Tour around the Loire Valley

The chateau at chenonceau is one of the most-visited castles in France

The chateau at chenonceau is one of the most-visited castles in France - Credit: Archant

Jane Gardner takes us around the land of water and wine

I live and work in what I believe is the prettiest and most charming part of the loveliest river valley in France. OK, so I realise that this is quite a claim but I hope that within this article I will be able to convince you that I’m right.

The River Loire runs from its humble beginnings at Mont Gerbier de Jonc in Ardèche, expanding majestically right out to the Bay of Biscay – a length of 1,012 kilometres. Coincidentally, this is the same distance that the Hyundai i30CW station wagon can travel on a single tank of petrol.

On route, the river meanders through some terrific countryside but without doubt the most famous part of its journey is when it travels through the central part of the Loire Valley, often called the ‘garden of France’.

Given UNESCO World Heritage status in December 2000, the châteaux and vineyards of this area are famous throughout the world for their beauty, and tourists flock to the region.

Take Chenonceau château, for example. Built in 1513, this iconic castle has hosted royalty and inspired artists throughout the ages. The castle and grounds host a 16th-century farm as well as an ingenious maze. It is an enchanting spot with breathtaking views and it is truly wonderful having something of such beauty on my doorstep.

In fact, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to fairytale châteaux – the castle at Villandry is one of my favourites as I love the Renaissance gardens there. Or how about Château d’Ussé which is supposed to have been the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s creations.

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I often say to clients that some of the smaller, less well known châteaux offer the warmest welcomes and allow you to simply bask in the sunshine without the crowds spoiling the peace and tranquility.

VALLEY VINEYARDS

Once you are castled-out, you can simply hop back into your Hyundai as there are plenty of other things to see and do.

If the weather is good I’d recommend a visit to Montrichard, a beautiful riverside town which is steeped in history and has a sandy river beach for the family to enjoy.

Or how about visiting some of the local vineyards? Chinon, Saumur, Bourgueil, Angers – these are all names that wine connoisseurs are familiar with. It always amazes me that the growing of one single grape variety, Cabernet Franc, can produce so many different wines.

Of course, there are many different factors involved here including the age of the vines, the type of soil, orientation to the sun and even proximity to the river.

Most grapes are now picked by machine but some vineyards still insist that handpicking gives the best results, and who am I to argue? What I do know is that our local markets have a selection that would be the envy of any off-licence in the UK (and at very attractive prices too).

PROPERTY IN THE VALLEY

So, what about the property? Many people assume that this chic area is out of their price range but this is not necessarily true. As a guideline you will find that the average price of a house in the Indre-et-Loire department of the Centre region is just €178,000.

Premium prices are paid around the university town of Tours, which benefits from great shopping, a wonderful theatre, lively restaurants and terrific communications to the capital and beyond (the TGV to Paris takes just one hour).

Move away from Tours and house prices fall pretty dramatically. Around Chinon, for example, the average price drops to around €135,000 according to the Notaires de France.

Prices in Indre-et-Loire have remained pretty stable too, despite the recession, but there are plenty of bargains to be had if you have local knowledge and know where to look.

The following properties reflect the range of homes currently on the market. You might not fancy driving all 1,012 kilometres of the river but take a look at this selection and you should get a decent idea of what is available.

Jane Gardner is an independent agent working with Leggett Immobilier

www.frenchestateagents.com/loire-valley-property