The Loire Valley is a destination in its own right, but some clients might
prefer to treat the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a day excursion from
Paris due to time constraints.
Though they'll regret the fact that they've condensed their visit once they
get a sip of the valley's wines, inhale its food or tour its chateaux
(castles), travelers can indeed visit the Loire in one day, thanks to
France's high-speed TGV train, which connects Paris to Tours, France, in less than two hours.
Clients can further make the most of their visit by choosing beautiful
Amboise, about 20 minutes from Tours, as their home base. After all,
Amboise was good enough for French nobility and influential expat artists
(including Leonardo da Vinci, who spent his last days here).
There are a few Michelin stars twinkling around the Loire Valley, but the
closest to Amboise is Chateau de Pray, located inside a centuries-old
castle hotel that's only a a few minutes' drive from Amboise.
Chef Frederic Brisset's one-Michelin-starred restaurant might be in a
castle, but it's a pomp-free zone. Attentive-yet-subtle waitstaff produce
an elevated living-room vibe, while the sommelier helps diners match their
meals to the perfect Loire local wine, including Vouvray, Sancerre,
Pouilly-Fume and Chinon. Clients should try one of the region's goat
cheeses or spring for any number of other French cheeses. But the real
stars are the chef's playful creations. Though the menu changes seasonally,
expect beautifully prepared dishes, such as cuttlefish served with a teapot
of flavorful broth, slow-roasted guinea fowl with local mushrooms and an
unforgettable blackcurrant souffle complemented by blackcurrant sorbet.
While I dream of having a friend with a pied-a-terre chateau, the reality
is, I don't know any French aristocrats. But luckily, Avanti Destinations,
the operator that planned my trip, recommended Le Choiseul, a trio of 16th-
and 18th-century houses perfectly poised to face Chateau d'Amboise — which
features views of the city as well as da Vinci's final resting place — and
the Loire River. Besides the convenient location, Le Choiseul is a
memorable part of a Loire Valley retreat thanks to formal French dining at
Le 36, period architecture, an outdoor pool and 32 rooms and suites that
feature floral motifs. The result, I imagine, is more romantic and regal
than crashing at a friend's place could ever be.
Depending on how much time clients have, there are many wines to sip,
pastries to eat and royal and noble chateaux to tour. Avanti's local DMC,
France Intense, can handle any request, maximizing time through its
first-name relationships with chateau staff and enthusiastic storytelling.
If clients want to see the area's grandest chateau, they'll be taken to
Chateau de Chambord, which features a staircase allegedly designed by da
Vinci that resembles a double helix. Nearby is the Loire's most visited
(and arguably most beautiful) castle, Chateau de Chenonceau, also known as
"the ladies' chateau," in reference to the lineage of notable women who
lived there. Back in Amboise, clients can visit da Vinci's final home,
Chateau du Clos Luce, which also displays his genius inventions. And nearby
is Amboise's very own castle, Chateau d'Amboise.