Vines, Wines, and Good Times in the Loire Valley
While the Loire Valley is famous for its magnificent chateaus, as France’s third largest wine producing region, the best way to experience it is to sip your way along the Loire’s Wine Route.
Loire Valley wines cover the full spectrum - from sweet, dry, and sparkling whites, to rosé and even red wines. In addition to variety, there are more than 80 AOC accredited wines (the French certification - appellation d'origine controlee), guaranteeing quality in every glass.
If, like me, you are still learning to be the ultimate wine aficionado, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. For me, the best way to experience the Loire’s wines is to go straight to the source – the vineyards. I love meeting passionate vintners and hearing them explain what makes their wine special. Nothing beats standing in a cool, dusty cave tasting wines drawn straight from the barrels.
You can also look out for the Vignobles & Découvertes (vineyards and discoveries) label, awarded to tourist destinations that offer a comprehensive range of wine tourism services to visitors, including restaurants, accommodations, museums, and of course, wine caves.
Five areas of the Pays-de-la-Loire hold the title: the Vallée du Loir, Saumur Val de Loire, Angers Loire Valley, the Vallée du Layon and
Muscadet Loire Océan.
The Loire Wine Route will lead you by car in a loop of the region. We visited in late spring and were treated to cool, misty mornings, followed by warm sunny days.
You could, as we did, begin your tour in Nantes, to taste the celebrated Muscadets at the Maison des Vins in the city centre. I love how the city’s scattering of timber-frame buildings and imposing 15th century chateau stand in contrast to the city’s dominant avant garde atmosphere. With one hundred parks, like my favourite, the Jardin des Plantes, it’s easy to see why Nantes was the Eco-capital of Europe in 2013.
Leaving Nantes, continue your tour of the Loire Wine Route where the vineyards open to visitors are as varied as the wines. Enjoy a tasting at Domaine des Génaudières, in Le Cellier. Vines have grown here since 1635 and the vineyard offers a stunning panorama over the Loire River. Taste the Anjou wines at Domaine Delaunay, which has been in the same family for four generations, and at the Domaine des Sablonnières, where you can taste a full range of bio-organic wines, including Anjou, Saumur-brut, Coteaux-du-Layon, Cabernet d’Anjou.
To sleep next to the vines, book a night at the La Demeure de Saint Fiacre, a modern, three-room boutique hotel that was once a winemaker’s cottage.
The second stage of the Loire Wine Route will take you to the Anjou vineyards in the Angers region and the Layon valley, where you can sample some of the region’s finest sweet wines, or you can continue to Saumur, famous for light red wines and sparkling whites. Beneath the city are vast networks of old tuffeau stone quarries and the caves are now used for Saumur’s most prestigious wine houses, such as Bouvet Ladubay, Ackerman, and Gratien Meyer. Touring at least one is essential.
Yet, there is more than wine hiding underground in Saumur. If you’re looking for a unique place to spend the night, why not consider a romantic stay in a 3-star cave hotel. The Hotel Rocaminori, 25 minutes from Saumur, offers 15 modern rooms carved out of the
limestone cliffs. Oh la la!
To learn more about what’s in your glass, head to the Vine and Wine Museum of Anjou-Saumur, in Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay. Here you’ll get an overview of the history that’s shaped a wine region and terroir unlike any other.
For a stay as luxurious as the wines, just 12kms from Saumur, book yourself into the Fontevraud Hotel on the site of Europe’s largest abbey. An eccentric monk founded the abbey, almost a thousand years ago. It has since been home to the full range of society, from royalty to prisoners. These days you can enjoy the royal treatment yourself, in one of the 54 rooms. Don’t miss an unforgettable meal in the Fontevraud’s gastronomic restaurant.
Continue along the Wine Route to the Vallée du Loir, to find one of the best dry white wines in France. Fresh and floral, with hints of honey and acacia, the Jasnières wines are unique and delicious and one of my personal favourites.
It would be unthinkable to visit the Pays-de-la-Loire without visiting at least one of the renowned chateaus, which are almost as numerous as the vineyards.
The château at Montsoreau hugs the Loire River and was made famous by novelist Alexandre Dumas. For a real storybook castle feeling, I fell for the Château de Saumur, with its turrets and towers. You can almost picture Rapunzel tossing her long hair from the highest window.
If you enjoy stories of powerful women, don’t miss France’s tallest castle - the château at Brissac-Quincé. Here you can admire the portrait of Veuve Cliquot, one of France’s first businesswomen. Pictured with her is her great-granddaughter, the Duchess of Uzé, who was the first woman to get her driver’s license – and then get a speeding ticket! You can even stay in one of the chateau guestrooms and dream of ruling over the vineyards yourself.
With more than 40 AOC wines to choose from in the region, and almost as many castles, amidst picturesque towns and beautiful nature, there’s something for everyone in the Pays-de-la-Loire.