Recently we had a day out exploring some of the towns nearby to Chatellerault where we are currently based in France. We were excited to discover beautiful towns and villages all within easy reach. Highlight of the day was the medieval town of Chinon which is located in the heart of the Loire Valley, strategically built by the banks of the Vienne River. It is a town steeped in history and rich with culture. The imposing castle that sits high above the town was the preferred residence of Henry II, one of the English Plantagenet kings, and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry II died in 1189 and their son, Richard the Lionheart was born here.
As if that’s not enough to put Chinon on the map, in 1429 the teenage Joan of Arc came to Chinon to meet the Dauphin Charles VII. He was feeling low, having lost most of his kingdom, but Joan succeeded in inspiring Charles to reclaim his kingdom with her account of having heard voices and visions from God. After Charles VII succeeded, (and Joan was captured and burnt at the stake as a witch) Chinon became his capital and enjoyed a century of prosperity.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to The Royal Fortress of Chinon (the castle). It is well set up for families, with lots of bright, colourful, child friendly information boards in both English and French scattered around the grounds. These play on the legend of Arthur and the round table, Merlin and of course the sword in the stone. But there is also plenty to learn about castle life in the middle ages, Joan of Arc and the Plantagenet Kings.
After visiting the castle, we wandered down the cobbled lanes into the medieval centre of Chinon. It was surprising how quiet it was on a Saturday afternoon, but nonetheless lovely. It was easy to imagine life here hundreds of years ago in streets that have barely changed. We missed lunch in the beautiful square (lunch in France is only served between 12 and 2pm, after that the kitchen is closed to hungry sightseers, but I’ll post about France’s interesting eating habits another day!) but we were lucky enough to find a boulangerie (bakery) open and serving baguette sandwiches. The cobbles and timber houses in Chinon date back to the fifteenth century, and are everything that a camera wielding tourist would hope for in our search for authentic French country architecture.
For the wine lovers (who isn’t in France?) Chinon is one of the better known wine growing towns of the Loire. Its red wine along with that of the nearby village of Bourgueil is highly rated. Along the streets below the castle walls, and on the road to Saumur it is possible to see Troglodyte dwellings, these are cave homes carved into the limestone cliffs. Some are still occupied, and many are used by wine merchants for the sale of wine. Did you know that the word ‘cellar’ in English is ‘cave’ in French?
We would highly recommend a visit to Chinon. It is a wonderful place to spend a day or an afternoon learning history, admiring French medieval architecture and sampling wine… oh but if you want to dine in one of the excellent restaurants/cafes, make sure you plan around the 12 to 2 rule!