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A week spent exploring the Loire Valley in September 2012


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This trip report was originally published on Slow Travel. All the pictures can be found here.


I visited France with my two aunts in 1960 and one of the highlights of the trip were the fairy tale Châteaux of the Loire, especially the beautiful Chenonceau.

We enjoyed Brittany so much the previous year that we decided we wanted to see more of France and a week in the Loire Valley was top of the list. I still have my diary from the 1960 trip and it was interesting to compare notes 52 years on. We decided to follow the Loire Valley with two weeks in the Auvergne, a mountainous area which hardly gets a mention in the guide books and few visitors. We spent the first week in Cantal before moving to the Haute Loire for the second week.

As usual we booked ferry sailings and accommodation through Brittany Ferries. By booking early we got a 20% discount. We booked an overnight sailing from Portsmouth to St Malo for the outward trip, coming back overnight from Caen as there is no overnight service from St Malo.

We had decided to stop in the Loches area and booked a gite in the tiny hamlet of Poire on the edge of Perrusson, about 10 minute drive from Loches, but is no longer in their current Brochure.

Perrusson is a pleasant small village of well maintained houses and has kept its bakers and butchers as well as a large supermarket and petrol station on the road to Loches. There is a large Marie next to the post office and C10th/11th church. This is a National Monument but was always locked. It was a good base to explore the area.

Did the Châteaux live up to 50 year old memories? Yes, and Chenonceau is as beautiful as ever, even though it is a lot busier.

As the report is so long I have broken it up into separate sections for the different places we visited.
#2 Impressions
#3 To Perrusson - Candes-St-Martin
#4 To Perrusson - Fontevraud
#5 To Perrusson - Tavant
#6 The area around Perrusson - Beaulieu-les-Loches
#7 The area around Perrusson - La Corroire du Liget
#8 The area around Perrusson - Montressor
#9 Loches - the town and St Ours Church
#10 Loches - Donjon and Logis Royale
#11 To the north west of Perrusson - Cormery
#12 To the north west of Perrusson - St Épain
#13 To the north west of Perrusson - Crissay-sur-Manse
#14 To the north west of Perrusson - Azay-le-Rideau
#15 To the north west of Perrusson - Azay-le-Rideau Château
#16 To the north west of Perrusson - Troglodyiques des Groupillieres
#17 To the north west of Perrusson - Saché
#18 To the north of Perrusson - Lavardin
#19 To the north of Perrusson - La Commanderie d’Arville
#20 To the north east of Perrusson - Château de Chambord
#21&2 To the north east of Perrusson - Château de Chenonceau
#23 To the north east of Perrusson - Château de Cheverny
#24 To the north east of Perrusson - Chémery
#25 To the north east of Perrusson -Fougiere-sur-Biéve
#26 To the north east of Perrusson - Montrichard
#27 To the north east of Perrusson - Tasica Gallo-Roman site
#28 To the north east of Perrusson - St-Aignan
#29 To the east of Perrusson - Châteauneauf-sur-Cher
#30 To the east of Perrusson - Massay
#31 To the south of Perrusson - Palluau-sur-Indre
#32 To the south of Perrusson - St Savin
#33 To the south of Perrusson - Antigny
#34 To the south of Perrusson - Jouhet
#35 To the south of Perrusson - Angles sur l'Anglin
#36 To the south of Perrusson - Preuilly sur Claise
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This is wine country and there are vineyards planted throughout the area. The rock is limestone and in September everywhere was very dry and yellow. Arable fields had been harvested and some had already been ploughed. Pasture had been cut for hay. Sunflowers are grown here and a month earlier the fields would have been glorious with their bright yellow flowers. There is a lot of maize grown, mainly for animal feed and we also saw fields of millet. Round St Aignan there are market gardens growing asparagus and fruit. Apples were being picked. Along the River Indre between La Sablonniere and Saché there are fields of ossiers which are used for basket making in Villaines-les-Roches.

Poplar trees line many of the roads and are covered with clumps of mistletoe. Being limestone country, Old Man’s Beard grows everywhere and, in September, was covered with its characteristic seed heads.

This is gently rolling countryside with a few scattered farms which is pretty but does begin to get monotonous.

We avoided large towns like Tours and Blois and concentrated on the smaller towns and villages. Many of these are built along rivers. All are built around the church and Marie or Hôtel de Ville and there is usually plenty of parking in the main square. Most have kept a bakers and butchers. Many have a château.

Some of these are still lived in and may be open. Others are now up market hotels while others continue to grow vines and make wine. Most of the châteaux date from the C16th but a few like Montrichard, still have C11th donjons. Some are huge like Chambord, others incredibly romantic like Chenonceau, while others like Chémery have seen better days and are slowly being restored by enthusiastic owners. Many of the smaller châteaux are quite expensive for what there is to see. Often we found the buildings were more interesting from the outside. We made a point of limiting the number of châteaux we went round to avoid château fatigue.

Building stone is the local tufa (limestone) with dark slate roofs. Houses in the villages are usually single storey with dormer windows. Town houses are larger. In many places there are troglodyte houses cut into the limestone, and some are still lived in. At Troglodytique des Groupilliers, some of the old farms have been restored illustrating rural life 100 years ago.

Many of the villages have tremendous character and there are many ‘most beautiful villages in France’ to be found here. This is a marketing strategy to encourage tourism and bring back life to the village. Crissay-sur-Manse is a good example.

There are, however, many other villages which don’t fall into this category, don’t get a mention in the guide books and have little information on the web, but are just as nice. Fougères-sur-Bièvre is an example with its C15th château, attractive Marie and nice church. Chédigny is another delightful small village which markets itself as a ‘village of flowers’.

The Plantagenets held much of the land here in the C12th. Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and King John all had links here. The land was fought over fiercely by the English and the French during the Hundred Years War. Many towns were fortified like Loches and on a much smaller scale, La Corroire. In small villages like Candes-St-Martin, the church might be fortified to provide a place of safety.

Many of the churches were built in C11/12th and are marvellous examples of Romanesque architecture.

Several still have frescoes on the walls, like those at Tavant, St Aignan and in the Gartempe Valley.

Many were Abbey churches until the Revolution when many of the Abbey buildings were destroyed and the church has now become the parish church. In Commery, the remains of the old abbey buildings can still be seen scattered around the village.

We spent a lot of time visiting churches, not because we are particularly religious but because we enjoy the architecture. There is always a sense of excitememnt when you push open the door as you never know what to expect. here is always something to catch the attention. Many of them have superbly carved pillar capitals and elaborate carved doorways. Beaulieu-les-Loches has a splendid carved and painted Abbot’s chair and delightful misericords on the choir stalls.

Many like St Sulpice in Palluau-sur-Indre have superb carved and painted statues on the walls. St Roche is found in many churches. He looked after the sick in Rome. He caught a disease and isolated himself in the woods. Everyday a dog brought him bread. The statues show St Roch pointing out a carbuncle on his leg with a dog with a bread roll in his mouth.

We used Michelin 1:200,000 road atlas for planning hte trip and navigation once in France. Road signing was good, so we rarely got lost. Roads are well maintained and quiet. We found driving along the white or yellow roads much more interesting than the major red roads.

I had carefully planned out itineraries for the different days and had over planned with much too much for each day. We also found that these changed as different places caught our fancy. We enjoyed the Loire Valley and some of the châteaux are superb. The only place which didn’t live up to expectation was Fontevraud Abbey. However by the end of a week we were beginning to find the scenery boring and were ready to move on.
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We caught the overnight sailing from Portsmouth to St Malo, which gave us a splendid view of the fortified old town as we docked.

We drove through open countryside with arable fields, cows and a lot of maize. Once we lost the St Malo traffic, the roads were very quiet. All the settlement was off the N12 and the miles slid by quickly and I turned over yet another page in the road atlas. We lost the sweetcorn as we got near the Loire Valley and this was replaced by sunflowers and arable. There were vineyards along the valley bottom and up terraced slopes Everywhere was very dry and the grass was yellow and dead.

The road along the Loire was a lot slower with small settlements running into each other. There are a lot of small châteaux along the river valley. Some are now hotels, others with vineyards attached, produce wine.

We had a short break in CANDES-ST-MARTIN, which is marketed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. There is a good view from the bridge of river with sand banks, traditional boats and the village dominated by its fortified church.

It is an attractive and well kept settlement with very narrow streets with traffic calming measures which decrease the width of the road in places to slow down traffic. Pavements are very narrow so you have to watch out for traffic. Streets are lined with nice old stone houses of white tufa limestone with dark tile roofs. Narrow flower lined alleyways lead down to the river or up the hillside. There are several specialist shops but all were shut for lunch.

