Years ago, before a mortgage and kids, my husband and I rented a house, sight-unseen, for a year in France's Loire Valley. The property, a sprawling farmhouse with multiple outbuildings, was situated just outside Chinon amid sunflowers, vineyards and an assortment of dogs, goats and chickens that often wandered nonchalantly into the road between our house and that of our neighbor, from whom we bought firewood and eggs.
The neighbor also directed us where to buy our wine -- the Chinon red for which the region is famous. A local vintner would fill a five-liter pouch called a cubi, short for cubitainer, directly from a vat with a hose.
While it would be a tall order to re-create the authenticity of that experience for travelers in the Loire Valley today, the region still boasts some of France's most picturesque scenery, an array of outdoor activities like biking and hiking and, of course, wine.
On a recent trip to the region sponsored by Loire Valley Wines, we revisited Chinon and spent time in some lesser-known towns like Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2010, and Montosoreau.
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The gardens at the Chateau de la Grille are a popular wedding venue. Photo Credit: Felicity Long
We spent a lot of time tasting wines, focusing on cabernet franc, the most widely planted grape in the Loire, from which many of the local varieties are derived.
In Chinon, for example, we spent time at the Maison des Vignerons, where in July and August visitors can tour the facility, join a guided tour of the Painctes Caves underneath the royal fortress and taste the wines.
A highlight of the trip was a vineyard wine hike, known as VVR or Vignes, Vins et Randos (Vineyards, Wine and Walks), which takes place every year in early September. Walkers set out on one of several trails through the vineyards that encompass Unesco World Heritage Sites accompanied by a local winegrower; at regular intervals, they come upon stations where wine growers offer tastings of their wines.
Walks range from about four to five miles, while designated family routes top out at around two-and-a-half miles.
Our visit to the 15th century Chateau de la Grille was another highlight, where wine lovers can taste and buy reds, roses and sparkling roses Tuesdays to Saturdays and book guided tours of the vineyard and winery.
The chateau is small by Loire standards, but its facade and grounds are charming and serve as a popular wedding venue.
Alfresco dining in style at Chez Odette in Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil, part family home and part winery and restaurant. Photo Credit: Felicity Long
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