The delights of South West France include The Loire Valley, La Rochelle and Bordeaux. Join us on a petite excursion to some of our favourite places in France.
We have visited parts of South West France on two occasions; once as a side trip from Paris and on the second occasion as an extension of a visit to parts of Northern France. Both times we have greatly enjoyed our visits. Then again, we seem to enjoy all of our time in France.
The Loire Valley
We drove to The Loire from Paris, a relatively easy drive of 2-3 hours, and based ourselves in the lovely City of Tours. We stayed at the Hotel Moderne close to the centre of the City but with good on street parking. This Hotel gets very mixed reviews on Trip Advisor but we found it excellent value for money and loved the location. Having said that, it is now 3 years since we visited so it may be time to look at other options.
Tours is a University City, and like most of those, we found it vibrant, with lots of great cafes and restaurants and a friendly fun vibe. We had two wonderful meals at L’odeon, located near the Railway Station in an unprepossessing building. Really delicious food and good service. It’s not hard to eat well in Tours though, and we had excellent food on each of our four evenings there.
We also took the hop on hop off tour from the excellent Tourist Office . This gave us a terrific introduction to the City sights including the beautiful half timbered buildings surrounding the square at Place Plumereau. Having discovered the Place during the tour, we headed back there for an evening meal and found it full of locals enjoying a glass of wine and a meal. There is something for everyone here, from a simple meal of crepes to fine dining. I recall enjoying Magret duck with lavender and honey sauce, sadly I can no longer locate the restaurant we ate at.
Chateau de Chenonceau
Of course the Loire Valley is known for much more than the City of Tours. and that includes both excellent wines and the many Chateau which are open to the public. We forsook visiting wineries this time but we did visit the absolutely stunning Chateau de Chenonceau which was built over the River Cher. It would be easy to become totally overwhelmed by all the Chateau so we decided to just visit one and we are glad we did. We spent several hours wandering through the building and grounds of this magnificent edifice and were overcome by the beauty and grandeur as well as the history. We couldn’t recommend this Chateau highly enough.
Cointreau factory tour
A couple of months before we visited the Loire Valley I happened to be looking at a bottle of Cointreau; a very favourite liqueur. I realised that this beautiful liquid was manufactured in the Loire Valley, and some fast finger work revealed that it was possible to do a tour of the factory. This we booked in advance and set off for a morning
drink tour. This was a truly fascinating experience as we had a complete tour of the factory, with an excellent historical overview and the tour ended with a cocktail lesson and tasting -mmmm. There was also an opportunity to purchase a bottle (or two) at the end of the tour and to our surprise at very good prices, cheaper than Duty Free. We may have availed ourselves of this opportunity.
On a subsequent visit to France we spent several nights in the lovely City of La Rochelle. We stayed in an Airbnb in the heart of the town and greatly enjoyed wandering around the sights of this beautiful City. Also a University town, we again found that friendly relaxed vibe wherever we went. The entry by car to La Rochelle is less than inspiring, but once in and around the old City we really fell in love with it. The colonnades and arcades are beautiful and there are many stylish shopping opportunities as well as delicious seafood to enjoy. It is also very pleasant to enjoy an afternoon aperitif sitting in the sun and looking over the old port.
La Rochelle is a seaport on the Bay of Biscay (a name of conjure with) and has a population of around 80,000. It is known as the White City (La Ville Blanche) due to the beautiful limestone facades of the buildings. Those buildings include three Medieval towers, one of which is below. Two of these towers stand at the gateway to the old port and are the last remaining fortifications of the City.
La Rochelle is connected to the Ile de Re by a 2.9 kilometre bridge. We did not visit the Ile de Re, but instead took the ferry to Ile d’Aix where, after his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon spent his last days on French soil, before surrendering to the British and being transferred to St Helena. With the benefit of hindsight we would have preferred to visit Ile de Re with its excellent seafood and to see where the famous sea salt is harvested.
We so enjoyed our time in La Rochelle, it is a City on our list to hopefully return to.
The Bordeaux region
After leaving La Rochelle we drove down to the Bordeaux region, which comprises several wine regions.
We stayed in the very lovely bed and breakfast L’Autre Vie situated in a vineyard and between two villages. This was a perfect base for our stay of several nights. On one day we drove to the nearest train station and caught the train into the beautiful City of Bordeaux, where we enjoyed a pleasant lunch at Le Petit Commerce and a wander around the City and along the River. Whilst we are glad we stayed out in a more rural area, there is no doubt that Bordeaux is a beautiful City and one that demands greater attention.
We also made a visit to the pretty world heritage village of Saint-Emilion. As well as what seemed like hundreds of wine stores, Saint-Emilion has a fascinating history and we greatly enjoyed a tour of the 12th Century monolithic church and it’s underground structures. Well worth doing. Be warned though that Saint-Emilion is a big tourist drawcard and can get very busy with quite a number of tourist buses arriving and moving through the narrow streets.
A good part of our time in the Bordeaux region was spent relaxing at our accommodation, enjoying the local wines and soaking up the sun as well as sharing delicious cheese and charcuterie plates and talking with other guests. This was a wonderful time out after weeks of full on touring, and a fitting end to our time in South West France.
Have you visited the South West of France? What was your favourite place? What place/s are on your wish list?