Souzay-Champigny (Val de La Loire), France May 2024 (Tour 9)

We had intended staying in Montsoreau for 3 or 4 days but changed our minds and stayed a full week after learning that the Olympic Flame would be passing through the village on it’s way to Paris for the 2024 Olympics. The arrival of the Flame is a huge event for such a small village and, anyway, Montsoreau is a fine little village with plenty going on and it’s campsite, Camping Isle Verte, has all the facilities we need and more (especially having regard to Nala’s condition). We didn’t need much persuading to stay on but, what to do until the Olympic Flame arrives?

I mentioned in an earlier post that Montsoreau is well placed for us to visit a host of other villages and towns in the area. Indeed, we have already enjoyed nearby Candes Saint Martin and Turquant and I particularly enjoyed visiting the Abbey at Fontevraud. And so it happened that after Montsoreau’s Sunday Market (more about that later in a fresh post on Montsoreau), I set off, a pied, to explore a couple of other villages to the west of Montsoreau being Parnay and Souzay-Champigny. These two were never going to compare with Montsoreau, Candes Saint Martin, Turquant or Fontevraud L’Abbaye, but they each offer something of interest. Over dinner last night I enjoyed a very pleasant red wine from Parnay (a Chateau de Targe, produced by an independent winemaker, Paul Pisani-Ferry) and the waiter recommended their wines above any other in the area in terms of taste and value for money. Parnay has to be worth a visit. Just beyond Parnay is the larger village of Souzay-Champigny (over 700 inhabitants compared with less than 300 in Parnay) with it’s 12th century troglodyte shopping street – surely the first ever shopping mall?

It didn’t take me long to walk to Parnay (it is less than 3 miles from Montsoreau) but sadly the Chateau de Targe was not open for wine tasting when I arrived. Probably just as well given how much I enjoyed the wine last night. I’ll just have to revisit last night’s bar.

The only other thing I would say about Parnay is that the locals seem very proud of the fact it sits on the Greenwich Meridian…

On to Souzay-Champigny, which adjoins Parnay. I managed a few photographs of the troglodyte street but, I think a better time to visit the place would be in April (when an egg fair is held there) or early June (when a medieval festival takes place) or, better still in December when it holds a Christmas Market. It wasn’t being used at all during my visit and, empty, proved very disappointing. I walked all around the village but, again, it proved a disappointment There was a wedding on at the church (which I was loath to join) and so I lost those photo opportunities but, worse, I read that the most picturesque views of the village are to be taken from the small island in the Loire opposite the Town Hall and because the island was almost completely underwater (the Loire having burst it’s banks) I missed those photo opportunities too. Some other time perhaps – April, June or December, Lol.

Fontevraud L’Abbaye (Pays de La Loire), France May 2024 (Tour 9)

We spent the morning of this our 6th day of Tour 9 in Candes Saint Martin. We had promised to return to Candes to visit the Street Art Parc which is located in the grounds of Chateau Candes. We’re so glad we returned for that visit; it was one and a half hours of pure joy. I have described the visit in a post script to the earlier Candes Saint Martin blog. For now, I will concentrate on the afternoon’s excursion to the little village of Fontevraud L’Abbaye.

Fontevraud is almost exactly 3 miles south of Montsoreau and the walk took about an hour and a quarter. Vanya chose to stay in Montsoreau with the dogs, both of which were totally exhausted after the morning’s visit to Candes. Vanya might have been a little tired too but she is recovering from her hip operation.

Although it has a population of a little over 1,500, there’s not a great deal to the village. Almost everything in Fontevraud is about the Historic Monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ‘Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud’ and so, after a very quick scout of the village which saw me find a suitable cafe-bar for a wine stop before my return to Montsoreau, I headed for the Abbey.

Most conveniently, the principal entrance to the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud is on the Place des Plantagenets. I paid my entrance fee (14 Euros for access into both the abbey and the museum) and began my tour. For a small fee you can join a guided tour but it really isn’t necessary if you speak French or English. You get a free guidebook (pamphlet) with your admission ticket which when read in conjunction with small plaques dotted about the Abbey explains all you need to know.

The Abbey was founded in 1101 by Robert d’Arbrissel to accommodate monks and nuns and it flourished, particularly after Eleanor of Aquitaine retired to the Abbey in 1200 and made it a necropolis for the Kings and Queens of England. Upon her death in 1204 she was entombed in the abbey church of Fontevraud together with her husband King Henry II, her third son King Richard I (aka Richard the Lionheart) and Isabella Angouleme wife of her youngest son King John of England.

