C’est magnifique! Luxury weekend away in France’s Loire Valley.

008_franceI’m one of those travelers who had never been to Europe. Of course, like many I had those Parisian dreams of being swept off my feet, but visiting major tourist cities becomes a little tragic after a while. So late last year when I was invited to spend three nights in the Loire Valley in France, I gleefully accepted and started packing my bags.

Arriving directly into Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in the morning peak, I spent about an hour before making it through the scrum and collecting my bags. Many of us only need show their passport for an entry into the country, and whilst seemingly disappointed I had no stamp for the occasion; it was good to get underway and off to collect my rental car. All major hire car companies are represented – I booked online with Hertz and found my car and paperwork ready to go, along with a handy GPS unit which gave directions in several languages including English. Given it was pouring rain, and about 3 degrees Celsius this was a definite advantage!

With my American friend in tow, we ventured out of the airport and into Friday lunchtime traffic on the motorway heading south towards Tours. She promptly fell asleep in the passenger seat, leaving me to argue with the GPS unit about our destination. Thankfully after only one or two mishaps we were swiftly headed towards central France and into the charming city of Blois over the river Loire, full of Renaissance architecture and mementos of Joan of Arc’s time there in the 1400s. We meandered along the river now albeit at a much slower pace, through to Onzain, Veuves and Monteaux which are all charming villages in their own right. We then arrived at our destination for the next three nights, Chateau du Portail – a fourteenth century castle, lovingly restored and now a luxurious bed and breakfast for discerning guests.

Welcomed by Claude, a fabulous French American man and the most gracious host, we settled into our two bedroom suite adjoined by a common living area and bathroom. The French provincial decoration was offset by stunning period antiques, yet small touches such as big fluffy robes and bubble baths made one feel quite at home. Dressed for drinks and canapés in the parlor, we met other guests staying at the Chateau over this weekend and talked about the likelihood of snow, and lost many hours over a succulent roast dinner and fine Bordeaux wines. Waking the next morning to a winter wonderland, we drove into the nearby village of Onzain to try the local cheese market and select some fresh produce for dinner that evening. We spent that afternoon by a roaring log fire enjoying our purchases, before dressing for a black tie dinner (which was prearranged with all guests) which went well into the early hours.

At Chateau du Portail, relaxation was easy to come by, company always welcoming and food and wine never in short supply. If we had wanted, day tours to nearby historical monuments and hot air ballooning could all be organized – yet the tranquility of the French countryside seemed to slow our efforts to do much at all. All too soon, it was time to pack our bags, say goodbye to new acquaintances, and head back towards Paris for the next leg of our adventure.

Paris is served by two airports, the most predominant being Charles de Gaulle with flights from all corners of the globe. Car hire with Hertz starts from EUR59 per day. Alternatively, catch a train to Tours or Monteaux from as little as EUR20, and the Chateau will collect you from the station. Accommodation at Chateau du Portail starts from EUR150 per night for a classic double room including continental breakfast. To book, either go online at www.chateauduportail.com or use the services of a licensed travel agent.

Ashley Hogan is an Australian independent travel writer who calls the world home.

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