We headed for the church. There has been a church here since St Martin arrived in the C4th, built a hermitage and converted the local population. He is buried in one of the chapels inside the church.

The church was built in the C12th from white tufa and has a dark tiled roof. The fortified porch with room above was added in C15th during the Hundred Years War. There are machicolations and crenulations along the top of the tower. The front is decorated with columns and statues.

A flight of stairs leads up into the porch has a large arched ceiling with a central pillar and the remains of of old and new testament figures in niches on the walls, separated by pillars and with angels above. Many lost their heads during the Revolution. Below is a wide carved frieze with bands of oak leaves and carvings of angel heads, kings and queens and green men. The detail is amazing. There is a splendid tympanum above the door with Christ in Majesty surrounded by two figures.

Inside the nave is massive and very tall with two side aisles. There are tall fluted pillars with a band of carving at the top leading to pointed arches and a vaulted ceiling.

There are carvings and statues, many still with the remains of paint

There is a well in the corner of the south transept, a reminder that the church was a place of refuge in troubled times. Near it is the chapel to the Virgin, with a painting of the Adoration of the Virgin. Above is a statue of the Virgin and Child.

The simple high altar is set in a small apse. Along the walls are old wooden choir stalls with misericords.

The north transept chapel is dedicated to St Martin and there is a large painting of St Martin above the arch. A marble slab on the floor records St Martin died here 8 November 397. The altar has a statue of him lying below it and the stained glass window above also depicts St Martin. On the left is a stained glass window of monks mourning his death and taking his body by boat to Tours. This is the site of pilgrimage and there are many marble plates on the chapel walls giving thanks to St Martin.
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Next stop was Fontevraud, chosen as this is the burial place of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart - all an integral part of English history. This is somewhere I have been wanting to see for years, so I was looking forward to the visit. Knowing it is a World Heritage Site, I was expecting somewhere rather special. It was a major disappointment.

We didn’t get off to a good start. Fontevraud is a busy tourist centre and was very busy. We could see the Abbey surrounded by a large wall. Signing is poor and we missed the gateway and entrance when we drove through the town and had decided reluctantly to give it a miss when we spotted the small and poorly signed entrance off the square.

This had been one of the largest monastic complexes in Europe and was very prosperous as many female members of the aristocracy ‘retired’ here. Eleanor of Aquitaine spent her last years here. It was originally five separate priories each with it’s own church, cloister, chapter house, refectory, kitchen and dormitory. Until the Revolution, it was ruled over by an Abbess chosen from the nobility who was in charge of the whole community.

After the Revolution, the monastic buildings were turned into a prison, holding more than 2000 prisoners. Buildings were substantially modified with new walls and partitions to accommodate workshops (making buttons from the pearl shells, gloves, nets, blankets for the army) as well as dormitories for the prisoners. New buildings were erected and many survive. The prison was closed in 1963 when restoration work began using some prison labour. The last prisoners left in 1985.

It is no longer used as a religious building and is now a cultural centre with the Abbey used for concerts. There is a museum about prison life.

Through the gateway, the room to the left seems to be an exhibition space. It leads into a big courtyard surrounded by white tufa buildings. At the opposite side is the ticket office with a large shop off. We were given a booklet in English which had some nice pictures but very little information.

The ticket office leads out onto the terrace where there is a nice view down to the church with the medieval kitchen off the cloisters. This is the only part of the complex open to the public. It is surrounded by other buildings which were not open or identified.

The original Abbey church dates from the C12th but has been heavily restored after being used as a prison. This is a building which is more impressive from the outside with its buttresses west front with tall pointed towers above.

The church is very simple and plain inside, with wall pillars with carved capitals, round arches and a series of small domes along the nave ceiling. In spite of all the visitors it felt a dead and sterile place with little atmosphere.

The Abbey had close links with the Plantagenet kings and many of the family are buried here. At the end of the nave before the transept crossing are the four Plantagenet tombs surrounded by a low wall. Henry II and Eleanor lie side by side with Richard and Isabella of Angouême ( second wife of John) at their feet. The hearts of John and Henry III were buried somewhere in the Abbey, but their location is no longer known.

The stained glass windows were casting colour across the faces of Eleanor and Henry when we arrived bringing the figures to life. When we left the light had moved round and the tombs felt lifeless and rather forlorn.

There is a modern stone altar in the chancel, which has tall Norman style pillars separating the ambulatory which has three apses off it. There are rather nice decorative carved stone screens separating the ambulatory from the transept.

The cloisters have vaulted roofs with carved bosses and very decorative carved archways on the walls. The central area however when we visited was occupied by a large wooden belvedere with steps and slopes which completely hid the architecture and we felt to be an unnecessary intrusion. Views from the top weren’t up to much either.

The chapter house doorway is elaborately carved with pillars, foliage and small figures. Inside the walls are covered with C16th pictures of the life of Christ. Above is the dormitory reached by a staircase. This is now an exhibition area. When we visited, it was in darkness apart from long hanging tubes of red light arranged in a swirling pattern. From what we could see in the darkness, it did seem an interesting wooden structure. But by now we were feeling completely disillusioned by the place.

Below are the cellars and the refectory is along another side wall. This is a long stone building with an arched ceiling which leads into the medieval kitchens which have a splendid pointed tiled roof with tall, slender chimneys. They are built of Charente stone which is harder than tufa and more resistant to heat. The outside walls are carved with pointed pyramids.

Inside there are eight small apses off the large empty space in the centre. One apse was used to provide hot embers to keep food warm. Meals were prepared in the apses on the opposite side to the prevailing wind to avoid back flows of smoke. There were a complicated system of chimneys to get rid of smells and smoke.

There was a small and expensive cafe attached to the refectory and the gardens were disappointing. Overall we were very disappointed and felt it was very expensive for what there was. If you want to see the Plantagenet tombs have a look at the pictures on the internet.
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We followed the river to Tavant where we made a short stop to visit Église ST NICHOLAS. This is a small C11th building, next to the Marie and surrounded by beautifully kept gardens. It has an elaborately carved west door. Above the transept is a small C17th bell tower with a hexagonal tiled roof with a small cupola on the top. The south aisle was removed at some time and the wall now has large buttresses to support it.

Inside there is a simple nave with round wall pillars with carved capitals which continue as the ribs of the barrel ceiling. Steps on either side of the crypt doorway lead up to the chancel. There are beautiful paintings of angels on the chancel ceiling. The C12th choir has a painted apse with Christ in Majesty surrounded by more angels.

There are more frescoes in the crypt, but this can only be visited by a guided tour. These take about 45 minutes and are supposed to run every hour. (If there is no one in the church enquire at the Marie next door about a guided tour.) There is no access to the crypt once a tour has started. Unfortunately there was one in the crypt when we arrived and we didn’t have time to wait until it ended.

This was a delightful find ignored by the guide books and with little information on the web. It is well worth finding.

By now it was getting quiet late and it had been a long day. It was time to head to our gite.
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Beaulieu-les-Loches is across the river from Loches. In the C11th Foulques Nerra, Count of Anjou, founded a Benedictine Abbey here. A town grew up round the Abbey with a mint, market and fairs. It didn’t have the strong defences of neighbouring Loches and was twice occupied by the English. Merchant, burghers and peasants began to gather in Loches rather than Beaulieu. During the Wars of Religion the abbey was plundered by the Huguenots. The abbey assets were sold off during the Revolution and the sanctuary became the parish church. The town further declined in the C19th and is now a suburb of Loches.

Recently, as a means of promoting tourism, there has been a renewed interest in the history and heritage of the town. There is a town trail with information and leaflets from the Marie. Equipped with these, we set out to explore.

It is an interesting town to explore. After the Hundred Years War a wall had been built round the town. The gateways have gone but it is possible to follow the line of the walls to the south east of the old town. Outside the walls are market gardens, although most are now disused.

Outside the south gate of the town was a Leper hospital. The building dates from the C12th and is a sturdy rectangular building. This has been restored and is now a dwelling.

Many of the C16th half timber frame or stone houses survive in the centre of the town. Streets are narrow and can get busy with traffic.

In the centre is what is referred to as the C12th Templars House, although there are no surviving documents to prove it was built by the Templars. It is a large solidly built stone building. Stone steps lead up to the door on the first floor. A covered archway leads into a courtyard.

Close to it is Hôtel Suzor, a C17thC house belonging to the Suzor family, a wealthy manufacturing family of cloth makers and wool merchants.

