Visit imposing châteaux and enjoy delicious seafood on a drive along the Loire Valley between the historic cities of Angers and Nantes
Your journey along the Loire Valley begins in Angers, the historical capital of Anjou, which is a 2hr 20min drive from the ferry ports of Saint-Malo and Caen, or a 1hr 35min train journey from Paris. Stroll through the historic centre, with its half-timbered houses and pretty hôtels particuliers, towards the château, which once belonged to the Plantagenet dynasty and now houses the medieval Apocalypse Tapestry (tel: (Fr) 2 41 86 48 77, www.angers.monuments-nationaux.fr/. On your return, stop at the Galerie d’Angers, which displays works by the 19th-century sculptor David d’Angers, and finish in Place du Ralliement, the city’s main square, brimming with cafés and chic boutiques.
Leave Angers on the D323 and travel 15 kilometres east along the D116 to Cornillé-les-Caves, a village troglodyte containing cave dwellings that in recent years have been renovated to form private homes and even hotels. After venturing into the caves for an insight into this underground way of life, walk over to the popular restaurant Au Petit Cornillé (tel: (Fr) 2 41 74 06 62) and try its speciality, the deliciously meaty grillades au feu de bois.
After lunch, head back towards Angers and join the southbound A87 for a few kilometres before leaving at exit 21 to reach the small town of Les Ponts-de-Cé, which straddles the River Loire. Park by the riverside and head across the large stone bridge for panoramic views (tel: (Fr) 2 41 79 75 79, www.ville-lespontsdece.fr).
Head along the D112 towards Bouchemaine and then take the D111 and D961 to Saint-Georges-sur-Loire via Savennières before joining the D723 to Ancenis. This village fleuri was once called the door to the Kingdom of Brittany due to its proximity to the city of Nantes and has a lovely medieval château. Park up by the river and explore the charming centre.
Continue along the D723 to Nantes, follow signs for the Gare SNCF and look out for Rue Frédéric Cailliaud, home to the Hôtel Sozo, which is set in a renovated 19th-century chapel (tel: (Fr) 2 51 82 40 00, www.sozohotel.fr). Have a meal at one of the restaurants along Boulevard Stalingrad before returning to the hotel, your base for two nights.
The Sozo’s plentiful buffet breakfast will set you up for a day’s sightseeing in and around Nantes. Head first to the Château des Ducs de Bretagne (tel: (Fr) 2 51 17 49 44, www.chateau-nantes.fr) for an insight into the city’s Breton past, then walk down to the Quai de la Fosse where you’ll see the monument to the abolition of slavery (tel: (Fr) 2 51 17 49 48, www.memorial.nantes.fr), with 2,000 plaques representing every slave ship that departed from Nantes. From here take the boat to Trentemoult, a charming fishing village on the other side of the river. Enjoy a seafood lunch at La Civelle restaurant (tel: (Fr) 2 40 75 46 60, www.lacivelle.com) and request a table on the terrasse for views over the Loire.
Return on the boat to Nantes and spend the rest of the afternoon on the Île de Nantes, enjoying a ride on a 12-metre-high mechanical elephant. The creature is one of several urban sculptures known as Les Machines de l’Île, which are housed in the former shipyards (tel: (Fr) 2 51 17 49 89, www.lesmachines-nantes.fr).
Dinner tonight is in the village of Vertou on the south-eastern outskirts of Nantes (follow the signs from the city centre). L’Écluse de Vertou (tel: (Fr) 2 40 34 40 70, www.eclusevertou.com) sits alongside the River Sèvre Nantaise and is known for its seafood dishes; try the cod with the sweet potato, butternut squash and courgette glaze.
Leave Nantes by mid-morning and retrace your drive back to Angers as far as Savennières. Cross the river on the D106 and you will soon be in the village of Rochefort-sur-Loire, where the Domaine des Baumard (tel: (Fr) 2 41 78 70 03, www.baumard.fr), has been producing great chenin blanc wines for generations. Stop and buy a bottle or two at the on-site shop.
Travel back over the river and on to Bouchemaine for lunch at Le Noé (tel: (Fr) 2 41 77 11 13, www.le-noe.com). Try their snails in white wine followed by a goat’s cheese salad. After lunch take the D112 and D748 to the village of Brissac-Quincé, with its tufa-stone houses and the imposing Château de Brissac (tel: (Fr) 2 41 91 22 21, www.chateau-brissac.fr). Take a guided tour of the 13th Duke of Brissac’s home or stroll in the vast parkland.
Just outside the village, stop at Domaine Bablut (tel: (Fr) 2 41 91 22 59, www.vignobles-daviau.fr) to stock up one last time on French wine. The estate has been run by the Daviau family since 1546 and visitors can go on a guided tour led by the current owner, Christophe.
Take the D748 and the A87 back to Angers and book into the Mercure Angers Centre Gare (tel: (Fr) 2 41 87 37 20, www.mercure.com) for your last night. Go out for dinner at Le Dix Septième, one of Angers’ finest restaurants (tel: (Fr) 2 41 87 92 27). Housed in an 18th-century building, the restaurant oozes sophistication and offers a creative take on nouvelle cuisine in such dishes as chicken in white wine with artichokes and pinenut-flavoured polenta garnish. All that’s left is to clink glasses, filled with one of the superb local wines, and toast a tour well done.