France: Loire Valley

West of Tours and Saumur

The wines of Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur
By Jim Budd

This Guide was last updated on 19 April 2011
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Main towns and villages

Chinon

Ideally the visitor’s first glimpse of Chinon should be from the south bank of the Vienne looking across at the old town, dating from the middle ages, nestling beneath the ruined château and the bluff on which it is built. With a number of restaurants, hotels and good road connections this is a good and quite lively base to use to explore the area. Its attractions include the château (see ‘Other Attractions’), where the Dauphin hid from Joan of Arc; several interesting churches; and small museums. There is also the Caves Painctes which are open to visit during July and August (these are tunneling cellars cited by Rabelais and now the site of various wine festivities such as the grand dinners of the Chinon wine producers fraternity – Les Entonneurs Rabelaisiens). The main market day is Thursday with smaller markets on Saturday and Sunday.

Bourgueil

On the right bank of the Loire with a Benedictine Abbey founded in 990, Bourgueil’s treasures also include an ancient covered market which is at its best on market days - Tuesdays and Saturdays in the morning. As well as wine, Bourgueil is also famous for its garlic.

Azay le Rideau

This is an attractive little town that centres on the banks of the Indre with its famous château just to the south (see 'Interesting Attractions'). The old part of the town around the Indre makes an attractive stroll as does the main street. The local markets are held on Saturday and Wednesday mornings. Check with the tourist office for special events.

Saumur

One of the most elegant towns in the Loire Valley, Saumur is dominated by its château, from where there are fine views over the town and the Loire. The town boasts a good range of shops for food and also womens’ fashions. The Rue St-Jean leading to the Place St-Pierre is one of the main shopping streets. There are various sparkling wine houses to visit – Gratien et Meyer just to the east of the town and Ackerman-Laurance, Bouvet-Ladubay and Langlois-Chateau to the west in St-Hilaire St-Florent. There is also a Musée des Blindes (tank museum). Markets are held in Avenue General de Gaulle on Wednesday and in Place St-Pierre on Saturday.

Montreuil-Bellay

Some 15km south of Saumur, Montreuil-Bellay is the home of the region’s school for viticulture and winemaking. The château by the River Thouet is extravagantly pretty. It took four centuries to build: Foulques Nerra started in 1025 by building a fortified tower, while during the 15th century the renaissance part was added.

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