Once the children have grown and flown, the Atlantic Loire Valley makes for a tempting getaway with its focus on a simple, quality way of life. A straightforward three-hour drive from the ferry ports in Normandy and Brittany on the north coast, this region of France is all about verdant countryside, majestic chateaux and – of course – world-class wine. Fall in love with the landscape of vineyards and waterways, punctuated by architecturally stunning towns and villages and plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by.
In terms of wine experiences, you’re spoilt for choice in the Atlantic Loire Valley . One popular way of seeing the vineyards is by bike, exploring at your own pace and sampling local delicacies as you go. Pedal your way through the vines around the capital of Nantes , as well as the Fiefs Vendéens, Anjou-Saumur and the Loir (no ‘e’) Valley. If white wine’s your thing, you’ll love the 16-kilometre circular route through the Jasnières vineyards. This gentle trail takes you from Chartre-sur-le-Loir to Ruillé-sur-Loir, passing through picturesque villages and past wineries, where you can talk to the people behind the wines you love.
Another bike you can use for vineyard rambles is the solex, a vintage electric-assisted model which set the stage for modern e-bikes. The owners of Domaine de Pied Flond , south of Angers, have devised a visitor experience combining wine with heritage and adventure – hop on a solex and explore the plots of Chenin, Cabernet, Gamay, Chardonnay and Grolleau grapes, before enjoying refreshments and an all-important tasting. At the Mourat organic vineyard in Mareuil , Vendée, electric buggies are provided for vineyard tours. You can explore the estate at your own pace, with a tablet to help you find your way around the vines and show you points of interest, and finish with a picnic lunch.
If you fancy joining up with other likeminded couples for some entertainment, why not try a murder mystery party at the Chateau du Cléray near Nantes? The principle is like Cluedo: there’s a murder, a culprit, clues and characters – and it all happens at nightfall, designed for between 12 and 17 guests. Enjoy a drink with the other guests to break the ice, before diving into the mystery and hunting down clues hidden in the chateau’s rooms. Naturally, buffet food and wine tastings are available throughout the experience.
Find out more: 5 unique wine-themed experiences in Atlantic Loire Valley
Of course, if you’re visiting in the autumn, you could go one step further and really get under the skin of the area by becoming a winemaker for the day. Domaine du Closel near Angers offers immersive winemaking days in October and, as an apprentice harvester, you’ll enjoy first-hand experience of all the processes that go into producing the bottles you enjoy back home. After an organic brunch prepared by a local farmer cook, you’ll don your boots, grab your secateurs and head into the vines to pick the grapes, before foot-treading and pressing them. Wine has been made at Domaine de Closel for 600 years, and it’s a humbling experience to be part of, especially as you can ask questions the whole way through. Finish with a tasting in the chateau’s library – and of course, stock up on a few bottles to take away.
Wine and chateaux are a natural partnership – but you can’t visit the Atlantic Loire Valley without ticking off a few of the historic ‘big-hitters’, in addition to the private winemaking chateaux. The Loire was the chosen spot for the kings of France to set up court during the Renaissance, and the area now has the highest concentration of chateaux in the country , most of which were either built or remodelled between the 15th and 16th centuries. A few of our recommended favourites are the Chateau d’Angers with its breathtaking ‘Tenture d’Apocalypse’ tapestry; the riverbed-built Chateau de Montsoreau and its contemporary art collection; fairytale Chateau de Saumur perched on a rocky spur above the Loire; and Brissac, France’s tallest chateau, with its secret Belle-Epoque theatre.
From travel to the port to exploring when you get there, taking your own car to the Atlantic Loire Valley offers the freedom and reassurance you need. Sailing with Brittany Ferries is a hassle-free experience, with various ticket types allowing you to choose the level of flexibility you need. The company is constantly reviewing and updating its health-related procedures to ensure that everyone travels safely. Fresh sea air is supplied in all public spaces – including cabins – and there’s plenty of space to roam around, wherever you are on board. We can’t wait to welcome you back to France again.