A perfect relaxing weekend break to the French countryside with wonderful lush green scenery, grandeur of magnificent chateaux and fabulous French food and wine! What more do you need 🙂
Travel Dates – 3 Days, 3 Nights – February 2016
Type of Holiday
Places visited/ Itinerary in brief:
Why we chose this holiday
Being Dani’s birthday, we wanted to have a weekend break different from the usual city breaks that we have been on recently. We chose central France, for its lush green scenery, grand chateaux and mouthwatering food. It was a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of London to recharge our spirits and rejuvenate us.
We booked a Eurostar train from London Kings Cross to Paris Gare du Nord early morning Saturday, leaving at 6:15am and reaching Paris around 10am Paris time. Our destination, Amboise, is located in central France in the heart of the Loire Valley about 220kms south of Paris.
Driving from Paris would take approx 2.5 hours but we chose to catch the super fast TGV. This train leaves from the Montparnasse station in Paris to St. Pierre Des Corps, about 4kms from the town of Tours. This train took us just over 1 hour and cost us €47 each. There is also a cheaper but slower train which takes about 2.5hours.
We left Gare du Nord around 10:15am and got to Montparnasse station around 11am. Navigating from the Montparnasse metro station to the TGV station can be quite confusing, as you have to go up and down a few stairs and windy corridors. The route is well signposted though – you just need to follow the ‘bullet train’ logo signs.
Our TGV was scheduled to leave at 12:15pm. We quickly stepped out to grab a quick bite from the local bakery and boarded on time to get to St. Pierre Des Corps. The TGV journey was fantastic! Extremely quick and on time. Seating was assigned and very comfortable.
We had booked a rental car with Europcar and the rental place was conveniently located just outside the St. Pierre Des Corps station.
We had to wait for about 45mins as the office is shut between 12pm – 2pm each day.
Wanting an authentic ‘chateau’ experience, we had booked 2 nights at the Hotel Le Manoir Les Minimes , only a 5min walk from the town centre of Amboise.
The hotel is small but fantastic to say the least. The hotel consists of only about 15 rooms, and has a large outdoor parking area with a beautiful fountain and well maintained yard.
Inside a lot of attention to detail has gone into providing the feeling of stepping back in time, with rustic furniture, wooden floor boards, large sitting areas in the foyer and great views of the Chateau de Amboise and the Loire river.
The rooms are well equipped with mood lights, large storage facilities, in room safe and a large bathroom with a detached toilet. Toiletries (of top quality!) are replenished daily with turn down service everyday.
Alexander at the check in desk was really polite, humorous and very helpful, providing a 5 star level of service. We would highly recommend this hotel to anyone looking to stay in this area.
Town of Amboise
By the time we checked in and refreshed ourselves it was about 3:30pm. We walked down to the centre of town by the Loire river. The town is quaint with its narrow streets and houses on either side boasting the traditional French windows and pebble stone pathways.
We walked by the majestic Chateau d’Amboise all the way to the Clos Lucé chateau, Leonardo da Vinci’s last official place of residence. You can enter both chateaux and their grounds by paying an entrance fee, but we chose to just walk around the town exploring side alleyways and open spaces. There is a path that goes up the hill overlooking the entire town near the Chateau de Amboise. The view from the top gives you a birds eye view of the old French town with its unique houses and the river flowing through it.
The routes to almost all the tourist attractions are clearly marked with street signs and can be easily accessed.After exploring the town for about a couple of hours we walked back to the Loire river where we sat down by the bank and admired the scenery.
A quick local snack
We walked back over to the town and found a cute local cafe, Cafe Bigot , which was a patisserie.
They have a fantastic array of traditional desserts, petit fours and delicious baked goodies. We had afternoon tea here and Dani especially loved the selection of petit fours that they had. They were miniature versions of all of the normal size savory and sweet treats available at the store in full size so it was a great way of sampling all of the goodies on offer.
We had made a reservation at the Château de Pray restaurant, which was about a 5min drive from the hotel. This restaurant is rated one Michelin star and is situated within a charming chateau.
The decor inside the restaurant was quite minimal, with hardly any paintings or pictures on the walls and no ambient music playing in the background. Service was prompt and attentive and there was a good choice on the menu of vegetarian, meat and fish options.
