After reading many travel books and searching the Internet, we booked a seven day’s stay in a gites in France’s Loire valley. What is a gites you may ask? It is one of several hundred small dwellings in rural France owned privately but inspected, rated, and rented by and through the French Government. All gites, self-catering and otherwise, can be viewed and booked on the Internet (http://www.gites de france.fr/eng/). From the many offerings, we chose one in the Loire valley in Villandry near Tours.
In addition to our time constraints, we had budget limitations. Recognizing the three major vacation expenses: transportation, lodging, and meals, we knew that by renting the gites for a week, we covered two of the three: the gites provided the lodging and a place to eat. Our selection rented for less than $400.00 for seven days. This included a fully equipped kitchen with micro-wave stove, a dishwasher, a T.V., a washing machine and an upstairs bedroom.
After a train trip from Paris, we rented a car in Tours for a week. The train ticket, each round trip, was $48.00. And, car rental was $280.00 for the week.
Our plan allowed us to live in the French countryside with all of the amenities of home. Our meals could either be prepared by us or eaten in one of the many great restaurants for which rural France is famous while being surrounded by one of France’s most beautiful and historic areas. We limited our itinerary to short car trips each day to several of these sites.
In the small village of Villandry, we found a delightful stone, two story cottage, once a bakery, now artfully transformed into a cozy and romantic bungalow while retaining the baker’s oven and timbered ceilings in the second story bedroom. The dwelling was further enhanced with colorful drapery and bedding. Our host and hostess were friendly and helpful. Although neither spoke fluent English, they were able to communicate with us regarding the use of the cottage.
Soon after arriving, we walked about a quarter of a mile into the village and purchased some provisions for breakfast and snacks. While wandering, we read the menus of the local restaurants and chose for dinner a very lovely one in the center of the village, Le Colombien. Our meal included a fish mousse with little canapés of red and black roe, a tart with bacon slices, then a Magret de canard. Also served was foie gras with green tomato confiture, then lamb chops with garlic cream sauce. Vegetables for both were braised cabbage and ratatouille. Desserts included fresh pineapple and profiteroles with chocolate sauce. For wine, we chose a pleasant Vouvaray. This excellent dinner, with tax and tip, was $75.
The next day, we breakfasted in our perfect little house on oranges, pears, cheese, toast and tea while watching the clouds roll by and listened to the wind roar against the building. The sun battled to win out over the clouds and succeeded. With the sun above and stuffed bellies below, we trooped off on a short walk to Chateau Villandry where we would view the castle and grounds.
As it was spring, the immense gardens were mostly empty. Great stone walls and moats define each area of the garden. Pollard and espaliered trees, some shaped into an 18″ high border creating smaller planting areas, formed intricate patterns. The chateau is in private ownership and has been extensively restored and is interesting; however, the grounds are the attraction, drawing thousands of people in the summer.
After spending an hour or so inspecting the chateau’s interior rooms, we drove along a narrow paved lane which gave way on both sides to form a dike bordering the Indre River. This narrow path continued several miles as we passed by little, sometimes minuscule villages. A few pedestrians, some with dogs, walked the road while others rode horses. At one point, a goat family with two cute, romping, jumping kids rambled across the road. All in all, a lovely drive.
That night, our dining choice was located in one of the many caves which spot the river banks. These caves were formed when tons of stone were quarried horizontally for the chateaus. Les Caves du Gosier Sec, is, in fact a restaurant in a cave except for the kitchen that pushes forward from the cavern into a wooden structure. When seated, we found ourselves the only guests, and happily received more attention and a very fine meal. The bread, baked at the restaurant, was as good as any we had tasted in France. Our meal consisted of a rillette de Touraine then an omelet avec eshallottes; smoked salmon followed by perch in parchment. For dessert we chose a pallet d’or and sorbet. We split a demi-liter of local wine. Total bill, with tax & tip, $54. To the host’s obvious glee, eight guests arrived as we were finishing our meal. It was only a short drive back to our gites leaving us with time to relax and read.