Home Holidays A four-day weekend to one of France’s most picturesque regions.

A four-day weekend to one of France’s most picturesque regions.

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What is it? To spend time exploring the chateaus of the Loire Valley.

Where? Troo: After a stroll around the village, have lunch at Les Iles, a casual restaurant right in the middle of the Loir river. If it’s summertime, jump on the tourist train – a remodeled 1950s railway car – that runs from Troo to Thore-la-rochette. Kids may also enjoy exploring the Petrifying cave. There’s also an exhibition space – Le Cafe de la Terrase, a cave that sells wine – La Cave du Vigneron, and a 12th century church (with frescoes) all worth seeing in the village. Loire Valley: When the kids tire of visiting chateaux, drop by the Zoo Parc of Beauval near Blois, which contains more than 4,000 animals.

Description: Troo and surrounding Loire Valley. We spent three nights at Chateau de la Voute, an upscale inn with spectacular views of the region.

Troo is exceptionally quiet (and dark!) at night. So treat yourself to a fancy meal at the Cheval Blanc or just stay home at the Chateau de la Voute and enjoy a night in with Gil. The nearby village of Montoire also has a number of nice restaurants and pubs, and you can drive there in about ten minutes. But it’s really quite enchanting just to walk around Troo in the dark to drink in the feel of a small country village (bring your torch!). If you’re visiting during August, the Living Museum of Traditional Music in Montoire also sponsors an annual world and dance music festival in August called the Musikenfete.

Although we didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, the Chateau de la Voute is happy to book a sitter for you, but you need to let Gil know in advance.

The Chateau de la Voute has its own sauna, pool and Jacuzzi which are available to all guests at no charge.

See above.

How hard it is to drive in France. Unlike the U.K. or America, French road signs often mention only the final destination on a highway, rather than listing all the intermediary stops. It is *very* easy to get lost so be prepared and study your maps beforehand!

Local activities: Bring a very detailed road map and consult it frequently!

Wish we had known: Issac, eight: “This is a very grand hotel!”

Our top tip: If you’re already in France or plan to visit Paris on your way to/from the Loire, you can get to Villiers Vendome in 42 minutes on a high-speed rail train, or to Tours in approximately one hour. Book trains on http://www.raileurope.co.uk. You can then book a car at either locale, though only Tours has a proper Avis rental car agency and drive to Troo. But by far the easiest and most cost effective way to get to Troo is by plane. RyanAir has flights between Stanstead and Tours several days a week for as low as L70 return. There are several smaller inns and beds and breakfasts in Troo. The Family Suite at the Chateau de la Voute was 135 Euros per night which – while expensive by local standards – was exceptionally reasonable (and excellent value!) when compared to comparable hotels in Paris. Check the website for special offers.

