Spring is definitely, well springing, here in the Loire Valley so we have selflessly taken ourselves out and about - revisiting some favourite places and searching out new destinations and places of interest for our guests.
Whether we are on the bikes or in the car, our route often leads us to and through the adjacent villages of Candes St Martin, Montsoreau and Turquant. These 3 villages lie along the riverside around the confluence of the Vienne and Loire rivers and almost directly across the valley from our home in St Nicolas de Bourgueil. Each one has a wealth of interest - architectural, historical, natural and commercial - and they all feature on our cycle, wine and discovery tour routes. In fact there is so much to see and do that, despite being in such close proximity, we have devised two separate cycle routes for 2011, so guests can have time to take a leisurely cycle to and from their destination and also explore all each village has to offer. Below is a taster of what you can discover in each destination.
Let's start with the westernmost village, Candes St Martin. This is designated one of the prettiest villages in France and its easy to see why. The houses hug the hillside along the Vienne river, clustered around the disproportionately huge church in its centre. The church is dedicated to St Martin (!) who died here in November 397 and dates back to the 12th century. Many of the houses in the village are from medieval times, so there are plenty of cobbled streets and narrow alleyways to explore. A steep walk to the clifftop rewards you with a magnificent panorama over the Loire Valley and a bird's eye view of where the Vienne river meets the mighty Loire. Back in the village, there has been a recent renaissance and now there are several artists shops to browse, as well as an unusual cafe/bric a brac store and a shop selling hand-restored furniture and home furnishings, combined with an ambiant wine bar in the cellar.
A short stroll or ride brings you to the larger village of Montsoreau. Dominated by the chateau right on the river and the location for a monthly antiques market along the quayside, there is again plenty to see and do here. The chateau has been wonderfully restored; don't expect the usual four poster beds and suits of armour indisde though. Instead this unfurnished chateau is home to an exhibition of the history of life along the river - there are atmospheric displays of river traffic, weather vanes, flora and fauna, as well as details of 'La Dame de Montsoreau' - a steamy novel set in the chateau and written by Alexandre Dumas (of The 3 Musketeers fame). Montsoreau village has several watering holes - you can choose from a simple cafe right up to a gourmet restaurant with river views. Or make up a picnic with goodies from the baker's butcher's and general store and eat it at the picnic tables along the riverbank. A short detour away rom the river will bring you - via Le Mestre hand-made soap makers - to the historic village of Fontevraud l'Abbaye - the abbey has a checkered history but is probably most famous as the resting place of Richard the Lionheart.
From Montsoreau you can follow the Loire a Velo route to the troglodyte village of Turquant. Here there are winegrowers, windmills and caves to explore. Just outside the village centre, a row of former troglodyte dwellings have been restored and now house an artist's village - you can browse through a silversmith's, a glassblower's, a leather worker's shop (great handbags, ladies!) and will often see the artists at work. There is also a showroom displaying (and selling) pottery, jewellery and other household knick knacks made by local artists. If all that shopping works up a thirst, you can visit the Bistroglo for a rhubarb juice or an artisan beer. Also in the village is a troglodyte restaurant - guests eat in the wonderful restored cave and enjoy delicious dishes featuring local produce and often-forgotten old ingredients - nettle soup is often featured.
After all this excitement, if you have arrived by bike, your return route will take you along the Loire river - either on the north or south bank (depending which of our routes you are following!) with opportunities for nature-watching along the way. Then its just a case of meandering back through the vineyards back to base, for a well-earned rest (perhaps a glass or two of the local brew) and an opportunity to relive your day's adventures.