The 15thC Agnes Sorrell’s house is on the northern edge of the old town, although there is no documented proof she stayed here. This was probably part of a much larger mansion.

A bit further to the north is Villa St Pierre which was built on the site of the C11th église St-Pierre, which had been built outside the wall. The base of the round tower survives as part of the building along with traces of the nave and choir.

ÉGLISE ST-LAURENT dates from the C11th, although most of the present building is newer than this, and was the parish church.

After the Revolution, this became the family burial vault of Marquis de Bridieu. It is no longer used apart from a few musical events. It is a huge barn of a building with a stubby bell tower.

Inside, the nave is short but very wide. Big round arches connect the side aisles and the chancel. There are the remains of frescoes on the walls, particularly on the chancel arch above the south aisle. The walls are plain apart from the remains of a memorial tombstone on the south wall. There are no altars in the north aisle or chancel At the end of the south aisle is a stone slab with two small memorial tablets on either side.

ÉGLISE ABBATIALE DE L’ABBAYE DE LA SAINTE-TRINITÉ was built in the C11th by Foulques Nerra in atonement for his murder of Hugh de Beauvais and also as a suitable burial place. The Abbey was sacked and burnt by the English during the Hundred Years War and there was further damage during the Wars of Religion. In the C16th the nave and choir were badly damaged and in the C18th, the transept tower collapsed.

Now only the C12th west tower survives with its spire and corner pinnacles. Parts of the north wall of the nave remain attached to the tower, and the position of the nave pillars is marked on the ground.

The C20th church is built into the ruins of the old chancel. The remains of the original windows can be seen on the the outside wall of the nave. The large west doors are kept locked and entry is through a small door at the end of the south wall.

The chancel and the east end of the nave are part of the original C11/12th building. The rest of the nave is later. The nave is very tall with two side aisles and is very plain inside.

The south aisle has a stone sarcophagus in the floor containing the body of Foulques Nerra (970-1040) and there is an inscription carved in the wall above. On the end wall of the south aisle are carvings of Joseph and the young Jesus, and also Mary with Jesus, with a small wooden cross between them.

There is a very ornate altar at the end of the north transept which has a glass coffin underneath containing a body, although there is no documentation about this, or who it might be.

Steps lead up into the chancel with a small wooden mass altar and very stylish carved wood eagle lectern. On the side walls are old choir stalls with beautifully carved misericords.

There is no high altar, but at the east end is a splendid Abbot’s chair of carved and painted wood, with a crucifix above it. On either side are statues of St Paul holding a sword and St Peter holding the key of Heaven with a cockerel at his feet.

Next to the Abbey is the Hôtel de Ville, a large classical building which was originally built as a Convent in 1700. It was sold after the Revolution and became the Hôtel de Ville.

Across the road is the Abbot’s House.

Beaulieu-les-Loches may be overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, but really does merit a visit.
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To the east of Beaulieu-les-Loches is the FORÊT DE LOCHES, which was a royal hunting forest until the Revolution. It is now state owned and is a source of timber as well as being used for recreational purposes with walking and riding routes. There are three Pyramids marked on the map; Pyramide de St Quentin, Pyramide de Genillé and Pyramide des Chartreux. These are stone built obelisks, each of a slightly different design built about 1770. They are placed at major intersections in the forest and are thought to be meeting points for the hunts.

CHARTREUSE DU LIGET is off the D760 between Beaulieu-les-Loches and Montresor. It was originally a monastery founded by Henry II in the C12th as a penance for the murder of Thomas á Beckett. These buildings, apart from the church, were destroyed during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion and were sold off during the Revolution. The present buildings are C18th.

It is surrounded by a tall stone wall with a splendid gateway with a carving of St Bruno and topped with urns. There are outbuildings along the driveway with the main house at the end. This is now let out for holiday lets. It is possible to go in and wander round the site and look at the church.

A short distance beyond, signed off the other side of the road, is LA CORROIRE DU LIGET, a small fortified farmhouse. There is an honesty box in the gatehouse and a detailed information booklet in French.

It is surrounded by a wall with a moat and a small bridge to the massive C13/15th fortified gateway tower.

The old farmhouse has been restored and now does bed and breakfast. There is a row of barns on the other side of the gateway.

At the corner of the walls is a small pigeon loft, which is leaning at an alarming angle.

The church is in the centre of the site and is massive. It is a very plain C11th building with a simple round doorway and buttresses. An upper level with widows has been added later.

The nave is bare, with the only light from two large windows in the south wall and the smaller windows in the chancel. There is a mural of the crucifixion (1935) on the back wall of the chancel.

Off the north side of the church is a huge double cellar with a massive round central pillar supporting the roof. This was used to store grain and also as a workshop for making hemp ropes or for weaving the fibres.

This leads into the remains of two mills, again with a massive supporting central pillar. Steps lead down into the wheel pit and there are the remains of the leat which fed in water and the millstones. One mill was used for grinding grain; the other for tanning of skins, or crushing the fibres of retted hemp.

Again this is somewhere that hardly features in the guide books. It is well worth visiting.
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Montresor is about 20 minutes drive from Perrusson. It is another of the most beautiful villages in France, selected for its beautiful setting, fine buildings and lovely surroundings. It is dominated by the the château built high above the River Indrois with the remains of its wall, donjon of Foulques Nerra, C15th buildings and a large church. There is a nice walk along the base of the walls.

The Hôtel de Ville is in a splendid C16th house with a watchtower. The C17th market hall has solid wooden pillars supporting the beamed roof. Steps lead up to the room under the tiled roof which is now a permanent arts and exhibition centre.

On the river is the old lavoir and a mill. There is a cafe, tabac and a small tourist type shop.

The CHÂTEAU is built high above the River Indrois on the site of the C11th fortifications built by Foulques Nerra. This was one of the first stone donjons to be built and parts still survive.

The curtain wall with ruined corner towers and gatehouse was built by Henry II in an attempt to save his French territory from the French King. Inside are pleasant gardens and the early C16th château built by Imbert de Bastarnay who was adviser to several French Kings and grandfather of Diane de Poitiers. It has mullioned windows on the south side facing river, gabled dormers and two machicolated towers.

In 1849 the château was bought and restored by Count Xavier Branicki, a Polish emigré, who had close links to the future Napoleon III. His descendants still live here and there are many family portraits and heirlooms. The Second Empire decor remains virtually unaltered. It receives few visitors and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.

The COLLÉGIALE CHURCH was built between 1519-40 by Imbert de Bastarnay as a family mausoleum but is now the parish church. The Bastarnay tomb originally stood in the centre of the church but was smashed and thrown out during the Revolution. When the church was restored in 1875, the tomb was rebuilt at the back of the west aisle.

The church is very tall with a double wooden doorway at the west end. Above is an elaborately carved portico with statues and floral decorations. The statues were decapitated during the Revolution. On either side, half way up is a frieze with the faces of the four evangelists.

Entry is through a small side door at the back of the south wall. At the back of the church is a small stone font with a carved baptism scene on the lid. On the opposite side is the Bastarnay Monument made of white marble and surrounded by wrought iron rails. The figures are Imbert de Bastarnay, his wife and their son.

The nave windows are blind and now have large paintings on them. Over the west door is a stained glass window with St John, St Peter and John the Baptist.

The chancel is almost as big as the nave. It has an elaborately carved marble altar with the last supper on the base.

Above the altar is a bright stained glass window. The bottom shows the scourging of Christ, the middle has Christ carrying the cross and at the top is the crucifixion with Christ and the two robbers. The C16th wooden choir stalls have beautifully carved misericords.

There are small chapels on either side of the chancel. There is a simple stone altar with Jesus on the north side and a large C17th painting of the Annunciation. The south altar has a statue of Joseph and the young Jesus on one side and John the Baptist on the other side.

There are large altars at the ends of the transepts. That in the north transept has a crowned statue of the Virgin Mary holding a lily and the baby Jesus.

On the walls are statues of Joan of Arc, St Theresa, and St Francis as well as marble ‘merci’ plates.
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Perusson is about 10 minutes drive from Loches. This was a walled citadel and there were excellent views of the Donjon and Logis Royale perched on a rocky promontory high above the Indre, from the D943 on the way into Loches. Between the two is St Ours Church with its twin towers with tall spires. The other notable structure on the skyline is Tour St-Antoine across the road from the Tourism Office. This was a belfry tower built between 1529-1575 for the old church of St Ours which no longer exists.

In the C6th, St Ours founded a priory here. In the Middle Ages, the town was a stronghold of the Counts of Anjou (who were also the Kings of England) and who turned Loches into an impregnable fortified town. Later the town was captured by the French and, until the Revolution, was a royal town administered by Governors appointed by the King. Many kings stayed here in the Logis. As the town grew additional walls were built.

