Take the ferry from Poole, drive south for 229 miles from Cherbourg and you’ll reach the Loire Valley in around three to four hours. World renowned for its breathtakingly beautiful Renaissance chateaux, cathedrals, and of course wine, the Loire Valley is also home to the picturesque towns and cities of Angers, Saumur, Tours, Blois, Amboise and Orleans. Being that it is easily accessible from the UK, with much to see and do, the region is a road trip delight, ideal even for a long weekend. My carriage of choice? A stunningly gorgeous black Jaguar XF 2.7 diesel. Perfect
Opting for speed rather than scenery and heading towards Tours because of its central Loire location, I took the N13 to Caen, N158 turning into the A88 motorway, then A28 toll reaching the city in a satnav busting three and a half hours. None of the routes from Cherbourg to the Loire are that eye pleasing, but once you are there, choose your roads right and the scenery more than makes up for it. Being blessed with a capable car helps, and having tested the XF in Provence in the New Year, I was really keen for another reminder as to just why it’s been so well received by the media and indeed the buying public. Bowling along the French autoroute was truly pleasurable in the Jaguar, despite the uninspiring landscape. The classy cabin is simply one of the best I’ve been in, with everything easy to hand. The seats are incredibly comfortable, and the boot’s big enough for luggage and plenty of spoils from your trip.
Provide this Jaguar with space to stretch its legs and it’s absolutely in its element. Push the XF even a little and it rewards you with an exhilarating punch. It wants to go – and go with a delicious growl. Agile and well balanced, despite its size and hefty weight, it manages to cope extraordinarily well with tight and twisty local roads, gifting a fun and engaging driving experience on the way. On reaching the Loire Valley, it’s rather bewildering trying to decide what to take in first. There are over 800 châteaux including www.whatdiesel.com Chambord, Chenonceau and Azay-le-Rideau, 747 religious sites and places of worship, plus the National Parks of Loire-Anjou- Touraine and Perche. And that is even before we even get on to wines such as Sancerre, Coteaux du Layon, Bourgueil, sparking Saumur and perfect summer drinking, Rose d’Anjou’s.
Tours Area The beautiful Renaissance Châteaux de Chenonceau, the loved home of Diane de Poiters and Catherine de Medici, is around 30 minutes from Tours, south of Amboise. If you are feeling romantic visit this Château at night between 9.30 and 11pm, as throughout July and August it’s illuminated after dark and you can stroll through the gardens and estate to classical music. The village of Chenonceau itself is very pretty and a great place to stay and eat. On towards Blois, to Louis XIV’s Château de Chambord, it’s the largest and probably most impressive of all the Châteaux. Chinon and Saumur Region The drive through part of what’s signposted as the wine route, it took us back past Tours, through Vouvray, to the fairytale Château Azay-le-Rideau, and on to Chinon.
Chinon is a most charming, picturesque town, set right on the river, dwarfed by an impressive château, full of cobbled streets and tiny restaurants to spend a lazy lunch in. From Chinon, we headed towards Saumur in the direction of Angers on the D751 which takes you along the banks of the Loire through some oh so pretty villages and vineyards with numerous photographic opportunities and places to stop off to taste wine or have a picnic. As you leave Saumur on this road, you’ll also pass through St- Hilaire-St-Florent where there’s a row of large producers from the region, including Langlois-Château, all offering free tastings. To get a great one-stop tasting of the range of wines from the Loire, a visit to one of these is a must.
Given a longer visit, we’d have wanted to drive across to Sancerre, a charming hill top village of cobbled streets and restaurants and spend a night sampling the various Sancerre and Pouilly Fumés. Maybe next time…