We spent our nights in the Loire Valley in Blois at one of these “lesser mansions” turned inn: the Demeure de ls Cordeliere. This elegant 18th-century building had a gate which opened upon on a courtyard and behind which was a small, but pretty garden. Be prepared when you come here to not see a hotel or a big sign. A very small discreet sign is by the locked driveway. Ring the bell to announce yourself and the door will be opened for your car and yourself. You are then escorted into an old restored house with huge ceilings. Our room was on the second floor. It was very spacious and came with a TV, coffee/tea. The huge private bathroom was 2 steps down from our room (lights came on automatically when you stepped into the area with the steps) and had a shower and bathtub, along with a double sink. Large windows were openable for air in the bedroom, with smaller windows in the bathroom. Very comfortable bed and linens. The breakfast consisted of croissants, bread, cheese, ham, and yogurt. When it was cooler, breakfast was inside. On the nicer day, it was outside in the garden. In all, a very pleasant stay. The owners knew a little English but sufficient amount to help guide you through town. No surprise, the owner is more comfortable In speaking with French speakers. If you have any cat allergies, this is not the place for you. But if you want to stay in more of a traditional French place (read: non-hotel), you will be very happy here. They only take cash for the lodging although you book online via booking.com.
Two nights in Blois gave us a chance for two dinners in that town. We ate at:
- L’annexe, a brasserie, was one of the few restaurants open on Monday night. We shared escargot in garlic butter and two main dishes: baked chicken stuffed with duck foie gras with Forestier sauce with mushrooms, port and cream (with Caesar salad and homemade French fries) and piglet in puff crust with mushroom, port wine and cream sauce (with mashed potatoes, stuffed mushrooms and green salad). We had this with a relatively light and fruity red Loire Valley wine, a 2013 Clo Chinon. Although the food was pretty good, it was not memorable.
- Le Bistrot de Cuisinier was pretty, very well reviewed and extremely popular restaurant. However, we did not have a good experience here, Our problems began with our server, clearly a neophyte who couldn’t even begin to describe dishes on the menu (in English or in French) and whose follow-up left much to be desired. Nor were we impressed by the food. We started with two dishes, escargot Bourgogne, which were inexplicably deep fried and served in creamy garlic butter sauce and shrimp soufflé (actually more like a mousse), which was pretty good, albeit somewhat overwhelmed by a sauce that was tasty, but overpowered the delicate soufflé. The Saint-Pierre and sea bass dish was overcooked (although the mushroom fricassee with which the fish was served was good). Then there was the veal. While the menu did say “Tete de veau” (head of veal), our trusty server told us it was a veal loin (Joyce speaks French and confirmed this in French too). It was absolutely was not. Although Tom has not previously had veal head, the meat had a texture and fat content similar to pig’s head. There was, in fact, more fat than there was meat. Possibly okay if it were what I thought I had ordered, he still found it very disappointing. All this being said, the dinner did have two bright spots. First was the wine, a pleasant, albeit not especially complex Cab Franc from Domaine de Nerleux (2014) from Saumur Champigny. Second was the wonderful selection of cheeses, with the Camembert, Liviron and Neufchatel (our favorite), and the goat cheese falling only slightly behind.
Loire Valley Wines
Our primary reason for revisiting the Loire Valley was to see the towns. Our previous trip, many years ago, focused primarily on Chartres and its incredible cathedral (which we did not have a chance to visit this trip—unless we have a chance to take a day trip from Paris), Chambord and a couple other chateaus. We also had a secondary motivation which, unfortunately, we were only partially able to satisfy. That was to explore the Loire wine region and to gain a better understanding of and appreciation of its wines.
We did have a chance to sample a number of local wines at restaurants, cafes and one touristy tasting room (see Montreuil-Bellay). These tastes included some from Muscadet (from the melon de Bourgogne grape), Chinon, Saumur Champigny and St. Nicholas de Bourgueil (especially Cab Franc), Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) and Vouvray (Chenin Blanc). Whether through luck or the wise selections made by the restaurants and cafes we visited that each (except for the Chateau Montreuil-Bellay Cab Francs) provided a favorable representation of their varietals.
We did make time for three more proper tastings. Two of these were in Vouvray and one in Touraine-Amboise.
Our first Vouvray tasting was at Huet, one of the best known and most renowned of Vouvray producers. We had a tasting of ten of their wines, beginning with a sparkler (2010 Cuvee Huet Brut) through different vintages and sweetness levels (Sec, Demi-Sec, Moelleau to the sweetest—about 65 grams of sugar per liter—Moelleau). From each level of sweetness, we tasted wines from each of the winery’s three vineyards, from the earthy Clos du Bourg, Le Haut Lieu, to the more minerally Le Mont. Of all, our favorite was a moderately sweet 2005 Le Mont Moellleau, which will go perfectly with the foie gras and Epoisse chees that we plan to eat in Paris.
We then stopped at Chateau Moncontour, another Vouvray winery that also has a vineyard in Chinon. We tasted about a dozen wines from each of the winery’s five different labels. We began with a lovely sparking Vouvray (Domaine du Petit Coteau Brut), a number of nice still whites (especially the 2011 Domaine de Vaugondy Vouvray sec) and two Chinon Cab Francs, neither of which we found to our taste.
Our Touraine-Amboise stop was at the small, family-run Domaine Dutertre. It too was a winner. While our favorites were all 2014 Chenin Blancs (the dry Clos du Pavillon, the moderately sweet Les Menates, and especially the late harvest Cuvee Gabriel dessert wine), we also enjoyed a dry Sauvignon Blanc. We, however, found the two reds that we tasted (2014 Cuvee Francois—a blend of Gamay, Cabernet and Malbec—and 2012 Cuvee Prestige—Cab and Malbec) both to be astringent. Taste aside, the cave and the tasting room, both carved from a limestone cavern, were the most beautiful we have ever visited. While the cave was a natural rock formation, the tasting room seamlessly blended walls and counters into the rock. Just as beautiful were some of the magnum and jerabaum bottles that were designed by the winemaker’s daughter.
Our only regret was that we did not reserve more time for visiting more Loire Valley wineries from other regions.
As we say goodbye to the Loire Valley, we next head to one of our favorite cities in the world…..Paris