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Loire Valley wine tours and eats

Planning a trip to Paris in late March and hoping to spend a day or two visiting the Loire Valley with its chateaus and wineries. I gather that we're supposed to use Tours as a home base. Two questions: any exceptional (doesn't have to be pricey - would probably be better if it weren't) places to eat around the chateaus or in towns? Also, how does one visit a winery? Dumb question maybe, but do we have to book a trip or is it a more casual, walk-in type experience? Thanks!

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  1. Huet, in Vouvray just east of Tours, is the most famous winemaker in the area and is by apointment only. Also remember, that if one visits a winery in France, one is expected to buy at least a few bottles.

    I have never found any great restaurants in Tours. There is a funky little bakery by the train station that sells nothing but brioches of various sizes. I can't remember the name, but there's usually a line out the door.

    Blois is also a good base for visting the area and has more interesting restaurants.

    Robert

    1 Reply
    1. re: rswatkins

      I must disagree about Domaine Huet in Vouvray. While some wineries may expect you to buy a certain amount, they were very kind to us, and actually said they do not support that notion and that people should buy whatever they want without pressure. Our tasting was very laid back and informative, and they very much appreciated our 2 bottle purchase :) Highly recommended, although a little hard to find.

    2. Assume you are renting a car, if only for a few days. Make sure you hit Chinon and especially Angers. Just south of Angers is a small island in the Loire where they make saviennieres , my favorite chenin blanc, and just on the south side is an appellation called Cos d'Aubance. Wonderful sweet wines as well.Also south of Angers is St Lambert du Lattay , home of Vyes Pierre Tijou, wonderful maker of chenin blancs as well, and next little town over is where Bonnezaux is made and Marc Angeli and Rene Renou are there. Again stop in and say hello, very informal When l visited the old mayor of Vouvrey, G Huet, l was very lucky, no reservation, just my wife at the time, him, and me. He cooked us lunch and we spent about 2 hours with him.His 'Cuvee Catherine' is one of the best sweet vouvrays there is. Also in Vouvray ,Champalou was a drive up and say hello, small friendly vineyard with passionate people making wine. Only meal other than home cooked that was wonderful was Jean Bardet in Tours, but told he is now closed.
      This is the region for wonderful chevres, as St Maure and Pouligny St Pierre. March is perfect time for them, have picnics and relax.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

        We stayed and ate at Domaine des Hauts de Loire near Chambord -- an exquisitely lovely hotel, with a 2-star Michelin restaurant. It was wonderful! Expensive, but not ridiculously so -- 75 euros for 4 course prix fixe; there was also a 95 euro option. And a truly memorably experience. I can't recommend this place highly enough!

        Here are some photos on my blog:
        http://annmah.net/2008/11/18/dining-o...

      2. Thanks everyone! Very helpful, especially about the wines, Delucacheesemonger. I am a wine amateur at best, and wouldn't know the first thing about vineyards, but I am dying to visit and see. Are these wines not distributed in Paris, or is it just the experience and price of buying them straight at the winery that people like? And just how much is a 'normal' bottle of wine (equivalent to what sells for $10-20 here in the US/NY)? I am trying to learn more about wines but on a limited budget and palate not sophisticated enough to appreciate a $2000 bottle anyway.

        2 Replies
        1. re: janethepain

          Great book out, 'Wine and food guide to the Loire', by Jacqueline Friedrich. Was my bible for first three trips to the area., rumor is there is a new edition. Even if not, read the book, and you will quickly see what you want to do can be matched up with her recommendations. Wine in the Loire valley is almost free, ranging from simple anjou and chenin for 2-3 euros to the some of the best sweet wines in the world and some of the best Cabernet Franc as well, always far less money in the Loire and more unusual stuff as the aforementioned Cos' D'Aubance. Went to the brothers LeBreton, think spelling is right and tasted for long time. No one knows about their wine and they are thrilled to share it with foreigners. Many places in Loire like that. In Paris many of these wines can be had at Lavinia near Place Madelaine, but really far more rewarding to do it there. Plan for at least 3-4 days if you can and if you are like me, they will have to drag your fingers off the bed to get you out of there.

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            Here's a post I did in November 2007 which might be helpful to you. We still have Moncontour wines in our cellar to drink:

            A favorite stop of ours in that area is in Vouvray, a short drive west of Amboise and on the other side of the Loire. Vouvray wines are excellent and we always stop at the "Cave" of Chateau Montcontour (plenty of big signs along the road and in the town so you can find it). Excellent tastings and we highly recommend their sparkling (petillant) Vouvray. Prices at the winery are very reasonable (broad range of excellent Vouvrays under 10 Euros last visit 3 years ago). We generally bring back to the US a six-bottle box of their "Predilection" vintage. It has happend to us on at least 3 trips that after we bought our wine to drive off with, I told them I also wanted to buy a bottle of this wine chilled from their refrierator to drink that afternoon/evening. All 3 times, they gave us the chilled bottle as a gift.