Traffic is always busy in Loches. We missed the Tourism Office (a large modern building with limited parking just after Beaulieu-les-Loches turn and the road to the station), which sells reduced entry tickets for several of the châteaux in the area.

We decided to park in the station car park which is easy to find and there is plenty of free parking and it is not too far to walk to centre of town.

Loches is an attractive town. The old town is perched on a rocky promontory above the River Indre, with the newer town straggling round its base. We just spent our time in the old town. This was very rewarding. The church was an interesting building and the Logis Royale and Donjon were well worth the entry charge.

There are remains of the three defensive walls built in the C11th, C12th and C13th. Two gateways remain, Porte des Cordeliers and the C15th Porte Picois, next to the impressive Hôtel de Ville.

Many of the houses are C16th and were large, splendid buildings. Narrow streets with shops lead up to the old town.

The innermost wall was built in the C11th and protects the core of the old town. This consists of the Donjon, Logis Royale, Église St-Ours and a few large and well spaced out stone houses. Originally there was just one gateway, the C13th Porte Royale, a massive structure with machicolations and round towers on either side.

Now there are additional smaller gates through the wall. The best views of Loches are from the parapet walk along the front of the Logis Royale.

ÉGLISE ST-OURS is in the centre of the old town occupying a commanding position above the River Indre between Logis Royal and the Donjon. It has a distinct and eccentric outline with two octagonal pyramids over the nave and between the two non-identical spires. There is a larger square tower above the transept and smaller towers at the four corners. Above the west porch is a shorter hexagonal tower with tiled spire.

In the C6th St Ours founded a monastery here. In the C10th Geoffrey, Count of Anjou and father of Foulques Nerra, built the Collegiate Church of Our Lady. There is nothing of this building left today.

The present building dates from the C11th to C15th, and was restored in the C19th. It is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. 

The square base of the west porch tower, lower parts of the nave walls and parts of the north wall of the transept are C11th The rest of the church is C12th apart from the north aisle which was added in the C15th. The archways between the nave and the side aisles were only opened in the C19th during the restorations. Before then the only connection were two small passageways at each side of the transept crossing. After the French Revolution, the chapter of the Collegiate Church of Our Lady was dissolved and the church was named St Ours, becoming the parish church.

There is a massive buttressed entrance porch at the west end of the church with narrow pillars with carved capitals supporting round arches above the doorway. The ceiling is rib vaulted and carved with animals and monsters, geometrical patterns, leaves, palms... Inside the porch there is a large Gallo-Roman stoup with carved panels round the outside.

The polychrome doorway was badly defaced during the Revolution, but is still pretty impressive and traces of paint are still visible. Round pillars with carved capitals support elaborately carved and painted arches, decorated with birds, monkeys, hares, bears, mythological monsters, minstrels and acrobats. Above is a beautifully carved tympanum with the Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus in her lap. On the left, the Magi are bringing their gifts. On the right is St Joseph and beyond him are the three magi asleep in the same bed. Above them is the remains of the angel waking them and warning them to return home a different way to avoid King Herod.

The nave is large and very plain with a vaulted ceiling and huge paintings hang on the walls. There are no pillars, just low arches opened during the C19th restoration into the side aisles. Stained glass windows in the nave have a dog toothed border below and blue or red flowers on a pale grey/beige background.

The tomb of Agnes Sorrell is now at the back of the north aisle, with sheep at her feet and angels at her head. She was reputed to be the most beautiful woman in France. She was the official mistress of Charles VII of France and had four children by him before dying aged 25, probably from mercury poisoning. There is some doubt as to whether she was poisoned or whether the mercury was some kind of medicine.

In the crossing, there is a free standing mass altar which has a beaten metal front with a cross and a design of trees underneath. The marble high altar has a gilt retable with a gilt host box with cross above it. Above is a stained glass window of the Virgin and Child.

The small chapel at the end of the south aisle has a marble altar with a statue of Christ above. On the side wall is the remains of a C12th fresco of St Brice which was removed from the crypt and has been mounted on a wooden board.
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The DONJON is at the far end of the peninsula and has had a chequered history. It was built round the monastery founded in C5th by St. Ours. Foulques Nerra, 4th Count of Anjou, built a stone keep here in the C11th and it is one of the oldest surviving keeps and a major stronghold of Foulques Nerra during his war with the House of Blois.

It was the stronghold of the Dukes of Anjou and Henry II and Richard the Lion Heart stayed here. Loches was the most important town in southern Touraine, and the court came here frequently in medieval times. In 1193, John Lackland (‘bad’ Prince John) yielded it to Philippe Auguste. It was later regained by Richard I after a siege lasting three hours (if the legend is to be believed).

In 1205, Philippe Auguste reconquered fortress after a year long siege. Since then it has remained in the hands of the French crown and is administered and run by the royal governors. It served as a military fortress until the mid C15th. Louis XI converted it into a state prison and it remained a house of detention and correction until 1926.

There have been alterations and additions since it was built and it is quite a difficult site to understand. In the centre is the huge square keep of Foulkes Nerra, surrounded by a C12th protective rampart with C13th oval towers which were added to reduce blind spots along the wall.

The C15th Martelet Tower housed political prisoners. A barbican was added in the C15th to protect the entrance against artillery assaults. Later buildings inside the walls include the Louis XI tower and the governor’s residence.

A modern wooden staircase leads up into the main entrance of the fortress. This had been protected by a triangular barbican, now a rubble strewn area and best seen looking down from the top of the Keep.

The ticket office and a small shop are in the C14th Governor’s residence.

Steps and passageways lead from this into the Louis IX tower. This was built in the C15th and was probably intended to replace the C11th keep against the new threat of artillery and to complete the fortifications at the point where three walls met (the keep wall, the castle wall and the town wall). Cannons were placed on the flat roof which has a wall round it with machicolations.

Inside, steps lead down into what is described as a dungeon, a large barrel shaped room which was more likely a cellar. The torture chamber has two long metal bars with rings to hold the legs. Another room has a model of what the buildings would have been like when in use, along with information.

Upstairs is the Graffiti Room which is covered by carvings made by prisoners in the soft stone of the walls. These are full sized humans who would have been 5’6’’ tall and wear size 8 shoes. On either side of the door are two doormen. There is a duelling scene on one wall with duellists holding a dagger and sword. Between them is a ‘referee’. There are other figures also holding weapons. All are dressed in doublet, hose and have shoes and hats. On another wall is a crucifixion scene.

The Martlelet is a small tower attached to the defensive wall. It was built in the C15th to hold political prisoners. Ludovicio Sforza, Duke of Milan, was imprisoned here for 4 years. He had a passion for the arts and decorated the walls of his cell with paintings. There is only entry into the ground floor and the upper floors are now shut to help preserve the paintings. Steps lead down into a network of C11th underground passageways, formed when tufa was quarried to build the keep. One of these passageways is open and leads into the lower rampart. It has been suggested that the tunnels could have been used in the Middle Ages to provide access to the outside of the fortress in times of siege.

The Donjon or keep is huge and, at 36m high, dominates the site. The walls are 3.5m thick at the base. As it was intended as a defensive structure there were few windows. No internal structures are left but narrow stone steps lead up the inside of the walls.

The ground floor was used as a store and armoury. A well is in the south-east comer. On the first floor was the Great Hall. Counsellors and close family members met on the second floor and there was access to the chapel from here. The third floor was the private family quarters. There is access to the top of the Donjon which has excellent views of the site, the walls and Loches.

Inside the base of the keep is a reconstruction of the iron cage (wood and iron) similar to that which imprisoned Philippe de Commynes, chronicler to Louis XI. According to his memoirs, he spent eight months locked in an iron cage. It is made of wood on the outside with bands of iron. About 2m square, it is boarded top and bottom. A slit allowed food and drink to be passed in. At the bottom of the door was space for a large iron chamber pot.

The LOGIS ROYALE is at the other end of the old town to the Donjon. Loches was the favourite retreat of Charles VII of France who gave it to his mistress, Agnès Sorel, as her residence.

The Agnes Sorrell Tower dates from the C13th and is the oldest part of the Logis Royale. It is a tall round tower with very thick stone walls and a pointed tile roof. It originally had a moat round it. The room on the ground floor is open but there is no access to the rest of the tower. The rest of the buildings were added later.