We felt that the food was just mediocre.There was no flair to the cooking of any of the dishes and no punchy flavors. It just seemed to lack the oomph factor that you expect from a Michelin star restaurant. Even the presentation of the food was pretty basic. We expected more and were left a little disappointed.
We would recommend not visiting this restaurant if you are only in the area for a day and instead visiting the restaurant we had dinner at the next day, the Domaine des Hauts de Loire restaurant.
Château de Chenonceau, Château de Chambord and a fantastic 2 star Michelin star restaurant
The best way to start a day is by having a good breakfast and what better way to do it than a traditional French breakfast! We went back to the Cafe Bigot as we loved it so much from the previous day.
We selected the omelette with onions and the traditional breakfast that included croissant, jam, bread, OJ and coffee. Delicious and a perfect start to our day!
Our hotel reception manager advised us that if we only have time for visiting one chateau, to visit the one in Chenonceau. He was absolutely right!
The drive was about 1/2 hour through the pretty French country side on well marked and sealed roads. Very easy to navigate via offline google maps (even though our car came with a GPS). The chateau has plenty of free parking and entry fees to the chateau and grounds is €13 each. There are guided tours also available at extra cost.
The grounds are magnificent and very well kept. The grounds consists of a large open area with flower, herb and vegetable gardens, forest area, a hedge maze, farm animals, a carriage museum, the main chateau building along with small houses scattered around. There are even picnic benches that visitors can use.
The chateau itself is majestic and was built across the Cher river in the 16th century. There are 4 levels inside and most areas of the chateau are accessible to tourists. Unfortunately there is a door blocking the exit on the other side of the river but one can imagine that the chateau could be entered from both sides.
The rooms are immaculate and very well maintained, with large bedrooms, study and library, galleries and reception areas and a chapel, all with warm fireplaces which are still operational.
You can also access the basement, which consists of the servant quarters, kitchen and larder and a small door to receive provisions directly by boat from the river.
A visit to the chateau takes you back in time to a few centuries ago and you can visualise how people would have lived and entertained themselves here.
The drive from Chenonceau to Chambord is about a 45min journey through the little towns and streets of central France. There is a very strong chance that you will get tempted by the amazing cafes and little bakeries along the way.
If you have enough time, you can also stop over at the famous Chateau du Cheverny, where the feeding of hundreds of hunting dogs takes place on display for tourists. We were unable to witness this as it was still in the tail end of the hunting season during our trip.
The grounds of the Chambord chateau are fantastic, boasting a river, lots of trees and a large pond, great spots for picnics and lot of little wine shops and cafes. There is plenty of parking at the chateau but you have to pay for parking (€6).
The chateau is humungous! Just by looking at it, it seems comparatively larger than Buckingham Palace in London. The chateau itself was intended as a hunting lodge and boasts 426 rooms with 77 staircases. The design resembles a medieval stronghold, a central keep flanked by four large towers.
Entrance to the chateau is €11 and if you are interested, you can also purchase an audio guide. The interior is quite barren and not as well kept as the Château de Chenonceau. Most rooms are converted into galleries with furniture, relics and paintings from the time the chateau was operational.
The best view is from the top of the chateau where you can get a 360 degree view of the grounds.
There is also a cafe inside the chateau but the choices on offer are very limited.
We would recommend not visiting inside the chateau and just enjoy the view and the grounds of Chambord. The Château de Chenonceau is worth seeing from the inside but this one doesn’t do justice to the price of admission.
We spent about 30mins inside the chateau and spent a lot more time walking the grounds and admiring it from the outside.
There is a cafe and restaurant strip on the way to the parking lot and we would highly recommend stopping by the biscuit shop, Biscuiterie de Chambord. This place offers tons of flavours of biscuits with free tastings and the biscuit boxes are reasonably priced. The quality is just fantastic and we purchased three boxes and on reflection we should have picked up some more. Do try it, you will love it! We also picked up some local wine here after doing a tasting.
After a good day at the chateaux, we headed back to our hotel through the cute town of Blois, about an hour drive back.