Robert d’Arbrissel is also entombed in the abbey church despite his wish to be buried in a more simple plot in the grounds of the abbey. Over the course of his life Robert proved to be a bit of a religious radical and this continued right to the end when on his deathbed he decreed that a woman, Hersende of Champagne, should succeed him as head of Fontevraud over all nuns and monks. Since then 36 abbesses have succeeded one another, the last being Julie Sophie Charlotte de Pardaillan d’Antin who was evicted during the French Revolution in 1792 and subsequently died in poverty in Paris.

The abbey was looted and ransacked during the French Revolution and suffered further depradation in 1804 when Napoleon Bonaparte instructed that it be used as a prison. Housing up to 2,000 inmates at a time until it’s closure in 1963, Fontevraud was considered one of the toughest prisons in France. After the prison closed work began to restore the Abbey and the following photos reflect some considerable progress:-

The Grand-Moutier Cloister…

The Chapter Room…

Saint Benoit Courtyard…

The Romanesque Kitchens…

View of Fontevraud Abbey from Robert d’Arbrissel Hill (& the abbey bells)…

There’s no doubt, the abbey is a beautiful and interesting place (and I’m glad I visited) but in one respect it proved a disappointment. It struck me as a barren collection of pretty buildings with no ‘feeling’, if that is the right word. This may in part be due to all original furnishings, fixtures and fittings having been removed; those little items which would give the place a more human connection. I think this needs to be addressed given (a) the abbey’s history as a place monastic life and worship and; (b) it’s royal patronage (not just by the Plantagenents either) and; (c) the hardship and suffering that occured within during the period it was a notorious prison and; (d) more recently when, during World War II, it was used by the Nazi occupiers as a place of internment and execution of the French Resistance Movement. Give the place some soul.

And moving on… there was just enough time for a quick artisanal beer in the abbey’s old vegetable garden before I made my way to the museum (that was a total disappointment) and then on to my planned winestop at La Croix Blanche. I still had the three mile walk back to Montsoreau to navigate.

The Chinon wine was very nice. Full bodied and very smooth. I’ll be taking some of that back to England.

Turquant (Pays de La Loire), France May 2024 (Tour 9)

This small village of fewer than 600 inhabitants, just a mile or two west of Montsoreau, is packed with caves and troglodyte houses, most of which are currently used by various artisans and/or craftworkers as workshops and galleries.

We didn’t stay long (we were going to the Leclerc Hypermarket in Saumur) but, not having seen a bakery, a chemist and a tabac-bar (establishments which are common to almost every village in France) I’m wondering if we missed a part of the village? What we did see was fascinating and it would be a great shame if we did miss out on something but the place is a bit of a warren.

POSTSCRIPT: Back at the Van I scoured a local map and, in hindsight, I don’t think we missed much at all. One interesting point arising out of my search, however, is that the ancient town of Loudun is less than 20 miles from Turquant. In 1634 Loudon was the site of a notorious witchcraft trial after a convent of Ursuline nuns claimed to have been possessed by demons. The full story is told in Aldous Huxley’s book ‘The Devils of Loudun’ which in 1972 was made into a Ken Russell film starring Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed (in the principal roles of, respectively, Sister Jeanne des Anges and Father Urbain Grandier). I recall seeing the film in London when it first came out (and before it was banned).

Back to Turquant. Almost everything in Turquant is made of tuffeau stone (tufa stone in English) which is soft and grey when mined but hardens and turns white when exposed to sunlight. It was dug out of local cliffs during the late Middle Ages to build churches, castles, mansions and houses all along the Loire Valley. The resulting caves, some little more than holes in the cliffs, were subsequently sought out by the destitute and used as homes. Some of these cave homes continued to be occupied until the 1930’s. Now they are mostly used by local artisans as workshops and galleries although; I did see one that has been turned into a restaurant and there are signs that an increasing number are being converted into Airbnbs.

Enough about tuffeau stone except to say that there are a couple of short well marked walking routes starting start down by the church car parks which will lead the visitor past many of the caves and around Turquant. Follow these and you will see most everything the village has to offer (except a bakery, chemist or tabac-bar).

One final word on local food before I get back to exploring this area. Pommes Tapees are produced and sold in the village. When wine production was ruined by the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century, some of the local wineries looked to apples as an alternative business option. To make Pommes Tapees, the apples are dried for no less than 5 days in ovens built into the local caves. During this time they are turned daily and tapped with a small hammer so as to flatten them. They are then bottled and should keep at least 10 years.