The C14th building was built for defence and had two rooms. It is a solidly built structure with small towers at the corners. The back of the building is very plain compared to the front overlooking the river. Next to it is the later Renaissance style building with dormer windows and sculptured facades. Later it became a hunting lodge and the meeting place for the Royal Hunt. At the north end is the Chapel of Anne of Brittany, built in a flamboyant Gothic style.

Gradually the centre of power moved away from Loches and it lost its importance. During the Revolution, a large number of suspects were imprisoned here. During the Empire, Loches became a 'Sub-Prefecture' of the Touraine and the castle became an administrative building. It has been open to the public since 1948.

Immediately inside the gateway on the left is the ticket office in a modern, long low building with a shop selling a range of books, post cards and small models of knights. Entry also includes the Donjon.

A flight of steps with small carvings of dogs leads into the oldest part of the building. Charles VII room was an antechamber used to meet important guests and discuss important matters. In the centre of the room is a large wooden table with benches. There is a large carved chest, C16th cross bow and a portrait of Charles VII. Opposite the doorway is a tapestry with a picture of a bear hunt. The other tapestry has people playing musical instruments.

Next is the Joan of Arc room. This is the C15th Great Hall and the room used by the royal family when they visited Loches. Joan of Arc met the Dauphin here after the victory at Orléans in June 1429 and persuaded him to press on to Reims where he would be crowned King. A stone in the floor marks the spot.

This is huge room and larger than it was originally. It has a big fireplace with a coat of arms carved above it. Round the walls are carved wooden chests, tables and chairs. Tapestries hang on the walls. There are examples of pikes and halberts.

A doorway leads into the later rooms. The first is the Agnès Sorrel room. She was a member of the lesser nobility and was introduced to Charles around 1443, becoming his official mistress with considerable power and influence over the king. She died aged 25. Some older guide books refer to her tomb being in this room. It has now been moved back into the Church of St Ours.

It is a very bare room. On the wall is the classic portrait of Agnès as the Virgin Mary with Jesus. There is another very similar portrait of her dressed in black but without the child.

Next to it is the triptych room with a C16th diptych with a painting of the Annunciation. The C15th triptych showing scenes of the crucifixion was out on exhibition when we visited.

Three small rooms at the end of the building include Charles VIII’s room with his bust on the mantle piece and a painting of his wife, Anne of Brittany. This leads into Anne of Brittany’s antechamber. Prisoner’s wrote their names on the walls and these have now been embroidered on the seat covers of chairs in the room.

Anne of Brittany’s Oratory was built about 1500 in the flamboyant Gothic style. It is a small room with embossed ermine tips covering the walls and a small recessed altar under a decoratively carved double arch.

There are excellent views of Loches and across to Beaulieu-lès-Loches from the parapet walk along the front of Logis Royale.
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Cormery is a nice small town in the Indre Valley about 17 miles to the north of Perrusson. It is another of those towns which doesn’t feature in the guide books and gets few visitors.

The town grew up round a Benedictine monastery founded here in the C8th. St Paul’s Abbey was one of three royal abbeys with 33 priories and 27,000 serfs. It was the third largest contributor to the Crusade of Louis I. It was destroyed by the English in 1358 and rebuilt in 1400. Towards the end of the C15th the town was fortified with walls and a moat and became an important town for the local area. It was attacked by the protestants in the mid C16th and destroyed in the Revolution. The Benedictine Abbey was dismantled after the Revolution and the ruins can be seen scattered round the town, surrounded by later buildings. Part of the walls with one of the defensive towers can still be seen. Only La Tour St Paul, Chapel of the Virgin, part of the refectory, cloisters and a gateway from the Abbey survive.

Tourist Information run guided tours and also have a leaflet with information about a guided walk round the town to find the remains of the abbey. There are a series of small information boards designed for children.

La Tour St Paul is best preserved part of the abbey. This is a square building with round topped windows and a small gateway at the bottom. It used to have a spire but this fell down in 1891, destroying the belfry and damaging the refectory. There are the remains of carving and patterned stonework on the west outside wall.

Next to it, on the outside, is the large splendid Abbot’s lodging.

Through a gateway are the remains of the cloister buildings around a green open area. One wall of the cloisters is still intact with its covered walk and arches. The remains of the first floor refectory building abut the side of La Tour St Paul.

On the wall opposite is the remains of the Chapter House with the dormitory above. There is a delightful small carving of what is described as a Basilisk which looks like a winged bird with a serpent's tail which is standing on the head of a monk. It illustrates the legend that a person would be turned to stone if they made eye contact with the Basilisk.

The Chapel of the Virgin (view from outside only) is the only part of the abbey church to survive and was built on the north side of the high altar. It was built between 1490-1517 by Father Jean Puy to house his tomb. It was spared demolition during the Revolution as it was used to house the horses of the gendarmes. Later on it housed a school nursery. It would have been an elegant hexagonal building with buttressed corners and Gothic windows.

Tour St Jean built at the end of the C15th was part of the defensive wall and backed onto south side of the Abbey. It is a solid circular structure with splayed walls and tiny windows. It had its own cellar and heated guard room.

ÉGLISE NOTRE DAME DE FOUGERAY is on the edge of the village and was built by the Benedictines for the townsfolk. It is a huge, fairly plain building in need of TLC.

The building is C12th, although the apse and belfry tower are later. It is a simple Romanesque building with a short square tower above the transept. Entry is through the south door.

Inside there is a single nave, with a wall mounted wooden pulpit, small framed paintings of the Stations of the Cross on the walls and a painted crucifix on the north wall.

It still has the remains of the stone benches along the north wall which were used by the sick and infirm in Medieval times. Above is one of the original consecration crosses which has been repainted on the wall.

There are traces of a fresco on the north wall, which is described as "Madonna and Child surrounded by four angels".

At back is a large stone font dating from the C13th with four grotesque heads carved round the top. The C15th wooden choir stalls with misericords came from the Abbey church.

Again, this is another pleasant small town which repays exploring.
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We spent a day exploring the area to the north west of Loches. The main destinations were Azay-le-Rideau, for the château and Troglodytiques des Groupilliers. We took the chance to stop at some of the smaller settlements on the way.

Our first stop was St-Épain. The town grew up round the site of a Gallo-Roman crossing point on the River Manse. It had been an important fortified town and a splendid medieval gateway survives next to the church.

The centre of the town is now a shadow of its former glory. It is however making an effort to encourage interest in its past by a series of old pictures displayed around the town.

EGLISE DE ST ÉPAIN was originally built in the C12th but has been enlarged over the years and extensively restored.

Entry is through the south porch which has a large, splendidly carved double doorway with gargoyles above and dragons supporting the window arch to the right.

The inside is fairly plain with nave, north aisle and just two bays in the south aisle.

There is a vaulted stone roof supported by massive pillars which have statues of saints on them. There is a large painting of Christ on the south wall. At the back is a wooden confessional with statues of angels on either side.

At the back of the north aisle is a small wooden altar with a picture of the Virgin and Child, angels and candlesticks.

The north altar is elaborately carved with panels on the base and carved retable with a statue of the Virgin and Child above.

The high altar and retable are white limestone
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After St-Épain, our next stop was Crissay-sur-Manse which is another of the most beautiful villages in France. There is a large tourist car park outside the village with an information board in French and English. A footpath leads to a picnic site with basic toilet and the church at the bottom of the village. A path leads down to the river and the restored lavoir.

At the other end of the village are the ruins of the C15th château. In 2012 this gave the impression that it was being restored. It was behind locked gates and looked very private.

Most of the houses in the village date from the C15th or C16th and there is little newer development. At the centre is a small green with a pump.

ÉGLISE ST MAURICE is one of those buildings best admired from the outside, as the inside is a bit disappointing.

There is a large plain nave with vaulted ceiling and north aisle and south transept which has an old bier in it. The floor is made up of black and white stone slabs in a chequerboard pattern. On the south wall is the remains of a painted coat of arms.

There are carved stone statues of bishops on the chancel arches. An old wrought iron altar rail separates the chancel from the rest of the church. The high altar has a stained glass window of St Maurice above. He was a leader of a Roman legion and is shown with two figures in military uniform. The north aisle has a wooden altar with an elaborately carved retable with a carving of the Virgin and Child.

