The Loire Valley in the South of France is one of the most beautiful regions of France, with a plethora of things to do year round. We love it and, quite honestly, could talk about it all day. Owner of the magnificent Manoir Du Decorateur, David Hare, has been lucky enough to call the Loire Valley home for the last 12 years. We asked him to give us the skinny on how the locals make the most of this diverse area and compiled this authentic guide to the Loire Valley.
Tell us a bit about yourself! What do you do, how long have you lived where you are and what makes you an expert in the region?
I moved here from London 12 years’ ago and haven’t once regretted it. Whenever I go back and have to take the underground or push through the crowds on Oxford Street I wonder how I put up with it for so long! As an interior designer, my projects are somewhat different now: restoring gracious old houses rather than trying to squeeze extra bathrooms into tiny flats.
Why should people travel to your region at least once in their life? What might they find surprising on their first visit?
The Loire Valley is one of the most beautiful regions of France, much of it is UNESCO protected as sites of outstanding natural beauty. Romantic castles and unspoilt ancient towns border the rivers Maine and Loire, waiting to be explored. Vineyards, producing fine wines such as the famous Saint Nicholas de Borgeuil and Saumur Champigny, grace the gently undulating landscape which has little changed since the middle ages. Visitors often comment on the extraordinary light you find by the Loire which reflects off the white limestone buildings. Many painters come here year after year to try and capture it.
Have you had any famous visitors or well-known events (historical or otherwise) take place in the region?
This area is historically important to both England and France: Richard the Lionheart died here and is buried with his mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine at the beautifully restored Abbey of Fontevraud; King Henry II lived in the recently rebuilt Castle at Chinon, where three hundred years later, Joan of Arc was imprisoned.
If you had to choose the best activity, what would you pick?
For those looking for an activity holiday, newly completed cycle paths along the banks of the Loire link the cities of Tours and Angers, with numerous restaurants and breath-taking scenery along the way.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
AThe town of Saumur has many excellent restaurants including le Gambetta, which is Michelin starred. My favourite, however, is La Route du Sel on the river at Le Thoreuil, which has an innovative menu, good wine list and spectacular views. The English speaking staff are very friendly and there is always something ‘on the house’.
The best activities and things to do for families?
And for children? The Loire Valley has horse riding, go-karting, canoeing and one of France’s finest zoos, ZooParc de Beauval, where the animals roam in huge enclosures quarried out of the rocks. My nieces always ask to revisit and always happy to take them.
What would your perfect weekend in the area comprise of?
Weekends in the Loire Valley are a relaxed affair. Every Sunday there are ‘brocantes’ or flea markets with a mixture of bric-a-brac and fine antiques. Stalls selling oysters and organic produce do a swift trade. It’s a wonderful couple of hours spent perusing their wares and people-watching. Some people just sit on the bar terraces and watch the boats on the river, or venture off to go wine tasting – they’re spoiled for choice.
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