I’ve always loved a good getaway. You know, just a brief respite from day to day life. A few days spent in a neighboring city or a weekend relaxing at the cabin, free from responsibilities and interruptions. Vacations, of course, are usually one long, decadent getaway. But during an exceptionally long vacation, sometimes you need a getaway from your getaway. After two great weeks in Paris, we were getting just the slightest bit city weary. So we hopped on a train bound for the Loire Valley.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not really that spontaneous. I’d like to be, but I’m not. Months before I had planned this mini getaway, knowing that a change of scenery might be just the ticket after a lot of togetherness in a tiny apartment in a bit city. But I digress.)
We grabbed lunch at the Monoprix, hopped on the train and headed to St. Pierre des Corps, a relatively large train station close to our final destination of Amboise. I picked up our rental car at SIXT, right by the station. I had some angst about the rental car. After all, I was the only adult with two children in a foreign country where I can’t even read all the traffic signs. My original plan was to rent a car in Paris and drive to Amboise. By some stroke of good luck and genius, I changed my mind and took the train out of the city. Driving from the train station to our hotel was definitely rural but still difficult. I was the navigator, translator and driver. It took about 30 minutes and by the time we arrived I felt like I had more than earned my glass of wine. As a side note, if you are driving in a foreign country, study the road signs ahead of time. Trust me. The rest of the world does not drive like Americans. They just don’t.
We stayed at Chateau de Pray, just out of Amboise. Our room was bigger than our apartment in Paris and beautifully appointed. The loft sleeping area for the girls was an added bonus. The grounds were amazing, the service impeccable. The heated pool felt like our own private oasis. Buffet breakfast in the morning (additional cost) was convenient and delicious. A definite win and would be ecstatic to stay here again someday.
We spent some time meandering about the town of Amboise. We loved the specialty market where we stocked up on oils, vinegars, salts and wines at a fraction of the prices found in Paris.
One of the big draws of the Loire Valley of course, are the historic chateaux dotting the countryside. You could spend weeks seeing all of them. We picked two, based on our own interests and enjoyed them thoroughly. I was able to drive to them both with the help of the car’s navigation system. The first we saw was Chenenceou, a grand estate with glorious gardens and a labyrinth. There is a cafeteria on site, lunch for three was €40. We also visited Cheverny, known for it’s hunting dogs. It is a smaller chateau but offers the excitement of feeding of the dogs at 11:00 every morning. The girls loved this but found the chateau less impressive than Chenenceou. Next to Cheverny is a storefront that offers free wine tasting of some of the regional wines. A few shops and restaurants can be found on the quiet street next to the chateau.
Another big draw of the Loire Valley are the multitude of vineyards and tasting rooms scattered over the region. There are some truly beautiful wines that come from the Loire Vally that are accessible and affordable. We stopped at Caves du Pere Auguste one afternoon. I had a lovely tasting there which included a fabulous history of the wines of the region. They even offered a grape juice tasting for children! I bought five bottles of wine there for €30. Ridiculously inexpensive, amazing wine. Carting five bottles of wine back to Paris, first by train and then by metro was no small task and I cursed myself at least 100 times but, the wines and I all survived.
The crowning glory of our time in the Loire Valley was our dinner at L’Orangerie, the restaurant on site at Chateau de Pray. A Michelin Star restaurant, L’Orangerie offers impeccable food and service. Reservations are a must. My children were accommodated and treated like princesses. The meal lasted for three hours and they made it through the entire thing without complaining! The food is local, fresh, French and delectable. My entree of blue lobster and beets with beet broth still has my mouth watering. There was an endless supply of bread. The cheese course was stunning. The dessert of wild strawberries with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream was perfection. There are multiple wine choices and a sommelier to assist you. The prices were reasonable, particularly for the children who were able to order a children’s meal for €18. This included their appetizer, amuse bouche, entree, bread, and dessert. This was fine French dining at it’s best and a splurge I won’t ever regret!
My only regret is that we didn’t have more time in this beautiful valley. This a place I could easily spend weeks, exploring, biking, drinking wine, hanging out with my fellow travelers. Once you’ve seen Paris, plan a getaway, get off the beaten path and discover the gems.