A holiday in France's Loire Valley is an assault on the nose with aromas of roses, fresh bread, fruit orchards and orange liqueurs including Cointreau
One of the Loire Valley’s most popular outdoor festivals is the Festival des Roses in Chédigny, taking place each May. There are more rose trees than inhabitants in this tiny village, situated south of Amboise in Indre-et-Loire and attracting no less than 15,000 visitors over the two-day scent bonanza. Other wonderfully scented walks can be enjoyed along Les Chemins de la Rose in Doué-la-Fontaine, where thousands of roses of all colours bloom, and in the intimate Jardins de Roquelin. Lining the small grassy paths here are 450 varieties, climbing over arbours and chestnut-laid screens reminiscent of medieval gardens.
The Loire Valley is nicknamed the ‘Garden of France’ due to its abundant orchards that thrive in the fertile soil. Local market stalls are groaning with apples, plums and strawberries; smell the peaches in Chinon and the wafts of a golden, bubbling apple tarte Tatin fresh from the oven. At the Quinçay cave complex you can take a guided tour (in French or English) of the workshop where the traditional poires tapées (dried, flattened pears) are produced.
Fouée (also known as fouace) is a small, round, airy French bread from the Touraine and Anjou areas of the Loire Valley, similar in appearance to pitta. It has a humble history, originally used as a ‘tester’ to see if an oven was at the correct temperature to bake larger loaves. Small balls of dough would be crushed in the palm of the hand and thrown into the oven; if they burned the oven was too hot, and if they didn’t rise it wasn’t hot enough. But if they rose gently they were never wasted – they were immediately eaten with pork rillettes and mogettes(a local type of bean), which is how they are still served today.
The Distillerie Combier in Saumur produces a multitude of award-winning liqueurs, creams and spirits – but it’s triple sec for which the Loire Valley is best known. This powerful bitter orange liqueur has been made at the distillery since 1834 after Jean-Baptiste Combier – a confectioner by trade – made the world’s first example. Cointreau is, of course, the best-known brand of triple sec, and enjoyed throughout the Loire Valley either on the rocks or in a cocktail.
Saumur is also home to the Martin de Candre Savonnerie, a family-run business founded in 1974 producing exquisite handmade soaps with olive and palm oils that smell truly beautiful. Dominique and Rosine Dauge were farmers who first learned the soap trade after meeting André Chapuis, a chemist from the Cher department. It took Rosine years of dedicated patience and practise to develop the standard to which the company now operates, today run jointly by her two daughters. Visit the savonnerie and let your nose guide you to some lovely souvenirs!