I’m just going to come right out and say it. No point beating around the bush. I’m sure I’m going to get bombarded with comments and replies telling me how wrong I am, but here goes anyway…
The Loire Valley in France is completely overrated!
There, I said it, now let the criticism begin. I also mentioned it in the title, so admittedly the impact was a little lost, but the ‘overrated’ bit deserved to be mentioned twice! There are a couple of reasons our experience wasn’t quite as wonderful as I’m sure many other people have had. It’s winter here in France at the moment, so most of the leaves on the trees have fallen. I’m not sure whether during spring and summer the leaves on the trees make much of a difference, I can only assume they do, but it certainly had a negative impact at this time of year. It was also a very cold and bleak day. My toes were frozen for most of the morning, and Jack didn’t like it too much either. A two year old with a stream of mucous permanently frozen to his top lip (despite our constant attempts to clean his face) isn’t a pretty sight, and they’re generally not to happy when this happens! But Jack battled on bravely and was incredibly well behaved throughout the day, so he wasn’t to blame. There was a heavy fog first thing in the morning, but that didn’t have any effect on our vision by the time we arrived at our first stop, Chateau Chenonceau. But it was a grey day all day, and this certainly didn’t help.
Our route along the Loire River
Before I go on, perhaps I should tell you where we started and finished during our journey. That will give you some idea of where we went and what we did. Maybe we missed something? Maybe we weren’t in the Loire Valley?!?! Now that would be funny, but I think we can count that one out. We started at Château de Chenonceau and spent some time here wandering the grounds and impressive Chateau. I’ll talk about our experience here in more detail in a later post, but it was probably the highlight of our journey. We then went to Amboise for some lunch, before making our way along the Loire River through Tours to Château de Villandry (hugely overrated), Château d’Ussé, the lovely town of Chino and finally Fontevraud-l’Abbaye. For those who have explored the Loire Valley, is that a reasonable selection of places to visit to form a solid opinion about the area? I think so, but perhaps I’m wrong.
The Garden of France?
The Loire Valley is not the ‘Garden of France’, as it’s been so eloquently called as far as I’m concerned. Unless of course you’re talking about backyards with caravans, rusted out cars that haven’t moved in years, and graffiti spray-painted all over the back fence. For some of our drive it looked like Europe’s gypsy community had moved here, with caravan encampments set up every 3-4km from each other down the road that hugs the Loire River. Couple this with dirty big factories scattered throughout our journey and I’m afraid it wasn’t exactly the rolling green hills, beautiful blue water and vibrant, colourful flowers I had pictured in my mind. Perhaps I’d imagined something that just doesn’t exist, based on the nickname it has been given? Or maybe it was the winter chill and grey skies that has clouded my judgement?
It was the journey, not the destinations
I think I should make something clear about my observations so far, in the hope that I clear up any confusion. It wasn’t the destinations that are the issue for me. All of the Châteaus we visited were beautiful, as were the grounds that surrounded them. Chinon, Amboise and Tours are beautiful towns and cities, and Sarah and I plan on heading back to one while my mum is in France for a second visit and overnight stay (she can look after Jack while we escape). And despite my views on religion and God, Fontevraud-l’Abbaye is quite impressive indeed, as are most of the world’s great religious buildings. It was the in-between that disappointed me. Where was the beautiful countryside that I’d painted of the Loire Valley so perfectly in my head? Does it exist? Is it simply the wrong time of year? Did we drive on the right roads?
One more thing…
Neither Sarah or I, or little jack for that matter, are drinkers. So we didn’t pop into any vineyards along the way to sample any of the local tipple. Could this have made a difference to our Loire Valley experience? Is this why people rave about it? Maybe visitors drive around, have a few wines and write about what an awesome day they’ve had? Which, by the way, is completely fair enough, you’ll get no argument from me. But if the whole mystique and magic of the Loire Valley was lost on me because I don’t drink, then there wasn’t too much mystique and magic to begin with as far as Im concerned I’m afraid.
I’m probably going to get slaughtered by any of the locals who we’ve met along the way who might read this, and I’ll probably be proved wrong if I ever go there again during warmer weather months. Perhaps the Loire Valley will have a different effect on us the second time around given our expectations will be low and the weather will be better. I so badly want to be wrong about it, and I’ve got a feeling that perhaps I am. But if anyone is planning on taking a drive through the Loire Valley during winter and is expecting to be dazzled by some sort of incredible scenery, I suggest you think again because you’re going to be mightily disappointed.
So what do you think, am I right or completely off the mark? Let us know in the comments below…