            In the town of Vouvray is an excellent and classy restaurant - Le Grand Vatel. Service is impeccable, food is very well prepared, and price will not be hard on your wallet. The restaurant is on one of the main streets of Vouvray (small downtown area) running a a diagonal fromt the main road along the Loire. Highly recommend both places.

            If you want a very nice Bed & Breakfast in the same town, I can provide that as well.

        2. I recommend staying in Chenonceaux as opposed to Tours. If you have a car, you will be able to get around easily, but even without one you can take a train from there to other towns. There are some excellent restaurants you can walk to, and the hotel that is very charming and cheap is La Roseraie, and it has a pretty good traditional restaurant. For more modern and upscale fare, go to Le Bon Laboureur, which has a Michelin star and is also a hotel if you want to stay in a more upscale place. Another place I would highly recommend as a lunch stop or a luxurious place to stay and dine is the Chateau de Rochecotte near Langeais.

          1. Also, Foreau, another highly respected winmaker in Vouvray, is just up the hill past Huet.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rswatkins

              Still have a few bottles of 1990 Goutte d'Or of his, one of the top 3 sweeties.

            2. Thanks everyone for your help - we probably can't rent a car, so we'll have to rail/hoof it. I've also read that Tours is probably not the best place to stay, as some of you have even noted.

              Another question: when you visit a winery, you're expected to buy their wine? What if you didn't like it? And if you do, how much are you to buy? By bottle or case? And there's an admissions/tasting fee?

              I'm torn between visiting the Loire (since it has the chateaus as well) and Alsace, where a lot of my favorite kinds of wine are produced.

              Thanks for everyone's help.

              9 Replies
              1. re: janethepain

                Jane - Can't speak directly to all of your questions, but if you decide to go to the Loire -- e.g. for the chateaux -- in lieu of Tours, you might consider staying at a B&B called the Moulin du Port in St. Georges sur Cher, a few miles (within biking distance) from Chenonceaux. You mentioned budget constraints; it is very reasonably priced and, aside from comfortable accomodations, both the breakfast & table d'hote dinner are excellent -- not elegant, but solid, well-prepared bourgeois cuisine, featuring fresh, local ingredients. It's a bit far from the winery region of the Loire, so it may not work from that perspective, if you do not have a car. There is a train station nearby but I do not know how convenient the schedule is, etc.

                1. re: janethepain

                  <Another question: when you visit a winery, you're expected to buy their wine? What if you didn't like it? And if you do, how much are you to buy? By bottle or case? And there's an admissions/tasting fee?>

                  Jane: unlike most Napa/Sonoma wineries, there are no fees for visiting wineries in France. (at least, not that I have ever experienced). Purchasing a couple of bottles is the courteous way to "pay" for the tour. If you don't really care for the wines, probably one of your friends at home will be thrilled to have such a gift, so not to worry!

                  imho, when a winery charges for the tour and tasting, you are not obliged to buy.

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    I would also suggest you not plan to stay in Tours. It is a fairly large and busy city. There are plenty of good Bed & Breakfast places in that area which offer good value, nice breakfasts, clean rooms, and a place to park your car in safety. We stayed not long ago in one in Vouvray where the lady owner prepared soft boiled eggs with baguette bread sticks to dip in the eggs, plus the usual breads, sweet things, yogurt, etc. This was all served in her dining room which was spotless and beautiful.

                    1. re: CJT

                      So are people recommending Vouvray as a base?

                      1. re: mr_gimlet

                        IMHO that would not be a bad thing to do. Vouvray is within easy driving distance of the major and lesser châteaux (Chambord, Blois, Rougemont, Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau, etc), and wine areas (Montlouis, Vouvray, Bourgueil, Chinon, etc). It is also less encumbered by traffic, which abounds in Tours itself. But there are many B&Bs in that area, and in nearby towns, at various price levels, Some of these are small châteaux with nightly rates in the 90-110 Euros. Other lovely ones can be found at 50-80 Euros per night (breakfast included). I'm willing to provide info on links to B&Bs in the area if you are interested.

                        1. re: CJT

                          That may be helpful for others reading this, but the OP has indicated above that she will not have a car.

                          1. re: rrems

                            For someone traveling without a car, Amboise might be a good alternative to Tours. There are wineries nearby that might be reached by bicycle and rail links to other areas of the Loire. The city itself includes a number of small hotels and B&Bs, as well as various sights.

                            1. re: rrems

                              She didn't mention this until farther into to the post. Unless she contracts with a tour agency and has them ferry her around., she won't be able to see or do very much of what she wants to in 2 days or so. I agree that my suggestions don't fit her plans now but I am not sure why she thought she could just put up in Tours and visit lots of chateaux and wineries without transportation.

                              1. re: CJT

                                After reading that one could bicycle around the Loire Valley, I had hoped we could use that to visit some chateaux and wineries. Alas, I see that is not the case. Cathy (who replied above) put together a very nice itinerary of a few different wine producers and a visit to Villandry for me, but all would have to be by car. But thanks to all who replied, I got a lot of even more useful information than what to eat in Tours.