Candes Saint Martin (Centre-Val de Loire), France May 2024 (Tour 9)

One mile east of Montsoreau, at the confluence of the Loire and Vienne Rivers is the village of Candes Saint Martin. We thought to start the day by walking Nala and Beanie to, from and around the village. Ultimately, it proved to be a bit of a stretch for Nala in her new wheels and we therefore curtailed the outing with me returning later in the day for a second more detailed wander. Don’t get me wrong. Nala enjoyed the day enormously and would have gone on for much longer but a leg strap was chafing and we decided to rest her.

Candes Saint Martin is another ‘plus beau village de France’. It is less than half the size of Montsoreau (just 200 inhabitants) but this tiny village also packs a punch in terms of things to see and do. It’s primary points of interest are views over the Loire Valley (from a viewpoint on a small hill at the back of the village) and the very imposing fortified collegiate church of Saint Martin (in the village centre) which was built in a predominantly Gothic style during the 12th and 13th centuries. Most of the fortifications were added in the 15th century.

(There is also a 5 hectare park of urban street art which I will write about once I have been back to for a better look).

The church is surprisingly large for such a small village but Saint Martin of Tours (also known as Martin the Merciful) carried a lot of weight in this area. In case you are interested, he was born in Hungary during the early part of the 4th century, the son of a Roman officer. Martin too became a soldier (joining the cavalry). It was during this time of his life that on a very cold day he became famous for tearing his cape in half and sharing it with a beggar. He subsequently converted to Christianity, was made a Bishop of Tours and later died in Candes. The church named after him was built on the spot in Candes where his house once stood.

Candes Saint Martin appears more popular with tourists than Montsoreau (that is probably because of the enormous interest the French seem to have in Martin of Tours aka Martin the Merciful) with three whole coachloads arriving in the village’s small car park while I was there but; I much prefer Montsoreau. It is not so obviously ‘touristy’. Yes, Montsoreau has its fair share of visitors but for the most part they are cyclists travelling the Loire Velo (which forms the 800 kilometre western section of Eurovelo 6, linking the Black Sea to the Atlantic). I dislike cyclists (this comes of living in Brighton where the brainless council is hell-bent on limiting all pavements and roads to bicycles) but, in fairness to cyclists, at least they are not inclined to congregate in large numbers around anyone waving an umbrella like coach travellers always do.

Post Script: A couple of days after visiting Candes Saint Martin, we returned to visit the Street Art Parc and we were very pleased to have done so. It is a great way to spend an hour and a half and good value for money too with the entrance fee being just 7 euros (5 to me because I rank as a senior). We had the place to ourselves and it is a secure area which meant we could let the dogs run loose. The dogs don’t have the same interest in street art as we do but a free run around part of a sizeable forest will always appeal to lively dogs.

I should explain that in 2019 the owners of the Chateau de Candes invited some 20 ‘urban’ artists to take up residence at the chateau with a view to their developing and displaying street art across some 5 hectares of woodland. Within a month, 40+ creations were on display and since then at least another 15 artists have joined the initiative. I’ll not say more about the place except that I came away describing the visit as “pure joy”. I’ll leave you with some photos I took but, I could have taken so many more…

Apologies for not having made a note of all the artist’s names – my bad (as my children would say). What a place! And doesn’t the forest just lend itself to some of these pieces? For more info visit

Montsoreau (Pays de La Loire), France May 2024 (Tour 9)

This was not my best ever day travelling through France. I’ll not go into detail here but last night (after I had passed out from a surfeit of much needed beer and wine) Vanya wrote to our children about the events of the drive from Neufchatel en Bray and she may reproduce it in this blog later. It will suffice for me to say here that I will never again travel the A18 to Tours and/but we made it to our destination, the small village of Montsoreau in the Pays de La Loire, and our initial impression of the village is most favourable.

We are parked up on the banks of the Loire River, in Camping L’Isle Verte, just 100 metres from the village centre.

It was raining cats and dogs as we arrived and any thoughts of a wander around the village vanished as quickly as the rain was running down the back of my neck. After parking up we made directly for the campsite bar; Vanya for a couple of glasses of the Cremant de Loire and me for a couple of pints of the local beer. The blonde beer served in the restaurant was fine, Vanya really liked the wine (an Ackerman ‘Blanc de Noir’) and the food was tasty – a trio of mixed, stuffed mushrooms together with a sizeable puff pastry crammed full of snails in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Eventually, an hour or so before sunset, it stopped raining and we had time for a short tour of the village. In addition to being listed as a ‘plus beau village de France’, Montsoreau is a recognised ‘village fleuri’ and this is evidenced by an abundance of colourful flowers throughout the village. It is a very pretty place with nearly all the buildings, built of white truffeau stone and with grey slate tile roofs, providing an elegant contrast to the climbing roses which adorn so many of them.

