It takes 4 to 5 train-bus hours to get to Chinon from Bordeaux. (TGV or regular train to Tours Centre or Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, then bus to Chinon). As with most trains in France, the scenery is captivating.
I arrived at Gare de Chinon to a dark stormy looking sky. Zigzagging through the streets, a light rain started as I turned into the driveway of the hotel, the one that’s been on my radar, the one I’ve heard so much about and wanted to visit for the last year.
I met Jamie a handful of years back in Pistoia, a small town in Tuscany. We’ve kept in periodic touch and a year ago, she and her husband purchased the absolutely charming, Hotel Diederot. Similar to what Mark and I are doing, it was a planned, complete change of life.
After our greetings and an afternoon coffee we headed to the kitchen. The hotel is known for its artisan jam and being an amazing pastry gal, it was natural for Jamie to jump right into that roll.
During this past year I read about Jamie’s trips to the market, visiting various fruit vendors to gather what was in season for jam. From berries to stone fruits, bananas to citrus, and whisky to wine, jam is made when the fruit is available and ripe, which is several times a week if not more.
A batch of orange marmalade, a stroll through the city, and a great night of sleep later, I tasted about eight of her various jams at breakfast- all superb. Most products served are from local smaller producers (fabulous coffee, fresh chèvre, breads, croissant, and fresh fruit). The breakfast room atmosphere included warmth from the low crackling fire in the 15th century fireplace.
My day was spent exploring Chinon, a quaint city with a population of 8,000. La Vielle Ville (the old town) is nestled between the river Vienne and the royal fortress on top of the hill. Various streets in the old town contain medieval houses. The fortress was once the home of various kings (Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitiane lived there, Richard the Lionheart was born there, and my favorite, Jeanne d’Arc met with the Dauphin Charles (Charles VII) where she secured his approval to lead a siege to win back the city of Orléans).
Almost to the top.
Note the cream colored “tuffeau” cliff on the right. Many wine caves and houses are carved into them. Tuffeau is a form of limestone or chalk in composition, laden with marine fossils. When mixed with sand and flinty clays, tuffeau creates very good vineyard soils. And tuffeau has been quarried for centuries in the Loire Valley.
I strolled to Couly-Dutheil, a winery just a block behind the hotel after a full day of exploring (such convenience!). Madame was happy to open five bottles of wine for me to taste, sharing the slower season affords her the time. There are several wineries in and around Chinon, a few are walkable but a car is needed for most.
If you are the activity type, the GR (grande randonnée) hiking trails are accessible right from Chinon. I saw several bicycle route signs too. Castles and historical forays abound and of course, many wineries to visit and much wine to taste.
If you happen to head to the Loire, I highly recommend a few days in Chinon, or using it and Hotel Diderot as a base from which to explore.
Thank you Owen Martin for sharing your tuffeau wine and door cave photos. (opmartin.net)!