The Loire river stretches east to west for about 1,012 kilometers, making it the longest river in France and the 170th in the world. I think of this majestic river, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean near St Nazaire, as the geographic division between northern and southern France. The Loire Valley during the Renaissance period was the seat of power and government. It is why there are so many châteaux along the banks of the river. Nowadays the Loire Valley is known as the garden of France, because of the vineyards, orchards and fields of vegetables which grow in abundance in its temperate climate.
We most often visit the more easterly towns of the Vallée de la Loire since we live a little north of Blois, Amboise and Orleans. That makes an easy day trip for us. In June, when we had friends from California visiting, we decided to go further west to a stretch of the valley we don't generally frequent. We discovered that it was no strain at all to get there, explore, have a leisurely lunch and dinner and still get back home just after dark. The autoroute makes the journey quite efficient.
It is a massive Château Fort, with a formal medieval strolling garden in the castle moat.
Made of schist and limestone, it was definitely conceived to withstand attack. Construction began in 1230 and it served as the fortress and residence of the Dukes of Anjou into the sixteenth century.
The astonishing Apocalypse Tapestry is housed at this Château. It is both the oldest tapestry in France and, at 100 meters in length, the longest in the world. It was produced in the twelfth century and depicts the story of The Book of Revelations. It is truly breathtaking. A few of the sections are lost to history, but most of it is well preserved and carefully restored.
We had a very satisfying lunch at the Monument Café, which is located in a pleasant garden on the château grounds and serves a buffet of charming little salads and small plates of savory concoctions.
The trip from Angers to Saumur, our next stop, was scenic. We drove along the river, going though small hamlets, sharing the road with many bikers. The Loire Valley is a favorite biking destination due to its relative flatness. On the way we stopped by Gennes to see the ruins of a Gallo-Roman amphitheater.
The Château of Saumur looks like a wedding cake sitting on top of the hill above the river and city. The views are spectacular. The town is grand.
We hadn't visited this castle before, so I was keen to go inside, but first we spent some time out-of-doors, first sipping a Perrier-Menthe at the café and then watching the exercising of some very beautiful horses. This is the headquarters of the National Horse-Riding School. They train horses and riders in classic dressage and jumping.
The château itself is not furnished, but as in so many of these historical locations, the details, like the tile floors, are stunning.
The architecture and interior elements are masterful.
We ended our day with dinner at a sidewalk café in Saumur named Brasserie de la Bourse. A thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing experience.
By the time we were leaving, the sun was golden over the western Loire.