The Little-Known Loir
The entire world admires the Loire Valley with its superb châteaux, but what do you know about the neighboring Loir?
Like many of you, I once visited Chambord, Chenonceau, and Cheverny. It's been a while, and I will no doubt return. There is so much written about them that I decided to venture a detour that few others will offer you. Don't be befuddled by this scoop, but there are two rivers in France that have the same pronunciation: La Loire and Le Loir. La Loire, as you know, is one of the main waterways of France (une fleuve). Le Loir (raise your hand if you've heard of it) wanders its way into La Loire by way of two other rivers, Le Sarthe and La Maine. The larger area, with all of the immediate downstream tributaries of La Loire, is called the Val de Loire. Accordingly, it includes the Vallée de la Loire and the Vallée du Loir. It also covers several historical provinces, well-known to the French (particularly for wines), such as L'Anjou, Le Saumur, and La Tourraine.
Your friends and family will never know the difference if your soon-to-be château is nestled by Le Loir instead of La Loire.
The Vallée du Loir is indeed only about 60km at some points from the Vallée de la Loire. Both valleys are verdant and well-endowed with châteaux. Those in the Vallée du Loir are mostly privately owned. Rest assured that if you aim to purchase a château, and happen to find the perfect one in the Vallée du Loir, your friends and family won't know the difference. To visit, you have only to hop on the 45min fast train from Paris to Le Mans, where you can then rent a car and explore. If you are serious about a purchase, the list of available châteaux for sale will guide your itinerary, but here are a few others, not for sale, that you may enjoy visiting along the way:
Le château du Grand-Lucé (also a hotel)
Le château de Bénéhard (also an organic wine domain)
For wine enthusiasts, the Vallée du Loir offers subtle wines made from local grape varietals you're unlikely to find anywhere else, including Chenin and Pineau d'aunis. My own discovery was the white wines from the as-yet-obscure Jasnières domains, near Le Chatre-sur-le-Loir. I was followed there by a good forty vintage autos. You will have the same experience if you're there on a week-end. The town is a regular meeting place for vintage car enthusiasts.
Before you come, get a feel for the area from my own photo album you can access here.