We drove through VILLAINES-LES-ROCHERS where there are a lot of troglodyte houses. This was, and still is, a centre of basket weaving. This had been a very important cottage industry but had virtually disappeared by 1950s with introduction of plastics. Only 200 basket weavers are left; 70 working here. Most are home workers and their houses have a basket hanging up outside. A few work in the Society Co-operative Agricole Vannerie de Villaines, a large new building. One person was weaving and it reminded us of our basket making days at school. There is a short video explaining how the willows are cut in winter and seeped in water until May when they have softened. They are then stripped ready for use. There were a lot of baskets for sale but they are quite expensive. A typical shopping basket takes about 2.5 hours to make and sells for €85.
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Azay-le-Rideau is a small pretty with an old mill by the bridge and C12th church. The town grew up in the C11th around the château and a Benedictine priory belonging to the Abbey of Cormery. There is little left from this period apart from the parish church as the town was destroyed in the early C15th. The present château was built in the C16th in the Italian style. The small chapel on the bridge over the Indre was built at the same time and the seigneurial water mill is C17th.

Most of the houses in the town date from the C18th and C19th and are large elegant buildings of the local white tufa stone with dark slate roofs and often with small wrought iron balconies. There are some nice examples along Rue Balzac and Rue Gambetta.

Streets are narrow with narrow pavements. It is a thriving, busy place with both locals and tourists and has a good range of shops. There is a large car park off Rue Nacionale to the right alongside the river. From here it is a short walk to the Château.

ÉGLISE ST-SYMPHORIEN was the priory church. The rest of the buildings were demolished after the Revolution when the château grounds were extended. The main entrance is off the old market place which was the heart of the old town. The market hall was rebuilt in C20th after a fire.

The church is C12th apart from the south transept which is later and built in the classical style with flat pillars with fluted tops on the outside and a dome above.

Above the transept is a short tower with a pointed tile roof with stairs in the adjacent round tower. The nave is older than the north aisle, giving the west end an asymmetrical appearance.

The door into the nave has a carved portico with a narrow carved canopy over it. Above is a tall round topped window with embossed flowers round the archway and a ledge on either side supported by carved animal heads. On either side of the window are carvings of 7 saints set in small round topped niches. There are another seven figures above the top of the window with Christ as the central figure. The remains of an earlier roof line can be seen with decorative triangles of diamond shaped tiles.

To left a plain wooden doorway with a carved scroll above leads into the north aisle.

Coming inside from bright sunlight, the inside of the church feels very dark, as the only light is through long narrow stained glass windows. The windows are C19th apart from those on the south wall which were destroyed in the Second World War and have been replaced.

The nave has large fluted pillars with acanthus capitals supporting the tall vaulted ceiling. Pointed arches lead into the north aisle.

There are the remains of frescoes on the walls.

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The château is a beautiful fairy tale building on an island on the River Indre, and surrounded by grassland and trees. It can be glimpsed through the gateway but is well worth the entry fee. This includes a detailed guide in English which supplements information boards in the rooms.

The château was begun in 1518 to reflect the status and power of Gilles Berthelot who was notary and secretary to François I. It is one of the first truly Renaissance Châteaux to be built in France. There are two wings set at right angles. The original design was for four identical wings enclosing a courtyard. The rough edge where work stopped in 1527 is clearly visible.

The parkland around the château was laid out in the C19th and part of the old town was demolished to create this. The best views of the château are from the gardens to the east when the building is reflected in the river. It is a lovely building of white tufa with a darker slate roof. On the corners are round turrets with pointed roofs. Dormer windows have elaborately carved facades above them.

The main staircase and entrance dominate the courtyard. There are three storeys of twin bays with carvings and emblems François I and his wife (salamander and ermine). This is one of the first examples in France of a straight staircase with landings. Inside, each flight has a coffered ceiling decorated with medallions with flower motifs or with carved heads with hanging bosses.

The ground floor rooms originally formed a series of reception rooms with the kitchens. These were refitted in C19th as a library and billiard room. The private family rooms are on the first floor. There are spiral staircases in the corner towers.

The tour begins at the top of the staircase in the ATTICS with their massive oak beams.

In the C19th this was partitioned off for servant’s quarters but have now been returned to their original appearance.

The RENAISSANCE CHAMBER was probably used by the wife of Gilles Berthelot and has its original carved stone fireplace. It contains a wooden four poster bed hung with lavish purple velvet curtains. There are tapestries on the walls. In the corner turret is a beautifully carved C16th Spanish portable desk with gilt fronted drawers.

This leads into the ORATORY in a small room which may originally have been a dressing room. This contains a beautifully painted wood carving of St Christopher.

The next room was the MASTER CHAMBER designed for Gilles Berthelot with a bed in one corner. This also served as antechamber and everyday living room. The walls are covered with tapestries telling the story of Psyche and Cupid.

The GREAT HALL is a huge room used for balls and other formal occasions. There is a massive stone fireplace with stone pillars supporting the over mantle with a C20th trompe l’oeil salamander with a motto above. The room has a wooden ceiling with massive oak beams and a carved frieze round the tops of the wall.

There are large C16 and C17th tapestries on the walls and the windows have carved wooden shutters. Around the walls are intricately carved wooden chests.

On the other side of the main staircase is the ANTECHAMBER which now houses portraits of C16 and C17th French Kings. This has red and gold hangings covering the walls and red velvet upholstered chairs. There is a wood beam ceiling and large wooden carved over mantle above the fireplace.

Beyond it is the ROYAL APARTMENT. Every château needed a royal apartment as the owners were obliged to lodge and feed the king in his travels round the country if he suddenly decided to visit. This was always the most lavishly furnished room. Louis XIII spent two nights here in 1619. The lower walls are panelled with dark blue wall coverings. There is a beautifully carved cabinet made of very dark wood inset with engraved ivory.

The ground floor starts with the BIENCOURT SALON named after the C19th owner who refitted the ground floor. It has a very different feel with carved linen fold panelling round the base of the walls and heavily patterned wall paper. The heavy stone over mantle above the fireplace with its carving of a salamander has been retained. On the walls are paintings including the beautiful C16th portrait of ‘A Lady in her Bath’ by François Clouet.

The BILLIARD ROOM is hung with C18th tapestries and has a splendid carved stone over mantle above the fireplace.

On the opposite side of the main staircase is a small pantry with the KITCHEN in the corner of the wing. This has a vaulted stone ceiling and still has the original fireplace with the arms of Gilles Berthelot and his wife above. In the C19th this had been the dining room and the floor level raised. It has been restored but the floor level has been left.

Next to the kitchen is the DINING ROOM with centre table set for a C19th meal. This is a half panelled room with painted walls above the panelling. There is a marble fireplace with a mirror above. There is a large display cabinet containing C14th china.

Beyond the dining room is a small study area with the LIBRARY beyond. This has wooden panelling round the base of the walls with brown and black wall covering above and a wooden beamed ceiling. There is a large display cabinet with a few books and maps displayed on the walls.

This was our first château and we enjoyed it. It doesn’t get the crowds of the more popular places like Chenonceau, Chambord or Cheverney, so is a much more relaxed place to wander round.
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It is a pleasant drive along Indre Valley from Azay-le-Rideau to Troglodyiques des Groupillieres. This is a fascinating site on the side of the valley with houses cut into the cliff face. Some of these are still in use as garages for cars.

There is no parking at the site, but there is a large parking area by the river about 300m away. The ticket office with a small shop is in an old cave building. A path leads down to the site where three separate farms of a troglodyte village from middle ages have been excavated and restored as working farm depicting life 100 years ago.

André Chardon bought the property in 1962 intending to expand the family orchard. The hillsides were planted with apples but the valley bottom was a tangled mass of brambles. This was an adventure playground for his son, Louis-Marie, who gradually discovered the overgrown troglodyte buildings. When he inherited the land in 1984 he decided to restore the buildings and open it to the public.

There are three separate farms complete with their barns. The families living here were self sufficient. The forests supplied firewood and animals for the pot. Vineyards and cereal crops were grown on the hillside and the river provided water and fish. Each farm had its own well dug to a depth of about 15m.

Originally the cliffs were quarried for building stone. The caves were later used for living in. Entrances were faced with blocks of limestone to increase the living area. The open doorway and a small window were the only source of natural light.

Candles were made of hemp wicks soaked in resin. The fireplace was near the window so the draught would help the fire draw.

Each farm had its own bread oven heated with burning wood.
This was either at the back of the main fire place or in a separate building.

Bread was a staple of the peasant diet and a large batch would be baked every week. Fruit was left to dry in the oven as it cooled down. There was a separate small scullery (souillarde) with a stone sink used for personal and household washing.

The houses were very simply furnished with home made furniture. Beds were made from long wooden poles and mattresses were stuffed with straw. Bed covers were made from material filled with chaff for extra warmth. Wooden pegs were hammered into the ceiling and wires attached. Pieces of meat were hung from these to be preserved by smoke and to stop them being eaten by rodents. Cooking utensils were arranged on shelves above the fire or hung on the walls.

