|Subject: Re: Loire Valley tours without a car|
Hi Charles and other Ziners,
Two years ago, when we were in Paris, we wanted to see some of the chateaux in the Loire. We took the train to Tours and from there, used a shuttle bus service. The shuttle takes you on a set route (different each day), gets you a discount on admission to many, leaves you to explore the chateau and gardens. Then you rejoin the van for the trip to the next chateau. We enjoyed it although we don't usually go on tours or use tour services. You should book in advance.
We used Acco-Dispo and we were pleased (got the name from Rick Steves' book) but there are others: http://www.ligeris.com/usa/excursions.html
Here's what we wrote in our travelogue:
Yesterday we took the TGV from Montparnasse to Tours - just about 1 hour (on our Eurail pass, 3 euros reservation fee each seat for each way for a total 12). We had booked with Acco-Dispo Tours (http://www.accodispo-tours.com) because it was well recommended on Rick Steves# bulletin board and I can see why. Pascal and the driver of the second van, Marcel were friendly and competent, the commentary (Pascal ad-libbing through the car radio from the other van) was useful and amusing, the selection of sites was very good and the time allotted to each destination was just about right.
We met Pascal just across the street from the Tours train station at the tourist information office. He had already picked up some passengers who were staying in Amboise. One man in our van was along for his second day. Our itinerary: Azay Le Rideau, Villandry gardens, lunch in Tours on our own, Chenonceau, Amboise, Le Close Luce in Amboise and a wine tasting in the bottom of the Amboise castle - a full day!
Just a bit about the tour - our itinerary cost 37 euros each with discounts at all sites except Chenonceau bringing the effective cost to about 30 euros. It is not a #tour# but a shuttle service. On the drive, Pascal gave us some history of the building we were about to see; the van brought us to a site, as close to the ticket booth as possible; Pascal escorted us through the ticket buying in order to get us the discount; then he told us when and where we needed to be for pickup. And then we were on our own. Each van held a maximum of 8 people and we were two vans. Commentary is available in English, French and German. Other languages are available by tape. In our van, Marcel played Japanese tapes for some young women after the English commentaries by Pascal. Some variation to the itinerary was made for those staying in Amboise - they were scooted off to another site because they could see Clos Luce and Amboise on their own. Hey, it worked! and well. Richard and I would heartily recommend this type of service and Acco-Dispo in particular.
Azay Le Rideau
Our first destination was a very romantic building with fairy-tale turrets. The inside was fairly small but interesting with state and private apartments and then some 19th century rooms (kitchen, billiard room, etc.). It repaid walking in the grounds - lovely reflections of the chateau in the moat.
We walked up to the belvedere as suggested by Pascal and at the overlook, the gardens spread below took our breath away. Absolutely stunning. The amazing patterns of low hedges and plants, the SIZE of the gardens! Then when we walked down to look more closely, we could see that the red leaves were of lettuces and the ferny leaves were carrots.... We had been told on the drive about the vegetables but we thought that Pascal had mistranslated a word! But no, it was a beautifully laid out vegetable and herbal garden with rose arbours There is a reflecting pond which wasn#t working - too much wind and too much rain but that didn#t seem to bother the swans. But the gardens were quiet apart from our constant companions yesterday, school groups! If you have been to Villandry, you will know better than I can say how amazing it is. If you haven#t, take the opportunity one day and see for yourself!
We had a quick lunch in Tours and then joined the regrouped tour (some were taking a half day only) for a drive to Chenonceau.
Chenonceau is one of those places you know - very familiar from photos, from television programs about history or architecture so it was a thrill to actually see it. They are in the process of cleaning the front so when you go, it will look even better! Chononceau is much more isolated than the other houses we saw but as with Azay, strongly connected with women. As at Azay also, there is not a lot of furniture but it is choice. My favourite part was the long gallery over the river Cher, with its chalk and slate tiled floor and big windows overlooking the river. The room is full of light, even on a rainy day and has such history. The bridge was built by Diane de Poitiers and the gallery was build on it by Catherine de Medici. The two gardens give good views of the gallery and its famous arching supports. We got some good photos, we think. I had to hold the umbrella over the camera so it wouldn#t get wet.
Le Clos Luce is in Amboise and was where Leonardo da Vinci died. Richard and I visited Vinci, his birthplace in Tuscany in October 2000 with my brother Jamie and sister-in-law Joyce so we have seen both ends of Leonardo! In addition to some fine rooms, some purporting to be Leonardo#s bedroom, kitchen, etc. there is a small Renaissance garden.
And on to Amboise, a huge castle within sight of Leonardo#s bedroom window - there exists a picture by him of the castle from his window. It is different from our earlier visits with its defensive structure, built high over the town. A very nice small chapel near the entrance and great views from the towers with wild flowers growing in nooks and crannies. Great washes of scarlet poppies, my favourite.
Amboise itself is a pretty small town of just 1500 or so. A nice central area with shopping and cafes, good location on the river. It would make a nice stopping place for a few days. We were not impressed by Tours, at least what we saw later in a half hour stroll. We decided that the train station was just as interesting!
Our last stop of the our day was a degustation, a wine tasting, which is free. If you are in Amboise, just drop in. With Pascal#s help, we worked our way through several white wines, some bubbly and red. Wine prices were very reasonable and we bought a bottle of Sauvignon. In the next room, you could try pates and other foods. Some of our group bought some - it seemed good value compared to the same products in the shop windows in Tours.
Our TGV trip back to Paris was quick and uneventful. The train whizzes at 300 Km a hour and when it passes a TGV going the other way, the whole train rattles for a few seconds. If you are fast, you can see the other train, but you do have to be fast or it is gone.
When the train staff checked tickets on the train, he said that should have stamped our TGV reservation card before we got on the train. We hadn#t done so because we thought that filling in the date on our Eurail pass and carrying the reservation card was enough. We knew that you must stamp train tickets (composter) but the conductor when we were going to Tours did not say anything about this. Live and learn!
Frances Toronto, Canada