Visiting the Loire Valley during a Pandemic

Winter in France. If it wasn’t obvious from my previous winter posts, winter in France is my least favorite time of the year (or at least it’s tied with the hot air-conditioning-less summers). So it’s usually around this time of year that I make my escape somewhere warm. Last year it was Seville and the Algarve. The year before it was Barcelona. This year… well, this year there’s COVID. In the interest of keeping ourselves and others safe, we decided not to go anywhere where we’d need to take a plane or a train. The problem with that is… it was impossible to find someplace warm within driving distance of our area. So taking into consideration this impossibility, we decided to go somewhere naturally beautiful and relaxing. Since we didn’t have snow tires, chains nor snow clothes, we settled on traveling southwest of Paris, to the Loire Valley.

So here is the benefit of traveling to the Loire Valley in the dead of winter in the middle of a pandemic:

+ Social distancing isn’t a problem because no one is around.

And the negative?

– Nothing is open because no one is around.

Added to this was the 6pm curfew that we had everyday. And that the restaurants were closed (and you know one of our favorite things about traveling is eating different types of food!). And that nothing was in bloom, because it was in the dead of winter following flooding and snowstorms. However, it helped that we knew all of this already, so our expectations were really low. We just wanted to escape the four walls we’d been seeing every day for the past year.


Tours

Our home base was the delightful city of Tours. We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb apartment owned by a retired photojournalist. He had interesting photos on his wall that he had taken of Paul Newman and Mick Jagger as well as beautiful photos of the region. This apartment was located right near the old town of Tours. I’m sure that in a normal period of time, the streets would be bustling with tourists and locals frequenting the many pubs and restaurants. But when we walked the streets, it seemed like a ghost town.

Place Plumereau: Normally the foreground would be filled with tables, umbrellas and chairs. At this time, the plaza remains devoid of people with the chairs and tables all covered up.
The good thing about the lack of people is that it was easy to take photos and appreciate the details of the interesting architecture all around the old town of Tours.
I loved how these old ruins exist right in the middle of Tours. This area has been occupied since the 1st century CE. These niches were where bodies were placed when this was a parish cemetery in the late 10th century.
Charlemagne Tower (named after the 4th wife of Charlemagne who’s buried here) is one of the remnants of the 11th century basilica of Saint Martin
Next to our Airbnb was a Saturday open market. At this market, they had several stands that sold only apples. And a lot of different varieties, many that I had never heard of. What’s different about this stand is that the shopkeeper picks the apples for you. I’m used the choosing my own apples (the best-looking ones, of course), but when the apples are chosen for you, you get all the apples, imperfections and all.

Montrésor

The best part about Tours is its proximity to many beautiful châteaux and villages in the region. Well, the châteaux were all closed, so the villages were left for us to explore. We tried to time our visit around lunchtime, which assured that there would be even less people around. The first village we explored was Montrésor, which is on the official list of the Most Beautiful Villages of France (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France).

The beautiful little streets of Montrésor
These images of lizards can be found all over the village. According to legend, it was a lizard who led the founders of the village to a hidden treasure with which they were able to build this village. Montrésor means “treasure mountain”.
Small details, like this door, made me feel like we had just stepped into the set of a Disney movie

We were fortunate that, although the Château de Montrésor was closed to visitors, they left their castle grounds open, allowing us to walk around and explore the grounds looking over the village.

Château de Montrésor
The renaissance château in the foreground, with 11th century medieval fortress ruins behind
This pond really needs to be cleaned!
I love to see these first little signs of spring!

Somewhere in the Loire Valley…

I must admit that I’m not a very spontaneous person. I like to make a plan and stick to it. So I’m not very good at pulling over off the side of the road to see the sights. But as we were driving to Montrésor, this long medieval-looking wall off the side of the road caught my eye. Although we didn’t stop to take a look (like I said, I’m really bad and spontaneously pulling off the side of the road), I made a point to visit on our way back.