For a small village of less than 500 inhabitants the village is surprisingly well served with bars (3) and restaurants (we counted 8 during this brief tour) and there seems to be plenty of things to see and do. For my part, I could sit for ages outside one of the riverfront bars, just enjoying the river, sipping wine and watching the world go by but; there’s considerably more… a 15th century renaissance castle (around which the Dumas book ‘La Dame de Montsoreau’ was written, although the castle is now home to a contemporary art museum); the Church of Saint Pierre de Rest (the floor of which over the centuries has been raised by a couple of metres because it kept getting flooded by the Loire); a modern Cultural Centre showcasing the Loire-Anjou-Touraine National Park; a series of troglodyte dwellings and mushroom caves (I’m advised that one of the mushroom caves even contains a restaurant); vineyards, wine caves and an old mill. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the Sunday Farmer’s Market which once a month is enlarged to include a popular flea market.

Another thing working in Montsoreau’s favour is it’s location. It sits in the heart of the Loire Valley, where there are numerous other interesting and beautiful towns and villages to visit – Angers, Saumur, Chinon and, yes, even Tours. I suspect we’ll be staying here a few days. It should prove a great base from which we can explore the area further…

Neufchatel en Bray (Normandy) May 2024 (Tour 9)

It’s 21 May 2024 and this morning we left Brighton for a short tour of France in the Van. This is Tour number 9 and, all things being equal, we’ll be on the road for between 5 and 6 weeks. Both Vanya and I would prefer to be out longer but there is just too much going on at the moment.

This tour will differ from our others inasmuch that, instead of going where we please (following the sun and changing direction on a whim), we are going to have to restrict ourselves to relatively flat areas close to quieter towns and villages. This is because our German Shepherd dog, Nala, has succumbed to hip dysplasia (a not unusual condition for aging ‘Shepherds’) but, to compound matters, she has also suffered a disc bulge. There’s no remedy for either condition and, while the pain associated with both is being well managed by appropriate medication (not cheap), her mobility is significantly reduced. We’ve purchased a set of wheels to support her back legs and these help her to get out and about (she can handle 4 kilometre walks with the wheels and for the most part she seems very happy with them) but, we have to be careful she doesn’t overstretch herself. Moreover, we must limit ourselves to visiting those places where she can more easily manoeuvre in her wheels. Her spacial awareness is akin to that of a bull in a china shop… bless her.

So, a 07.15 start saw us heading off to Folkestone to take Le Shuttle to Calais and then on to Neufchatel en Bray in Normandy. The journey went like a dream. There was no traffic to speak of as we travelled along the M23, M25, M26 and M20 to Folkestone and we arrived almost two hours before our scheduled train to Calais. We sailed through the Pet Checks, Passport Control, Immigration, etc and were able to catch the 10.18 train instead of the 11.48. The drive from Calais to Neufchatel en Bray was wet but nowhere near as bad as we experienced in Folkestone.

Tomorrow we’ll press on to the Loire Valley but for the moment we’re parked up at Camping Sainte Claire close, not far from the centre of Neufchatel en Bray and just 300 metres from a sizeable Leclerc. Vanya stayed with Nala and Beanie while I obtained essential provisions from the Leclerc, checked out the town’s eating options for the evening and enjoyed a quick beer in the town centre. Of course, ‘essential provisions’ included some decent French wines and the local cheese (this is Normandy) which has to be Neufchatel cheese. Neufchatel, not to be confused with Swiss Neuchatel cheese, is soft, slightly crumbly and grainy with a sharp tangy taste andit is often produced in a heart shape…

Dinner was at a small but very friendly and accommodating Italian restaurant in the town centre, Le Catanzaro. Yes, I know this is France but it is a Tuesday and many French restaurants are closed on a Monday and Tuesday evening. Hey, we were lucky to find somewhere that would accommodate Nala and her wheels and; the food (and wine – we insisted on a Sancerre in preference to the Italian choices) was excellent.

The town was almost totally destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt along more practical lines but; unfortunately, this makes for very little in terms of photo opportunities. Nevertheless…

And on to the Loire Valley…