The lovely thing about being on the Loire is that there’s lots to do. The last wild river in Europe is dotted with villages in addition to its stunning chateau. The latter, alas, not to be explored this year. Paris, Versailles and the Loire Valley chateau were our first trip to France, 14 years ago. By way of introduction, they were a stellar and addictive one.
Candes-Saint-Martin is our first port of call. A picturesque limestone village built of tufa stone carved from the surrounding cliffs, its streets are lined with hollyhocks in full bloom. Very pretty indeed.
Built between 1175 and 1225, the church is dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, credited with bringing Christianity to Gaul. He’s also credited with a miracle in the year 397 when his body was taken down river in November, allegedly causing the banks to burst into bloom (in autumn) – the first Indian summer!
Appetites whetted, it’s time for a well earned lunch at the foot of the church steps. No misorders this time – a flash fried skirt steak with ratatouille. Fromage and chocolate moulle to finish. Our proprietor recommendeds an excellent red, in a lunch sized 500ml bottle. The French have lunch truly perfected.
The village was once a key trading port for barges ferrying goods across France. Key to this, is that it’s also the junction of two rivers, the Loire and the Vienne. There are still toues, the traditional wooden boats, on the river.
Tummies sated we travel a few kilometres down the road to Montsoreau, also a white tufa stone, hollyhocks strewn, picture perfect spot. Montsoreau grew up around its 15th century castle, interestingly, for once, a Lady’s castle – Francoise de Maridor, who conducted a passionate and ultimately fatal affair with Bussy d’Amboise. A historical bad boy, it seems. The castle stands empty today, swallows swooping its turrets.
Our last stop in Montsoreau is the mushroom farm, uniquely set high into the limestones caves carved out in the troglodyte era, extended as these villages were built – they’re the source of the tufa stone. We see a display of prehistoric artefacts and fossils found in the digs and spectacularly formed exotic mushrooms, each type in its own cave. Perfect growing conditions, much cooler here, nestled into to limestone cliffs.
After a brief mis-start, a rare failure from TomTom insisting on a bridge that won’t accommodate us, Chris finds us a peaceful spot, right on the bank of the Loire. As an added bonus, it’s a spot where the river bed is exposed and the water rivulets shallow. It’s a hot spot for birds fishing and a frog chorus in fine voice. It’s binoculars out and David Attenborough hat on.
Cocktails and dinner pass, and it’s then that my patience pays off – a true jackpot. What’s that… moving fast in the water, a sharp V in its trail? Could it be, after all these years of living in hope? YES!!! It’s an otter!!
You’ve never seen me move so fast. I fly down the bank, binoculars and camera in hand to see him breifly out of the water on a centre island and then spend a happy hour following his trail upstream. His presence creates a flurry amongst the fish – best to get out of the way unless you plan to be otter sushi. I’m in otterly happy bliss.
The day is capped off with a stunning sunset. It’s going to be hard to top that. Years, years in the seeking. An otter sighting, at last. And in my favourite river, too.