As it was Dani’s birthday, we had made reservations at the Domaine des Hauts de Loire restaurant. This is rated as 2 star by the Michelin guide and was about a 25mins drive from our hotel.
This place was just perfect! The restaurant is small and cosy with only about 8-9 tables. The ambience was exceptionally French with excellent decor, well spaced out tables with elegant presentation and a varied menu.
We ordered the 4 course degustation menu and we have to say, the food was just brilliant! The flavours, innovation and attention to detail were perfect! The exceptional service and attention was everything that we could have wanted for a birthday dinner. This was French cuisine at its finest. There was plenty of amuse bouche provided so in all we sampled around 9 different dishes and there was not a single weak dish amongst them.
We would highly recommend this restaurant instead of the Château de Pray, where we dined the previous night. The cost of our dinner was very similar but the quality and value for money were worlds apart.
With our tummies happy and full, we headed back to our hotel for our last night at the Loire Valley.
We had booked our train back to Paris at 2:15pm from St. Pierre Des Corps on the TGV. We had about 3 hours of sightseeing left for the day and decided to visit the famous gardens of Chateau de Villandry .
Since it was Monday, most of the cafes and restaurants were closed in Amboise, and unfortunately Cafe Bigot was one of them. We were lucky to find a small cafe that was open and had our fill of coffee and croissants for the drive to Villandry.
The drive is about 45mins, taking the toll route. It was €2.50 for the toll road and credit cards are accepted at the toll booth.
Château de Villandry is a grand country house located in Villandry, and is especially known for its beautiful gardens. The location was fairly easy to find and since it was winter, we were one of the few people in the grounds.
The entry fees are €8 to see just the gardens or €14 to see the castle and the grounds. The receptionist advised that it would take a minimum of 2 hours to see the gardens plus the chateau or just an hour for the gardens.
In the interests of time, we decided to only see the gardens. This place is magnificent! The gardens are so large and even in winter they are very well maintained and beautiful. It took us easily more than an hour to cover all the parts of the gardens.
The whole place seems surreal, almost like a painting or out of a fairytale. The best view to appreciate the grandeur of the gardens is from a path that leads into the forests (located within the premises of the chateau). You can get a view of the entire premises from this place and it is simply breathtaking!
You can see from the picture below the scale of this place.
The gardens are divided into a sun garden, a large pond with swans, a large vegetable and herb patch and the flower gardens. The place looked fantastic in winter and we could only imagine how it would be in summer or spring time with all the flowers in full bloom!
After spending just over an hour here, it was time for us to drive to the station to drop off our car (30 min drive) before catching our TGV train to Paris.
We booked our one night in Paris at the Mercure Gare du Nord, just on the door steps of the station to catch our train back to London early morning the next day.
The hotel is average and seemed run down, but the location was the selling point for us.
On our last night in Paris we decided to go for the infamous Moulin Rouge show. We booked our tickets in advance via their official website, and went for the show only option. There are many options/add-ons that can be booked (i.e. dinner, champagne, premium etc). We think that the more expensive the option selected, the closer you are to the stage but the theatre is not that large so you get a good view from most tables.
We decided to have dinner at the local restaurant, Les Tantes Jeanne , before the show, a 5min walk from the venue. This was a small restaurant that had a great selection of local food specializing in steak. The food was excellent and very flavourful. We would highly recommend this restaurant for a pre show dinner if heading to the Moulin Rogue.
The show was extravagant and had a lot of acts from group dancing, solo and duet performances and mild nudity (topless women). The best act was the duo on roller-skates doing crazy stunts. Both of us enjoyed the show but it was something we wouldn’t consider visiting again. We have been to many musicals and theatre performances that were more engrossing and gripping that the Moulin Rogue.
After the show, we headed back to our hotel for much needed sleep to get catch our early morning Eurostar train back to London.
This country side break in central France was refreshing and beautiful to say the least. It was a perfect relaxing weekend break from a busy city life. The highlights were the wonderful lush scenery, grandeur of the chateaux that we saw and the fabulous French food and wine.
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Disclaimer: We did our own research through various internet forums and review sites before making the bookings. We were neither paid or endorsed by anyone to use their services. The entire trip – accommodation and activities – was fully paid for by us.