Places to see & chateaux to visit

An hour’s drive from Chateau de Picol takes you right to the centre of the Loire Valley, with its many historical sites of interest and of-course, its world-renowned chateaux. Just as beautiful, the towns and villages of the Vienne boast many fascinating medieval buildings and monuments, as well as local food markets. There’s plenty to keep adults and children amused!

The Loire Valley

Château de Villandry – an hour and 20 minutes by car
chateau-villandryVillandry, right in the middle of the Loire Valley, is a Renaissance chateau sitting at the centre of three levels of terraced gardens. It was the last of the great Renaissance chateaux to be built on the river Loire. It is distinguished for the harmony of its architecture and in particular, its wonderful all-seasons gardens. www.chateauvillandry.fr

Château d’Azay le Rideau – an hour and 10 minutes by car
chateau-azay-le-rideauAzay-le-Rideau has to be one of the prettiest of the Loire chateaux! Built on an island in the middle of the Indre river by a rich banker during the reign of François the first, it reflects the latest building techniques and innovation of the time. With its feet in the waters of the Indre, its reflected facades gives it an other-wordly quality that makes it unique, amongst the Loire chateau anyway. azay-le-rideau.monuments-nationaux.fr

Château de Chenonceau – an hour and 20 minutes by car
chateau-chenonceauA property of the Crown, then a royal residence, Château de Chenonceau is renowned not just for its architectural originality but for its inhabitants, namely, Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Médicis. Today, the chateau is, after Versailles, the most visited in France. www.chenonceau.com

Château Royal d’Amboise – an hour and 25 minutes by car
chateau-amboiseKing Charles VIII and François 1st (between the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries) transformed the medieval fortress of Amboise into a magnificent royal residence. It became a kind of cultural mecca, with many of the most noted European writers and artists of the day being invited to the Court of Amboise. One of them, Leonardo de Vinci, spent the last part of his life here in exile from Italy and is buried in the Chateau’s chapel. www.chateau-amboise.com

Chinon – an hour by car
chinonChinon is a picturesque town with a medieval heart. You can spend time walking round and admiring the old town and its quaint streets, its squares, gardens and quayside, which straddle the length of the Vienne river. Its medieval quarter and the fortress that dominates the hill above the town are not to be missed. www.touraineloirevalley.com

Saumur – an hour and 15 minutes by car
saumurSaumur is France’s equestrian capital and the Cadre Noir, France’s national horse-riding school. It is one of the many places that you might want to visit here. The town’s first buildings were constructed during the 11th century and it is home to two chateaux: Château de Saumur, a fortressed castle that was built during the 14th century for the Dukes of Anjou and has played the role of manor house, Governor’s residence, prison and arms depot; and the elegant Château de Beaulieu, built in the 18th Century and designed by architect Jean Drapeau. The town lies at a natural crossing point between the rivers Loire and Thouet and is surrounded by vineyards. www.ot-saumur.fr

Tours – an hour and 10 minutes by car
toursThe capital of the Indre and Loire departments, Tours has a reputation for being discreet and is therefore a town where people live, as opposed to being a top tourist destination. That being said, Tours has some very well-preserved historic quarters, a fine arts museum, a magnificent cathedral and basilica, idyllic parks and some great places to shop, including several lively food markets, not least in the central marketplace (les halles). www.tours-tourisme.fr

Richelieu – 35 minutes by car
richelieu Designed by architect Jacques Lemercier, the chateau and the town of Richelieu were the vision of just one man, Cardinal Richelieu. Almost 2000 workers worked on its construction, which was started in 1631 and almost finished by 1642. However, come the revolution, Richelieu’s chateau was bound to be on the target list and it’s stone was ‘borrowed’ to build many of the buildings surrounding Richelieu’s historic centre. Happily, its vast park, the dome, its cellars, the orangery and monumental gate survived and make a delightful spot for a walk or picnic. www.ville-richelieu.fr

(textes : www.loire-chateaux.org et www.touraineloirevalley.com – photos : wikipédia)


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Medieval towns in the Vienne

Poitiers – 40 minutes by car
poitiersA city packed with history and culture and capital of the historic region of Poitou, Poitiers’ town centre boasts some remarkable medieval buildings, pretty squares and parks – including the glorious Parc de Blossac; as well as some magnificent churches and cathedrals. Notable among them is Notre-Dame-la-Grande, a Roman Catholic edifice that was built between the 11th and 12th centuries. Its famous ornamental facade in which the main episodes from the Bible are carved is a must-see. Poitiers is also a University town and its 20,000 plus students give it a lively, youthful energy. www.ot-poitiers.fr

Chatellerault – 30 minutes by car
chatelleraultBuilt on the banks of the Vienne river, Châtellerault’s origins date from the Middle-Ages. From that period until the Renaissance, its industry consisted predominantly of cutlery and sword making, tanning and watchmaking. In 1816, the commune became a centre for arms manufacture for the French government, a link which is preserved today in the form of the French military’s archives on armament matters, which are all located in the old weapon manufacturing facility. But Châtellerault charms are not all about arms! As you would expect from a town with a rich industrial past, the town has its fair share of architectural splendours, museums – including the Museum of Cars, Motorbikes and Bicycles (le Musée Auto Moto Vélo) and one dedicated to French philosopher René Descartes, who spent his childhood here; gardens, a lake and forest. tourisme.chatellerault.fr

Angles sur l’Anglin – an hour by car
Angles sur l'AnglinAptly designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France, Angles-sur-l’Anglin sits high on a hill overlooking the river Anglin, which was used to transport salt for storage in the town’s caves. The ruins of the fortress that was built between the 11th and 15th century by the Counts of Lusignan dominate the High Town, where Saint-Martin’s church, the chapel of Saint-Pierre and its panoramic view can be found. In the Low Town, the Sainte-Croix Quarter has pretty houses with characteristic plain tile roofs and a Romanesque church, among the many sights of interest. Don’t miss the Jours d’Angles Festival when there are embroidery workshops that demonstrate the traditional fine pulled-thread embroidery that is unique to this area, or the ‘interpretation centre’, where computer and laser copy technology take visitors back to the end of the ice age and into the caves and rock shelters of their ancestors. www.anglessuranglin.com

Chauvigny – 50 minutes by car
chauvignyFrom its promontory overlooking the Vienne, Chauvigny’s medieval quarter is unique in Europe in that vestiges of five chateau/forts can be found here. The ruins of the Bishop’s Castle now host the wonderful ‘Giants of the Sky’ (Les Géants du Ciel) Falconry display. Meanwhile, Chauvigny’s VeloRail (4-wheeled frames with small rail wheels that can be pedalled by up to 5 people) follows the ancient train track, and is fun for adults and children alike! www.chauvigny.fr

(textes : conseil général de la Vienne ; photos : wikipédia)