Looking beyond the long medieval-looking wall, this is what we saw…

La Chartreuse de Liget

As you can see in the photo, there was NO ONE around. Which meant that we were able to wander the grounds freely. I would have loved to explore a little further, but due to the 6pm curfew, we were under time constraints. This property, La Chartreuse de Liget, was a monastery authorized in the mid-12th century by King Henry II of England when this area was under the English Plantagenet empire (thanks Wikipedia!). Most of the ancient buildings were destroyed, but some vestiges remain.

It’s not every day that you see a grand house with the ruins of a 12th century church in its front yard

Loches

After our little detour, we sadly didn’t have too much time to explore the town of Loches, recommended to us by our Airbnb host. This town was busier than Montrésor, with more people walking about, but we still managed to stay socially distant while quickly exploring this town. Loches was a town that grew up around a monastery in the 6th century. From the mid-13th century until the 16th century, the château in this town was a residence of the kings of France.

The royal residences of the château (closed due to COVID) lie beyond this door.
Although the château itself was closed, it was still nice to walk about the town. It was getting close to curfew, so there were few people on the streets.
The church of Saint Ours, dating from the 10th to the 12th century
The donjon of this château complex, also closed due to COVID
Although we didn’t get to eat at any local restaurants due to COVID, thankfully the cheese shops were still open. Here are two goat cheeses local to the region. The cheese in the foreground, Sainte Maure de Touraine, is pretty well-known from France and comes from a nearby town with the same name. The cheese in the background, La Couronne Lochoise, comes from this town. Both were excellent, especially accompanied by a local wine. This area has many wineries, but due to COVID, we didn’t feel comfortable visiting them. Hopefully we can return when this pandemic is over!

Crissay-sur-Manse

The next day found us visiting three more villages with the designation of The Most Beautiful Villages of France. Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by these villages, but once again it could have been because we were there in the dead of winter. I’m sure it’ll be beautiful when spring comes around and the flowers start blooming. The first village we visited was Crissay-sur-Manse, a medieval village known for its white limestone houses.

Outside Crissay-sur-Manse with the church in the background (there’s literally a church in every village and town)
There’s a château in this village (honestly, you can throw a stone and hit a château anywhere in the Loire Valley), but there isn’t much left of this one here.

Candes-Saint-Martin

What makes this village interesting is that it sits at the confluence of the Loire and Vienne rivers. As we walked up the hill to the viewpoint overlooking the two rivers, we ran across interesting homes that were built into the side of the hill.

Where the Vienne and the Loire Rivers meet

Montsoreau

The last village on our list was Montsoreau. When we arrived into this village, we saw that there were people everywhere. There was a flea/antiques market going on which is why there was an influx of people. Since we were trying to be socially-distant, we decided not to stop in town. However, I wanted to go to the other side of the river to get a photo of the town and its château. After driving across the river, we came upon the road that led to this viewpoint. Sadly, the road was closed to cars due to flooding. Undeterred, we parked our car on the road and walked the last kilometer to get to the riverside. And this is what we saw…

Walking over a kilometer on a road and then trampling further through mud, thorns and branches, THIS was the best view we could find. 😦
The Château of Montsoreau through the trees.

I’m sure that if the river wasn’t so flooded, we would have been able to walk out past these trees to get a picture. Oh well, safety first.

Was this a perfect trip of the Loire Valley? No. A lot of places were closed and it was hard to explore too much when we had to meet the 6pm curfew. And although the Loire Valley is beautiful, it’s probably at its least-beautiful during the dead of winter. However, did we meet our vacation-goal – to get away and have a change of scenery while at the same time remaining safe and socially-distant? Yes! With the way of the world is now, we’ll be happy with what we can get and what we have. We enjoyed our return to this part of the Loire Valley and look forward to exploring this area some more when conditions get better.

Until next time,

S


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