Kids say: With its lush vineyards, sumptuous food and stunning architectural treasures, the Loire Valley has to be one of the more elegant places on earth. And it will feel all the more elegant if you’re lucky enough to book a room at the Chateau de la Voute, an astonishingly reasonable, luxurious private inn located in Troo on the banks of the Loir river. When you arrive at Chateau de la Voute, you’ll be greeted personally by Gil, the inn’s friendly manager who is “vraiment sympa” (i.e. a really nice guy). The inn consists of six rooms, each with its own unique 17th or 18th century design and named after a famous French historical figure. We stayed in the “Napoleon Room”, a tapestried family suite with one large room (replete with fully functioning shower!) and a small side room that can comfortably hold two children plus a cot. Every morning, you’ll wake up to the classic French breakfast of coffee, orange juice and pastries (all included.) And if you wish to book in for dinner, just let Gil know ahead of time. He can prepare a “table d’hote” menu for your party (e.g. just you and your guests) made fresh that day from local produce for 35 Euros each. But what really makes this inn special is its intimate feel. Because there are only six rooms and no permanent staff other than Gil, you really feel like you are living there, rather than just visiting. Contributing to this familiar feel is the game room stocked with card games, a chess set and a poker table, as well as the separate television room boasting a large, flat-screen TV. There’s also a full-sized heated, indoor pool and sauna. The Chateau benefits from beautifully sculpted gardens so be sure to enjoy a cafe au lait at one of the outside tables as you gaze out over the Loire Valley. Then stroll down to the river, where the Chateau has another set of gardens (and which include a small football pitch for the kids). In short: this is the ideal place to relax in a private, congenial setting that feels far away from the bustle and noise of the outside world (though is actually only 42 minutes by high speed rail from Paris.) [grass.jpg] When you’re ready to saunter out into the real world, however, there’s plenty to do. I’d recommend spending at least half a day in Troo itself, a terraced, medieval village built into limestone hills with tiny, winding streets that snake up to a summit connected by staircases. Troo is famous for its troglodyte dwellings (caves). Many of these caves are private homes, but some serve as businesses or art galleries. One cave that kids will particularly enjoy is the Yucca Cave, which provides a permanent exhibit on what an early 20th century cave dwelling might have looked like. Have a crepe on your way out in the adjoining cafe. From there, continue wending your way up to the top of the hill where the kids can look through a telescope at the surrounding landscape. End your journey at the “Talking Well,” where everyone will enjoy hearing the perfect echo of their voice in this 45-meter deep well. Then have lunch at the Auberge du Chateau – also at the top of the hill – which is very family-friendly. But the real thing to do in the Loire Valley, of course, is to see the chateaus. There are more than 200 chateaus in the region, with some 35 or so that are open to visitors. While it would be exhausting to try and see all of them, each one is unique and it’s well worth visiting several if your travel allows for it. They all have their own specific place within French history and it’s useful to have a detailed guide book along to walk you through some of the more theatrical (real-life) tales which characterize these residences. One chateau that works particularly well for children and adults alike is Blois. Blois is about a 45 minute drive from Troo, in the heart of the Loire Valley. It can be handily visited in about half a day. What’s really neat about Blois is that it combines four different historical periods in its four different wings, allowing visitors to get a quick grasp of French architectural and design history in one fell swoop. Kids will love the adjacent “Magic House” with its optical illusions and magic show. And if they’re up for it, stick around until evening to take in the Sound and Light Show in the evening which really brings this royal palace alive. Not far from Blois is Chambord, the largest rennaissance chateau in all of France. This castle is as large if not larger than Versailles, so you’ll want to reserve an entire day for your visit. (The approach from the parking lot alone will take a good 45 minutes!) If you’re game to really plunge into French history, then I’d recommend getting an audio guide and picking and choosing from its many splendid rooms. Equally compelling are the grounds. Chambord has the largest enclosed park in the world. You are welcome to stroll within the 700 hectares of woods. But older kids will love the two-hour guided tour of the surrounding forest in an all terrain vehicle. (Be sure to book ahead for this!) Kids of any age will also enjoy renting a pedal boat and cruising around the castle’s moat. Grab lunch at one of several venues in the adjoining food court. But do not – repeat, do not – try to do this on the same day that you’re visiting another chateau (trust me!). Finally, you might prefer a more “do-able” chateau like Amboise, which is a good deal smaller than the other two. Amboise has a kid’s guide in English full of crosswords, quizzes and connect-the-dots games that the 5-9 year-old set will love as they make their way through this castle’s resplendent chambers. Its smaller size also makes its easy to view with toddlers and infants in tow. Be sure to take a peak inside one of the cavalry towers (where the horses used to enter) and let the kids run up to the castle terraces with magnificent views of the valley. When you’re done, have lunch in the quaint village of Amboise at the foot of the castle and then amble up a half mile or so to the Chateau du Clos Luce, where the kids can explore a park and home containing giant models of some of Da Vinci’s more spectacular machines. (The artist lived in Amboise towards then end of his life). Fun for all ages! [gate.jpg] Our trip to the Loire was, if anything, too short. Next time we’re going to return to the Chateau de la Voute and choose another three spectacular chateaux to visit! Delia Lloyd is an American blogger/journalist based in London. She is the London correspondent for www.PoliticsDaily.com.


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