Sips and castles of Loire Valley, France

In a land southwest of Paris, you can discover over 1,000 castles — in Loire Valley, France. On a City Wonders Tour, you’ll also discover the history of France that leads to the Loire Valley and the river that proved difficult for enemies to navigate, hence the place where the King of France lived during wars. The Loire Valley is also known for producing some of the best cabernet franc grapes, as well as 80 types of goat cheese.

Two hours of a history-lectured bus tour led us to the first tour stop: Chambord, which was the inspiration for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The palace was built by King Francis I, styled in comparison to what he loved in Milan, Italy. It was built as a mere hunting lodge in the forest of Chambord. Today, the forest is a national reserve – the same as it was in the 16th century, except there’s a wall that closes the forest. Within the castle walls of this former hunting lodge, where today you can rent out the space for $150,000 a day, there are more than 300 rooms, 200 fireplaces and 80 staircases.

The City Wonders Tour includes lunch and a wine tasting at Chateau de Nitray. We are served the food of peasants: roasted chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, cheeses, salad and apple dessert, all accompanied with a wine tasting and tour of the castle grounds and rudimentary, barrel-less wine cellar. Chateau de Nitray’s vineyards have been around for 28 years, where six varietals of grapes include sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and chenin blanc as popular whites, and cabernet franc as the known red. The sauvignon blanc is sweeter than anything I’ve ever tasted, with citrus, melon, peach notes that lead to a tart finish. It does have great structure. The rose is made with cabernet franc; they utilize the red skins for about 10 hours to get that beautiful rose color.

Chateau de Chenonceau proves to be the most elegant of our stops. Home to the six ladies: Catherine D. Medici (Henri II’s mistress, then wife after she ‘removed’ Diana), Diana Poitiers (the castle was dedicated to Diana by husband King Henri II), Louise of Lorraine (Henri III’s wife), Louise Dupin (artist who saved the chateau during the Revolution), Marguerite Pelouze (transformed the castle to a luxury estate) and Simone Menier (of chocolate fortune and who nursed the wounded during World War II). The interior will leave you in awe, but my goal was to check out the cellar — the wine cellar, where a tasting bar lures a crowd for sips of three wines. This is also where you can buy some bottles to take home. My advice, however, is to avoid the three-pack. Choose your personal favorites, such as the cabernet franc.

Visit to view the list of tours offered from Paris.

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