In 18th century France, royalty would flee to the Loire Valley for a restful vacation away from the hustle and bustle of Paris. Today, a string of tiny towns are renewing this travel trend. A quick train ride from Paris brings you into the fold of rolling hills and idyllic cobblestone coated villages, each with its own AOC classification you’ve never heard of and will likely never forget. If you need a restorative, no-cell-phones allowed kind of getaway, the Loire Valley will make you forget the real world exists. Below, our guide to a weekend in this French gem.
Where to Stay:
If you want to feel like Marie Antoinette for a weekend, there is only one property that will fulfill your bourgeoisie fantasy, Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé. Once owned by a Baron to Louis XV, the property has been restored into a modern neoclassical masterpiece perched atop 80 acres of pristine gardens. Surrounded by the original medieval wall, the hotel is secluded in the middle of the small town of Grand Lucé. At check in, expect a glass of local champagne and a swift signature, then escape to your uniquely designed room where your luggage awaits your arrival.
Winding paths criss cross the manicured grounds creating a new adventure at every turn. Expect to see original neoclassical sculptures hidden amongst the foliage as if you’ve discovered it for the first time. In the exotic garden, take a dip in the former fountain-turned-pool where the only sounds you’ll hear is the light rustling of trees.
Where to Eat:
Dine steps from your room in the intimate Le Lucé restaurant. The extravagant culinary experience is expertly crafted by Chef Maxime Thomas using local and property grown ingredients. The three course menu changes nightly and can be taken in the restaurant or anywhere on the grounds, even picnic style on a pillow covered Hermés blanket in the middle of a lovely clearing. Restaurant Les Hauts de Loire is beloved amongst locals and visitors alike. The Michelin star establishment is well known for their dedication to locally sourced ingredients and unforgettable seafood dishes.
What to Do:
Travel a bit north to Vallée du Loir and spend some time wandering the tiny stone streets hunting for antiques and locally made fare. Then, tour the region’s small local wineries which are true gems. For the most unique sparkling wine, visit Domaine Gigou where owner and winemaker Joël Gigou has been creating effervescent magic since 1974. Domaine LeLais should also be on your list of undiscovered finds. The family owned vineyard has been making delicious wines since 1984, but the property has a long history of wine making and consumption as is evident of the secret underground cave used to store (and in earlier days consume) the fruits of their labor.
Get intimate with the history of the region with a trip any of Loire Valley’s famous châteaus. For any art history lovers, visit Chateau du Clos Luce where Leonardo da Vinci lived out his final three years and completed some of his most significant works. Château Chambord is the largest and one of the most magnificent representations of French Renaissance architecture in the area. The opulent accommodations were originally to serve as King Francis I’s hunting lodge and later acted as a hiding place for priceless art pieces from the Louvre during WWII.