A little while back I went away with my family to the Loire Valley in France for a relaxing week away post finishing university. Despite it being quite a sleepy area, we found plenty of lovely things to do that really helped you switch off and get outside. Being a lover of all things French, I seized the opportunity to do as many typically French things possible, such as cycling every morning to the patisserie for bread and croissants for breakfast! Ever a sucker for a list, I’ve put together a list of all the things we did and where we stayed to perhaps inspire you if you’re staying in the area or spending some time in France.
STAY | Manoir De Champfreau, Varennes-Sur-Loire
Champfreau is run by two of the loveliest people – Bruce and Steven, who escaped to France 15 years ago from the bustle of New York. The manor house, which was nothing short of a castle, was beautiful and an absolute dream for an interior design fanatic like myself. Sat in all it’s glory in the middle of a courtyard, it houses an absolute menagerie of antiques and charming books and boardgames. It is clear to see that such thought has gone into the appearance and decor of the place, trusting those who stay at the manor with a lot of seemingly precious items. After feasting your eyes on the quite frankly instagram-worthy interiors, it is quite likely you will be bounded up to by the energetic poodle Zeb. A gentle giant, he is the soppiest and friendliest dog and along with Bruce and Steve, makes the place feel even more like home, albeit a very grand french home.
DO | CYCLING TO THE LOCAL PATISSERIE
Within the courtyard of the beautiful manor, there is a high-vaulted barn draped in shrubbery, with a big green rickety barn door. As we peeled open the door, it revealed an array of dishevelled old bikes offered to us to use in case we fancied a gander into the village. Upon this suggestion, the next morning we decided to delve into the barn once again and arm ourselves with a bike each ready and raring to visit the local patisserie and complete the most french activity we could muster at 9 o’clock in the morning. After instantly losing any GCSE French I could cling onto in the excitement of it all, I managed to contain myself and order ‘quatre croissants et une baguette’. Back at our home for the week, we sat out in the early morning sunshine enjoying our croissants with a nice cup of coffee and in that moment I don’t think I could have felt any more French!
KAYAKING IN THE LOIRE VALLEY
Once we were equipped with our lifejackets and kayaks, we hopped onto our minibus ready for our driver to tear around the roads of France to drop us off at our starting point in Villaberner. After being given some vague instructions from a French instructor who’s main repertoire of English phrases were ‘I have very, very bad English’ and ‘bye-bye’, he said his farewell and pushed our kayak into the river. The setting was so lovely and tranquil, it felt like we were the only ones on the river that day. Known for it’s beautiful chateaux, the architecture of all the buildings is stunning and luckily I managed to retrieve my phone and take some photos without accidentally plopping it into the water. Despite the scorching heat, we managed to keep cool by the water and reward ourselves with a cocktail and a plunge in the pool as soon as we got home.
CYCLING TO MONTSOREAU
On multiple occasions, James and myself woke up early and hopped on our bikes and cycled to Montsoreau, a village fifteen minutes away, for a morning coffee. The roads were pretty clear at this time in the morning so it was a very steady and relaxing trip over the long bridge that crosses the river onto the other side. The second time round we decided to stop off at The Marine Hotel and Spa for a coffee in their courtyard garden. The whole place is beautifully decorated, doubling up as a shop as well as a restaurant, hotel and spa, with a large number of items on display for sale. The whole place felt very pretty and serene and reminded me why I loved working in a French interior design shop for so long.
BOUVET LADUBAY | THE CYCLING WINERY TOUR
As you may have gathered by now, our holiday seemed to revolve a lot around cycling! When we came to look at doing a winery tour, we stumbled across Bouvet Ladubay who did cycling tours around their wine caves and it just sounded like a lot of fun and something a bit different. Plus at only 4 euros per person it seemed like a no brainer. Based in a beautiful building, we were greeted by a sweet girl called Niomie who was to be our tour guide for the day. We were all requested to pick out a rickety vintage bike each and pop a head torch on before following Niomie into the depths of the caves through the dark and winding sections of the underground winery. Every so often she would stop to tell us interesting little facts about the wine and how different types are fermented and produced and fun little facts about why sparkling wine looks the way it does. The architecture of the whole place dates back to 220 AD so visually it was amazing to look at too. After we resurfaced from the caves, the most important part of the tour came next – wine tasting! We were able to put all our knowledge we’d just learned into action and see how different fermenting techniques changed the taste of the wine. All the wines we tried tasted delicious and we ended up buying a fair few bottles ourselves! It was such an enjoyable way to spend the day and the whole experience felt very special given how little it costed.