Grain was kept in an underground silo. An oval hole was dug into the rock giving access to a large underground silo called a ‘ponne’. To avoid fermentation, buckwheat was mixed with millet, a much finer grain, which helped remove air pockets. When full, the hole was plugged with a stone and covered with a layer of clay. Long handles ladles were used to remove the grain.

Next to the living area were barns and the stable. The stable and living area were usually interconnected so the heat from the animals could help warm the room in winter.

Run off channels for the urine were gouged in the floor. Dung was piled onto the dung heap outside the door and used on the fields as fertiliser.

Each farm had a small vegetable patch surrounded by a wooden fence and a rhubarb patch. Wooden pens were built for goats and sheep. The pig sty was carved out of the cliff face.

Black ‘geline’ hens, Touraine geese, grey rabbit (typical of Touraine), ducks and turkey would have been kept to provide meat.

There is a souterainne on the site. This was designed to protect the peasant families from wars, invasions or bandits.

The families would take the smaller domestic animals with enough bread and water to last for several days. The entrance would be barricaded with tightly packed wooden poles. A passageway led into a chamber with a very low ceiling. Off this there was a complicated system of tunnels. In one corner was a narrow vertical tunnel which could be hidden by more wooden poles. This dropped dropped down into a larger room where the families could hide until danger had passed. This shaft is now fenced off and did look impassible.

This is a delightful spot and this was an interesting visit.
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After visiting Troglodyiques des Groupillieres, we drove along the north bank of the Indre to LA SABLONNIERE where large osier fields along the river supply the basket makers of Villaines-les-Roches.

We made a brief stop in SACHÉ, a delightful village of old stone houses. The C12th auberge by the church has a stone base with half timber above with a brick infill. This is now a very expensive restaurant.

The château at the edge of the village is rather a plain building covered with creeper surrounded by large gardens.

There are the remains of a tower from the old fortifications along side of road.

The Château is open to the public and houses the Museum of Honoré de Balzac who visited the château and wrote many of his novels here.

The C12th CHURCH was restored in C18th. The open bell tower is later than stone base below.

Entry is at the west end through a plain large porch. Inside it is simple church with an arcade of pointed arches between the nave and the north aisle. The vaulted ceiling is supported by small round wall pillars with carved capitals. The floor down the centre of the nave is brightly coloured tiles.

The bulbous based high altar has a carved gilt retable with integral host box and a small crucifix standing on it. The tall pointed stained glass window above has a picture of the resurrection of Christ at the top with the crucifixion in the centre and and the last supper at the bottom.

There are stone altars in the north and south transepts which have a statue of the Virgin (N) and Christ flanked by angels (S). At the back of the north isle is a small stone altar with a statue of Virgin. The confessional next to it has carved angels on the top corners. There is another stone altar on the north wall with Joseph and the young Jesus. There is a crucifix on the south wall and a large modern abstract painting.

Again this is another pretty little village which doesn't get many visitors.
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Lavardin is a small village on the River Loir, about 50 miles north of Perrusson. It is one of the most beautiful villages in France, with old stone and plaster houses and an old C12/13th bridge across the river. It is dominated by the ruins of a castle set high above the River Loir, with the church and houses clustered round the base.

ÉGLISE ST-GENEST is thought to be late C11th and has a square tower with a gable roof. The top of the tower was partially destroyed in 1590 and has been rebuilt with tile hung walls.

The tower and side aisles are heavily buttressed. The tall nave has round topped windows above the side aisles. There is a round apse at the east end with beautifully carved dog toothed arches round the windows. The windows on the north wall of the nave are very similar but the carvings are now very eroded. There is a blocked doorway on the north wall with the remains of a tympanum above.

Inside, it is a beautiful church with superb C13th frescoes on the ceiling, pillars and some of the walls. Plain glass windows make the church feel light and airy. Windows along the north aisle have carved bases (one has two animals a bit like elephants) and carved capitals, including one with Mary holding the baby Jesus.

Big square pillars in the nave with round topped arches separate the nave and side aisles. These have round arches along their length for additional support.

There is a low round chancel arch and a similar arch at the west end under the tower. Don’t miss the lovely carved snake on the wall at the back of the church. The baptistry is at the back of the south aisle.

Steps lead up to the high altar of pale blue painted plaster with Biblical figures.

There are massive round stone pillars in the chancel with huge carved capitals which have the remains of red paint. The underside of the arches is painted red with a pattern of gold scrolls.

The frescoes are what most visitors to the church come to see and they are truly magnificent. A leaflet in English is available in the church with details of them.

On the chancel ceiling is Christ in Majesty, set in a pointed oval, called a mandorla. At the corners are the symbols of the four evangelists, although there is little left of the winged angel representing Matthew.

In front of it is a representation of Paradise with red and yellow rectangles with images of saints and angels. Again, some of these are quite worn. On the left is Christ washing the feet of the twelve apostles, who are all sitting in a line awaiting their turn.

On the right are scenes of the Passion beginning on the right with Judas betraying Jesus to the Roman soldiers with a kiss. This is followed by the flagellation, Christ carrying the cross and the crucifixion.

On the north wall of the south apse is a scene of the Last Judgement. At the centre bottom is a pelican tearing it’s breast to feed its young, representing Jesus shedding his blood to save mankind. Above is the phoenix, the symbol of resurrection. To the right, Archangel Michael is weighing the souls of the dead. Those found wanting are being pushed by a devil towards Hell and another devil who throws them into a cauldron over a fire. Above, the blessed are welcomed by an angel and St Peter is standing by the gates of Heaven to let them in.

On the west side of the transept pillar is a fresco of St Francis and another of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child on his shoulders.

On the ceiling of the north apse is the remains of a fresco showing the crucifixion.

On the east side of the north transept pillar is a fresco of the tree of Jesse with the Virgin Mary at the top and King David below.

On the south side is a wonderful fresco of the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. An angel is holding a cloth so he can dry himself. The dove above the head of Christ represents the Holy Spirit.

The nave pillars are covered with C14th frescoes of Saints. These are set in black frames with their names in a scroll beneath them. On the south pillar nearest the chancel is St Anthony. Pilgrims prayed to him for relief from St Anthony’s fire (erysipelas caused by ergot) and he is surrounded by ex-voto offerings in the shape of hands and feet.

Opposite, on the north pillar, are two scenes from the life of St Peter. At the top he is being crucified upside down. Below an angel is releasing him from his bonds.

There is a beheaded St Denis carrying his head.

St Gregory saying mass below a fresco of Jesus being taken down from the cross.

This is a wonderful church and the frescoes ranked as some of the best we had seen. It is also a very attractive village to wander round.
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1000+ Posts

La Commanderie d’Arville is about 80 miles north of Perrusson on the D921 between Tours and Chartres. It is a delightful setting among the trees and is surrounded by farmland. The only sounds were bird song and crickets.

The Commanderie was founded by the Knights Templar in the early C12th and this is the best preserved Commanderie in France. The Knights Templar settled in Arville around 1128-30 on a wooded estate granted to them by Geoffroy, Lord of Montdoubleau.

As well as being a religious centre, it also served as a recruitment and training centre for Knights about to depart for the Holy Land. The Commanderie was self sufficient and grew all its own food. The Knights Templar lived here until 1307 and their arrest for heresy during the Albigensian (or Cathar) Crusade. The property passed to the Order of Malta and remained with them until the Revolution when it was sold off for farm land. At the end of the C20th part of the buildings were bought by the local towns who have restored them.

The Commanderie is made up of a gatehouse with buildings to the left which form a defensive wall. In front is what could be the remains of a moat. The gatehouse has two round towers with bulbous shaped roofs made of chestnut wood tiles. Over the gateway is a porch covered with rough render. The towers are built from different colours of brick arranged in a chequer board or diamond pattern.

Inside, to the left, is the reception area with shop and museum. This was originally part of the stable block with room for 50 horses. The present building is modern, replacing the C16th building which was destroyed by fire in 1983. It is an attractive flint building with brick surrounds to the windows and doorways and a red tile roof. The modern building to the side of the gatehouse is now the Marie.

Round the inside of the walls are more stables.

There is a small garden area divided into four plots by beech hedges with a beech archway into each. Vegetables, cereals and medicinal herbs would have been grown here.

Opposite the gateway is a huge flint and brick barn with large wooden door on the south wall. Timber beams support a tiled roof above an open porch. Inside, the roof is supported by large timber beams and struts. Originally used for storage, this now seems to be used for events.

