It is just 33 kms from Amboise to St Aignan where we had booked into a small campsite no more than a few minutes walk from the town. We approached from the north and the view as we crossed the River Cher into the town was of the Chateau de St Aignan. It towered over a line of riverfront properties and filled the van’s windscreen. That would be somewhere to visit in the morning.
We’d done very little research into St Aignan. We simply wanted somewhere to stay overnight that took us further south and was not too much of a drive from Amboise and Vanya reported that the local camp site read well. Having said all that and in hindsight, I think Vanya knew the ZooParc de Beauval, Europe’s fifth largest zoo with more than 35,000 animals, is close by and that will have influenced her thinking as she searched for somewhere to park up for the night. Ever felt had?
St Aignan is a small town in the Loir et Cher Department of the Centre-Val de Loire with a population of less than 3,000 and we weren’t expecting great things of the place; well, I wasn’t. The next two days saw us disappointed on two counts and well pleased on one. The disappointments: (a) we couldn’t visit the zoo because we had the dogs with us (and we weren’t going to leave them for the time it would take to properly explore the place) and (b) it was the final weekend of the school holidays in France and the camp site was packed with kids and far too busy for us. The one positive was that the beauty and character of St Aignan, and especially the Chateau, more than compensated for both disappointments. We each enjoyed St Aignan as much as Amboise.
My initial thoughts as we approached the Chateau early the next morning were that it looked a little tired and somewhat average (especially after Chenonceau) but when you get up close it oozes elegance and style and looks and feels so full of history – I was wholly thrilled by the place and I wanted to know everything about it. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The place is owned and lived in by the de la Roche Aymon family and for that reason we were allowed access only to the main courtyard and terraces but, hey, bless them for allowing that. The place blew me away.
I can’t tell you much about the Chateau except that there are three aspects to it. There’s the derelict Hagard Tower which is all that remains of the original 9th century fortress. Then there’s the Renaissance Chateau decorated with scallop shells and the salamander device of Francis I and it is this part of the Chateau which is most visible from the north and which towers over the town. This was home to the Dukes of Beauvilliers. The third aspect, which sits at the end of the stables, is the Octagonal Tower erected around 1830 by the Prince de Chalais.
Alongside the Chateau is an 11th/12th century Romanesque collegiate church dedicated to St Aignan. I am told it has a magnificent crypt containing 10th century murals but I was unable to gain access because the Sunday morning service was in full swing – next time.
Actually, Vanya and I had forgotten it was Sunday. This is a bad mistake to make in France because most cafes and restaurants seem to shut on Sundays and you generally need to book in advance; this is especially true in August. We could sit outside a bar and enjoy a couple of glasses of wine (which we did) but it would have been something like a two hour wait for food. We made do with cheese and biscuits back at the Boomobile.
On to Cognac-la-Foret