[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rance’s Loire Valley is a realm of mystery and beauty where every path leads to grand chateaux, tranquil vineyards and fascinating museums. This timeless region in the heart of France has been home to kings and queens, artists and poets, fair maidens and fearless warriors.
Exquisite French hospitality, wines and cuisine, not to mention the incredible artistic and architectural feats along this route, are just a few more features that make the trails of the Loire Valley one of the world’s greatest destinations.
From King Henri II to Leonardo da Vinci, these chateaux have set the stage for some of history’s greatest moments. Henri’s formidable wife, Catherine de Medici, had used the chateau previously, entertaining hundreds of her closest friends such as Nostradamus.
Following the Loire River through vineyards and fields will lead you to Chateau Amboise, which was made ever more glorious by each successive king who lived there, including Louis XI and Charles XIII. A trail such as this one also provides wonderful opportunities to stay in castles.
The ‘castle of six ladies’, Chenonceau, is next on the route. This is the castle from which Catherine unceremoniously evicted Diane after Henri II’s death. It is famous for its picturesque location spanning the River Cher, and illustrious inhabitants include the Marques family, and Louise Dupin, who created a literary salon for quiet parties and loud conversations with the hipsters of the age, such as Voltaire, Fontenelle and Rousseau.
A long ride through forests and fields is an excellent way to spend a morning, and it took our party to the Cheverny castle. The interiors are ornate and impeccable, the facades fabulous and the history a marvel.
Our final stop, Chambord, is the largest of the Loire’s castles and once again our journey included an exhilarating ride before enjoying a delicious lunch. Returning to the peace and simplicity of Blois provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past six days and enjoy a rest that Sleeping Beauty would have been proud of.
My kingdom for a horse!
Being paired with the right horse is critical, and we were delighted to discover that the horses of the Loire Valley are among the safest, most welcoming creatures you’re ever likely to ride. The herd includes Anglo-Arabs, French Saddle Horses and French trotters, and there was no doubt they’re descended from the regal steeds who served royalty in days gone by. Aged between five and 19 years, these beasts are robust, well-educated and respectful, and the best travel companions one could wish for.
…the horses of the Loire Valley are among the safest, most welcoming creatures you’re ever likely to ride
Treated like royalty
It’s impossible to avoid feeling royal while cantering up to an ancient chateau, and even more so when an exceptional support team chaperones your luggage and attends to your every need, including gorgeous picnic luncheons in the shade of towers and battlements.
This particular magical experience is available only to a select few as it requires considerable riding skill, but if you’re up to the challenge, it’s the adventure of a lifetime.
How to get there
For just R25,500 per person (excluding flights and rail) this trip dispels all thoughts of a king’s ransom and offers unbelievable value without compromising on quality. For more information visit www.prioritytravel.co.za
Text: Francois Swart. Photogrphy: Courtesy of Priority Travel
The full article appears in the March 2015 issue (97) of HQ.