The pigeon loft is a large circular building with a metal cupola above the tiled roof. The walls are made of bands of flint and brick. Inside are holes for 2000 birds. Pigeons could lay eggs every five weeks from May to September, providing a plentiful suppy of meat in the summer months..

This building now has an audio-visual display. You need to keep the door shut to watch the video, but then can’t see the pigeon holes. If anyone opens the door, you can’t see the video...

Near it on the back wall of the Commanderie is the bakery with a brick wood fired oven and bread baskets hanging from the beams. There is a box for mixing the dough and a flour chest.

Between the pigeon loft and bakery is the back entrance to the Commanderie with a small gateway with double wooden doors and a small tiled roof above.

Between the bakery and the church is a small pond which may have been a fish pond but is now surrounded by trees and yellow iris.

The CHURCH is a rectangular building with a round apse at the east end and small bell cote at the west end. At the back is an enclosed tiled porch giving access to the two lower bells. Two huge buttresses on either side of the west door and window join to form an arch under the bell windows. Below the window is a small carved Maltese cross on a paler stone. The church is built of ‘grison’ a mixture of quartz, flint clay and iron, which makes a coarse dark red/purple stone. There is a later porch of brick and plaster built on the north wall with a doorway into the church.

Inside it is a large and very plain church with white washed plaster walls and a lathe ceiling shaped like the hull of a boat with large beams across. The vault is C17th but the beams could be from the original C12th church. Above the door is the remains of an inscription with the date 1893, which we assume records a restoration of the church.

The plaster walls of the chancel are painted with rectangular outlines with either M or Maltese crosses in them. Steps lead up to the chancel which has a very heavy metal altar rail and a small wooden table altar. Behind is a open work carved stand with a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child set between four pillars supporting a church with corner towers and central hexagonal dome.

Again this is very much off the usual tourist beat but again is another worthwhile visit.
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1000+ Posts

This is château country, beloved by the tourist and the guide books. Nearly every settlement has a château and you are spoilt for choice from Amboise to Villesavin. To avoid château overload, we just visited the big three of Chambord, Chenonceau and Cheverny

These are all firmly on the visitor trail and do get busy with coach parties. Fortunately most visitors are on a strict timetable and don’t stay long.

Chambord is the largest of the châteaux, and is so huge it never seems busy, in spite of the crowds. It makes sense to try and time visits for opening time, around lunchtime or later in the afternoon when it is quieter.

There is a brief glimpse of of the château from the main road just before the bend where there is a view down the avenue of trees to the château.

There is a huge car park which was already busy by 10.30. From here it is quite a long walk to the ticket office which has a selection of shops selling food and souvenirs. There are toilets here but there is a 50c charge. In the château they are free.

The extensive grounds and parkland are popular with walkers or horse riders with three way marked routes from 3.3km to 8.6. There are also bikes for hire.

We were provided with a very basic information leaflet which showed the layout of the rooms but had little information about them. There are information panels in the rooms but with a limited amount of English. The official website is poor. We felt this was a case of ‘could do better’. It is however possible to hire an audio guide.

First views of the Château seen surrounded by a moat, are stunning. It is the largest château in the Loire and was built as a hunting lodge by François I and is a monument to his extravagance and vanity.

He wanted wanted to prove himself the greatest builder in the world, and Chambord was designed to show off his two great passions of hunting and architecture. His badge of the salamander is carved throughout the building.

Chambord is built in the centre of a huge hunting park surrounded by a wall 38km long. This was intended purely for show and the towers and moat served no defensive purpose. The château has 440 rooms, 85 staircases, 365 chimneys and 800 carved capitals. The roof line is a silhouette of pinnacles, domes, spires, cupolas with the central lantern tower. It is built from the local white tufa limestone which is easy to carve. The roofs are dark slate and this is used for decorative detail on the walls. In the sunshine the building appears a brilliant white.

François I used Italian architects and it is thought that Leonardo da Vinci was responsible for the design of the double helix staircase, but died before construction began in 1519. The building was unfinished when François died and his son continued the work.

It was soon found to be a cold and draughty building and its size made it unpopular as a permanent residence. Françoise only spent 40 days here during a reign of 32 years. After each visit it was left empty, without furniture or inhabitants.

In the C17th, Louis XIV, the Sun King, completed the building of the chapel and the west wing.

He made nine hunting visits here and also used the château for entertaining. During the C18th, Chambord was regarded as a prestigious ‘royal gift’ and had several permanent residents. The Marquis of Polignac was governor here just before the Revolution and carried out a number of alterations to make the building more habitable by lowering ceilings, putting in wooden floors and improving insulation with panelling and wall coverings.

During the Revolution, the furnishings were sold and the château was used as a fodder warehouse, powder manufacturing workshop and a prison. In the C19th it was put up for sale and a subscription organised to buy it and return it to the heir to the French throne. Refurnishing began.

In the C20th it passed to the state with its collection of tapestries and works of art but just seven items of furniture. It is now open as a tourist attraction and the rooms on the second floor are used as an exhibition area. When we visited there was an exhibition of rather esoteric modern art which was definitely an acquired taste, and not for us.

It is a superb building with a central keep with a curtain wall connecting this to the chapel tower and François I tower. On the other three sides making up the square are lower buildings which contain the shop (expensive), reasonably priced restaurant and carriage display. The rest of the buildings are shut to the public.

The huge central keep is built on three floors with the famous DOUBLE HELIX STONE STAIRCASE in the centre which supports the lantern tower. This consists of two concentric spiral staircases which wind independently round a hollow central core.

There is a large cross shaped hall on each floor with 8 fireplaces and large rooms off each corner. The west and east towers are linked to this by corridors. There is no set route to follow which meant it never seemed too busy, in spite of the numbers.

Ground floor rooms had a large exhibit on architecture in the BILLIARD ROOM which still has its billiard table. Another room was the SITTING ROOM with red upholstered chairs and red wall hangings. The HUNTING ROOM has green tapestry walls with gilt heads of deer on the walls and hunting pictures in large gilt frames with gilt boars heads underneath and gilt dead birds on the sides of the frames.

There is a huge CHAPEL on the first floor of the west tower. This has double round pillars on the walls, with a frieze around the tops, which supports the stone ribs of the ceiling. A carved stone altar rail painted turquoise separates the large chancel from the smaller nave. There is a stone altar with a gilt Chi-Rho symbol on the base in a decorative gilt panel. The host box has a gilt monstrance carved on the door.

The stained glass windows have a monogram H with a crown in the centre, for Henri II, the son of Françoise, who continued work on the chapel.

The first floor of the keep had a large ceramic stove in the hall made in Danzig in 1749. Three were brought to provide additional heat in the château when Maréchel de Saire became superintendent of the Chambord Hunt and lived here. The tiles have attractive rural scenes.

The GOVERNOR'S ROOM complete with bed with tapestry wall hangings to match the wall coverings, desk and occasional tables and chairs is the first antechamber of the King’s set of rooms.

This is followed by the NOBLEMAN'S ANTECHAMBER which was slightly grander. Finally is the CHAMBRE DE PARADE where Louis XVI slept. This is a splendid room with white and gold panelled walls. The bed is in a recess with white and gold railings separating it from the rest of the room. The walls are covered with scarlet material and have tapestries on either side of the bed. There is a small private room off which he used in the winter or if he was ill.

The QUEEN'S BEDROOM (originally used by François until he moved his rooms into the tower) has a bed with blue hangings with chairs and stools to match, a studded chest at the end of the bed, a beautifully inlaid mother of pearl cabinet and tapestries on walls.

FRANÇOIS 1 APARTMENTS are in a separate tower at the corner of the east wing, which has its own separate stairway. He decided to move out of the main keep in 1541. This suite of rooms consists of the council chamber with a large table for meetings, an antechamber and bedroom with red walls and a four poster bed on a raised dais with red and gold damask bed hangings. This has a big wooden settle and smaller bed with red hangings in corner.

Climbing up to the second floor, the ceiling of the hall and double helix are carved with salamanders and F logos. There was an exhibition of modern art in these rooms.

The stairs continue up to the roof with good views of the grounds and close up of the roof with salamanders and other carvings on pillars. Glass walls with flying buttresses support a glass dome.

In the COACH HOUSE is an exhibition of old coaches from 1873. These were ordered for the official entry into Paris by the Count of Chambord as King Henri V. They were never used and remained with the coach makers until the death of the Count in 1883. They were eventually donated to Chambord for display and have still not been used.

The outside of the building is superb. We felt this one one of those places best enjoyed from the outside as the inside didn’t live up to the initial promise, although the unique double spiral staircase was worth seeing. It is huge but many of the rooms are only basically furnished.
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