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.
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.
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).
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.
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…
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.
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 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.
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.
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…
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,
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