts. All of this can be very pretty, however scratch beneath the floor and there’s much more to the area.
As eager campervanners, my husband and I’ve explored a whole lot of France, however earlier visits to the Loire have been fleeting and infrequently wet. Nonetheless, this yr, we returned within the warmth of the summer time. Among the many temptations have been the cooling waters of France’s longest river and its relative proximity to the Eurotunnel terminal at Calais in contrast with another elements of France.
A fast on-line search yielded limitless lists of vacationer hotspots. But we have been eager to find what else the Loire needed to supply, so determined to disregard the “should do” lists and see what piqued our curiosity alongside the way in which.
We began close to the town of Angers, however as a substitute of constructing a beeline for its half-timbered homes and ornate cathedral, headed out of city to a quiet spot by the river at Saint-Saturnin-sur-Loire.
A brief stroll alongside the financial institution and we found the place the locals all head to once they’re attempting to flee vacationer season – organising on the banks with picnics and barbecues, paddling within the much-depleted waters and ingesting wine from the native grocery store.
It was right here we found our first guinguette, an out of doors restaurant-cum-bar based mostly on what have been initially fashionable ingesting, consuming and dancing institutions within the suburbs of Paris and different cities.
The place to eat effectively for underneath £25
La Guinguette Chez JoJo – primarily a summer time venue, however you may seize its ultimate few weeks for those who get there earlier than October – had an outdoorsy-Bohemian environment, with fairy lights and music turning plastic-clad tables right into a magical setting.
Right here, we loved easy however tasty French meals, together with tiny fried fish from the river, confit duck, steak frites and chocolate mousse, because the wine flowed and the solar set over the Loire. At €26 (£22.50) for 3 programs, it was nice worth with no additional surcharge for the one-off view throughout the river because the sky turned from blue to fiery purple. We loved the friendliness of these round us and the individuals we spoke to beloved that we’d come on the lookout for someplace beloved by locals, somewhat than vacationers. From right here we headed east alongside the river.
We might have stopped at Saumur and toured its medieval fortress, however as a substitute headed away from the chaos of coach events to one of many many vineyards that carpet the panorama.
Earlier than our journey we’d signed as much as France Ardour, a listing of producers who enable campervans and motorhomes to park on their land totally free: the one situation is that you simply’re up for attempting their produce and possibly shopping for some.
At family-run Domaine de la Cune, we parked up near the vines and loved a personal tasting with the proprietor, returning triumphantly with a case of wine to tuck into. For these with out their very own dwelling on wheels, there are lodges and guesthouses dotted across the space solely a 15-minute drive away, or a manageable hour-and-a-half stroll for those who desire travelling by your individual two ft.
Veer away from the vacationer path
France Ardour isn’t the one solution to discover low-cost or free tenting choices. Varied apps made it simpler than ever to search out one-off locations away from the same old vacationer routes. Like Vincent Cuisiner de Campagne, within the Bourgueil space north of the river, the place the previous French home owned by Belgian couple Vincent and Olivia doubles up as a singular restaurant. Whereas we stayed on the grounds, different diners grabbed Airbnbs or different lodging close by, and both drove, cycled or caught taxis to the agricultural venue, which fortunately recommends locations to remain to potential clients.
We camped across the again subsequent to their rooster coops totally free, with the one expectation that we’d take a look at the merchandise they make and promote of their skilled kitchen, utilizing substances grown and reared themselves with assist from their kids.
Their daughter, Elisabeth, proudly confirmed us round, giving us tasters of every part from selfmade mushroom pate to freshly-baked bread, together with duck pate and wine from their very own vines. Later, we dined within the household’s entrance backyard, which can also be a Michelin-guide featured restaurant, permitting us to spend what we’d saved on lodging on a feast of dishes created from their very own produce as chickens wandered round and the solar slowly set.
Search for smaller chateaux
We did go to one chateau, however skipped the large names in favour of Langeais, one of many oldest within the Loire, whose calendar runs by way of the yr, with guided excursions persevering with by way of the autumn in addition to kids’s actions – albeit in French however maybe alternative for kids to apply. Not solely was it canine pleasant, however our day ticket supplied reductions on different native vacationer spots if we’d needed to avoid wasting cash on the “must-see” sights, giving loads of choices to get pleasure from the remainder of the area if the climate turned.
As a substitute, we spent a lot of the journey enjoyable because the locals do. This included paddling within the river, sitting within the shade watching kayaks float previous, cooking dinner utilizing produce from the native market and taking in sundown after sundown with a glass of Loire cremant in hand. Ours was a heatwave-dominated journey, however the Loire is simply as interesting in autumn – with the gardens and grounds of the various castles trumping the constructing themselves with their cacophony of colors and the decrease temperatures making lengthy walks and bike rides simpler and extra snug. Most of the chateaux host occasions and festivals, and the area’s love of meals doesn’t cease at summer time, with all kinds of celebrations persevering with by way of the winter months.
Swerving the plain tackle the Loire Valley and experiencing the area because the French do revealed a lot greater than chateaux and biking.
Ellen Manning travelled to France through Eurotunnel. There are day by day crossings from Folkestone to Calais, ranging from £87 per car, plus an additional £22 for a pet.
Automobile rent is on the market within the Loire Valley, with costs in September beginning at about £200 per week.