If you’re looking for somewhere to base yourself as you tour the caves and châteaux of the Loire, Saumur is perfect. It also has an air of style and sophistication – and a healthily laid-back vibe – that have led some to describe it as Paris-on-the-Loire.
The town is probably best known for its fairy-tale château. It was built largely in the 13th century by Louis XI and, over the years, has been used as a fortress, a country residence and even a dungeon. From its hilltop vantage point, the château looks down over the town and is particularly stunning at night when it is lit in the tricolour.
Wine buffs will know the town for its wines. The best of the local appellations here is Saumur-Champigny, which is made from Cabernet Franc.
It would have been a waste not to try a glass or two. We soon found a relaxed wine bar where we could enjoy a post-dinner digestif each evening. Erm, by the end of our stay, the owner was offering us drinks on the house!
However, wine isn’t the only drink that Saumur is known for. The town, it transpires, is also the home of Triple Sec. So we felt more or less duty-bound to take a tour of the Distillerie Combier. The drink was invented here in 1834, our guide told us. I can’t honestly say I’ve become a huge convert, but it was certainly interesting to take a look around the distillery and find out more.
There are plenty of great places to eat – from the casual, such as Le Bistro de la Place, to the more formal, such as the Michelin-starred Le Gambetta. The traditional L’Escargot and the more modern Le Pot de Lapin are also popular local restaurants. Sadly, we ran out of time to try them.
“The château looks down over the town and is particularly stunning at night when it is lit in the tricolour”
Saumur also gives easy access to the rest of the Loire Valley.
Chinon was one of our favourite days out. The town has a charming château and plenty of shops and restaurants. We took the opportunity to stop for lunch, finding a shady spot on a terrace to sit back and enjoy a delicious meal. This being France, the restaurant offered a fixed menu of local food, all for €20.
Of course, we also visited Chenonceau, the Loire’s most famous château. I’ll post about that another day.
All in all, Saumur proved the perfect place to base ourselves during our five days of exploring the Loire.