Children of a minor Loire: this is how we wanted to call the medieval fortresses, the Renaissance castles, the enchanted gardens and the hidden and lesser-known treasures of the Loire Valley which seduces from the very first moment, bringing back atmospheres of other times, when the French nobles , during the summer season, they moved to their manors in the countryside to leave behind the gray of the long Parisian winter.
The other Loire of hidden treasures
In fact, here there are not only imposing and regal residences such as the castles of Chambord, Blois, Amboise and Chenonceau, but picturesque villages and small charming fortresses that offer emotions on a par with the more famous and noble ones. In short, as mentioned at the beginning, these are children of a minor but far from negligible Loire.
An example? Montresor’s Castle, which emerges in the center of the picturesque village which is one of the most beautiful villages in France.
The small town is all gathered around the noble fortress which dates back to the 11th century and which was owned by Filippo d’Orleans, brother of Louis XIV and is still inhabited today by the last owners.
Within its walls you are surprised to find precious works of art including a large collection of Italian paintings together with many hunting trophies that adorn the walls of the halls. Its peculiarity is also that of having a profound Polish influence as in 1849 it was bought by Count Xavier Branicki, who was mayor of Montrésor from 1860 to 1870.
The Polish nobleman repaired parts of it and rebuilt others and his family currently lives in a part of the castle that is almost completely open to the public. Around a beautiful garden where it is possible to walk together with your four-legged friend who cannot access the internal rooms of the house.
A word of advice: the most beautiful part of the castle is the one overlooking Les Balcons along the Indrois river. Start from there for a walk with enchanting views between the narrow alleys and half-timbered houses. Do not miss the “Halle des Cardeux” with its roof “à la Mansart” which was a textile processing center and which today hosts exhibitions.
Another gem among the children of a minor Loire is Bonneval, called a little too euphemistically the little Venice of the Beauce. We visited it in pouring rain which did not diminish its medieval charm with the fortifications and enchanting houses, such as the house of the white horse dating back to the 13th century, which are reflected in the waters of the Loir river.
Along the banks you can see the washhouses which were abandoned in 1851 due to the numerous cholera epidemics and to improve hygiene conditions.
In the center of the village stands the spire of the Notre-Dame church which dates from the end of the 13th century and is considered a contemporary of Chartres cathedral.
Before leaving, you have to stop at the former Benedictine abbey of Saint-Florentin, founded in 857 and which after many vicissitudes and transformations, from a spinning mill to a carpet factory to an agricultural colony for abandoned children, today houses a hospital and cannot be visited.
Among the children of a minor Loire we have also placed Châteaudun, a town that we discovered by choosing the Restaurant Ateria for our dinner in the area. A discovery in every sense: gastronomic because it is one of the best places we ate in our entire tour de France, and touristic because of the beauty of the village and its imposing castle.
Residence of Giovanni di Dunois, known as the “Bastard of Orléans” half-brother of King Charles VI and companion in arms of Joan of Arc, on the outside it looks like an imposing manor with a severe appearance. The interiors, on the other hand, amaze for their gracefulness which make it a bright and comfortable home.
The Holy Chapel was built by Dunois, while his nephew François II d’Orléans-Longueville added the Renaissance-style wing, which heralded the great castles of the Loire. The collection of tapestries woven by French and Flemish manufacturers before the Gobelins manufacture in Paris is very interesting.
Among the cobbled streets and small squares, enchanting corners such as Rue Saint-Lubin, overlooked by the oldest houses in the town spared from the devastating fire of 20 June 1723 following which 1,022 houses were destroyed and almost 80% of the population was left without. The city was rebuilt and today its fulcrum is the Place du 18-Octobre, a name that recalls the battle of Châteaudun, which took place on 18 October 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war.
Those who have time can walk to the banks of the Loir, visit the Museum of Fine Arts and Natural History which houses a collection of more than 2500 stuffed birds, paintings, archaeological finds and pieces from Egypt and Asia, and the caves of Foulon, to admire the geological wealth hidden under the city.
Among the great castles and children of a minor Loire is the Royal Citadel of Loches, which contains 500 years of French history. Here too we arrived after booking dinner in the Le Prosper restaurant suggested to us by Jeff de Mareüil during our stay at the Château Monastère de la Corroirie.
The city immediately impressed us with the grandeur of its walls: Loches is one of the very few medieval French citadels to still boast a large part of the original wall. To enter, you have to pass the majestic Porte Royale which dates from the 11th century.
We were unable to visit the city in the city that extends beyond the gate, with the medieval dungeon, the royal apartments and the Church of Sant’Orso, both because everything was already closed given the hour and because of the sudden rain that surprised in the evening. But we have already included this true jewel of military architecture in the list of sites to visit during the next tour of the castles of the Loire.