As we continued driving in the Loire Valley in France, we next visited Vouvray to check out their wines. We have tried a number of Loire Valley wines (especially melon de Bourgogne-based Muscadet, Cab Franc-based Chinon, Sauvignon Blanc-based Sancerre and Chenin Blanc-based Vouvray) at restaurants and cafes and one touristy tasting room. But we also wanted to do a few serious tastings. We choose Vouvray for our primary stops. Huet is one of the best known and most renowned of Vouvray producers. We had a tasting of ten of their wines, beginning with a sparkler (2010 Cuvee Huet Brut) through different vintages and sweetness levels (Sec, Demi-Sec, Moelleau to the sweetest—about 65 grams of sugar per liter—Moelleau). From each level of sweetness, we tasted wines from each of the winery’s three vineyards, from the earthy Clos du Bourg, Le Haut Lieu, to the more minerally Le Mont. Of all, our favorite was a moderately sweet 2005 Le Mont Moellleau, which will go perfectly with the foie gras and Epoisse cheese that we plan to eat in Paris.
We then stopped at Chateau Moncontour, another Vouvray winery that also has a vineyard in Chinon. We tasted about a dozen wines from each of the winery’s five different labels. We began with a lovely sparking Vouvray (Domaine du Petit Coteau Brut), a number of nice still whites (especially the 2011 Domaine de Vaugondy Vouvray sec) and two Chinon Cab Francs, neither of which we found to our taste.
This is a pretty town on the banks of the Loire. While it is, of course, dominated by a beautiful, huge chateau, it also has a pretty, inviting, city center. Most interestingly for us, it also has a number of wineries that offer wines from additional grapes. Our one Amboise (specifically, the Touraine-Amboise district) winery stop, the small, family-run Domaine Dutertre was another winner. While our favorites were all 2014 Chenin Blancs, the dry Clos du Pavillon, the moderately sweet Les Menates, and especially the late harvest Cuvee Gabriel dessert wine, we also enjoyed a dry Sauvignon Blanc. We, however, found the two reds that we tasted (2014 Cuvee Francois—a blend of Gamay, Cabernet and Malbec—and 2012 Cuvee Prestige—Cab and Malbec) both to be astringent. Taste aside, the cave and the tasting room, both carved from a limestone cavern, were the most beautiful we have ever visited. While the cave was a natural rock formation, the tasting room seamlessly blended walls and counters into the rock. Just as beautiful were some of the magnum and jerabaum bottles that were designed by the winemaker’s daughter.
This pretty, compact, medieval old town is filled with pretty streets and well-maintained period buildings. The town is dominated by the partially-restored ruins of an 11th-century watchtower and by a 16th-century bell tower. And of course, the town has its own chateau (built on the site of a feudal castle) an associated Romanesque abbey. A pretty town that is well worth a stroll.
For a large city, Tours is somewhat attractive, especially the historic quarter with its well-restored medieval buildings, particularly around the pedestrianized Place Plumereau which is filled with restaurants and tables and lined with historic half-timber building housing bars and cafes—some with intricately carved details. The streets radiating from the square have similarly historic period houses and mansions from the mid-15th century, when Tours was the capital of France.
Nearby Places St-Pierre-le-Puellier and Chateauneuf house a number of churches and two surviving towers (bell and clock) that bookended the huge, block-and-a-half long 11th-century St-Martin’s Church, which was supposed to have been the largest church in Christianity before an ill-placed well caused the collapse of the main structure in 1928. Still, the remaining towers and the distance between them provide a good idea of the vast size of the church.
The eastern end of the downtown area also has its attractions. These include the St-Gatien Cathedral, with its mix of traditional and modern stained-glass windows, the Opera House and the Musee des Beaux Arts, which we did not have time to visit. And speaking of running out of time, we were also unable to get to the city’s artisan quarter, based around rue du Petit St-Martin, which is apparently, being rapidly gentrified.
Overall, a nice city, but between our two primary choices of cities in which to stay, we are glad we choice Blois—except, as discussed below, for its restaurants.
Although long the domain of Counts, Blois’ heyday was in the 15th century, when it became a royal enclave when Henry IV moved the court to Paris and he needed a summer home close to the city. While the city was eclipsed by the move to Versailles, Blois still retains its magnificent Royal Chateau (with its ornate, multi-tier, octagonal staircase) and, across the royal plaza, the council and court building (the Salle des Etats Generaux).
Down the hill from there, the city’s 13th-century Arts Quarter, and to the northwest, the 17th-century Gothic St-Louis Cathedral and playful, half-timber Maison des Acrobats (with its quirky carvings of animals, acrobats and other fun figures), and a number of “lesser” but still stately mansions of different styles and with open courtyards.
Then, down a set of stairways and winding streets to the quaint city’s well-maintained Gothic historic quarter, with fascinating streets (such as Rue des Juits and Rue Pierre de Blois), with their historic homes (like Hotel Jassaud and especially Hotel Sardini), open squares and cafes.