It said “Loire cruise, France” on our ticket but we seemed to have left Nantes behind and strayed into an idyllic slice of rural Italy as we head upstream to the stunning Loire chateaux region. Clisson, with its terracotta tiled roofs, villas and distinctly Italianate church could have been Tuscany. As our guide gave us a tour, he explained that the chateau ruins had attracted 19th century artists to this achingly beautiful village on the River Moine. Luring artists from Italy suggests that Clisson really is one of the France’s most beautiful spots.
The Romanticism of the ruins encouraged the artists to put down roots and build in the style of their beloved Italy. However, road signs for the Muscadet Route, as we headed for a tasting of three local wines, reminded us that we were very definitely still in France.
Back on board in term for pre-dinner cocktails, a three course dinner is served in the restaurant and the Loire Princesses’ paddles power us upstream. The choice of inclusive wines, flow as smoothly as the waters of the Loire. Then the quiet thrum of the ship’s engine is overlaid by live music played in the bar.
Moored up at Bouchemaine, even though the Loire Princesse has a depth of just 0.8 of a metre, she has carried us as far east as she can on the shallow Loire. A coach trip takes us on to the huge imposing fortress of Angers. In medieval times it was even taller. Then, when ever more powerful Renaissance canons required wide and sturdy platforms, the height of the castle was reduced by 10 metres.
Today, Angers chateau is home to the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, a remarkable insight into the Medieval mind’s obsession with guilt, sin, temptation, the day of judgement, heaven, hell and eternal damnation. Possibly even redemption. When it was created in the late 14th century, the red and blue tapestry at 144 metres wide and 6 metres tall made the Bayeux Tapestry look like a beginner’s sampler.
Sadly, only 104 metres by 4 metres of the work have survived and been restored. During the French Revolution, rebels were hostile to a work of art that reinforced the status of aristocracy and royalty, cutting up portions of the tapestry to use as floor rugs and coverings to protect fruit trees from frost.
Unusually for a cruise, the Loire Princesse serves the Gala Dinner, with recommended wines, on the penultimate evening. The five course meal, concluding with the theatrical arrival of a Baked Alaska and flaming Cointreau, fortifies passengers for the following day. After an early breakfast, the coach departs on the ultimate chateau tour.
Although the Loire is famous for its chateaux, we begin at Azay-de-Rideau a limestone white chateau with a mirror moat on the River Indre, a tributary of the Loire. A palatial room, with a four poster, was always ready for visiting royalty. In those days the king had a travelling court and imposed himself on the aristocracy’s hospitality for weeks at a time.
A leisurely lunch, three courses as ever, is taken at Villandry’s Terrace Restaurant, followed by a tour of the chateau’s extensive formal style Renaissance gardens. Ten gardeners tend geometric gardens that have themes of love and music as well as meeting the residents’ needs for fruit, herbs and vegetables.
The third and final chateau of the day is at Ussé on the edge of Chinon Forest. It features a Sleeping Beauty Tower that is thought to have inspired Charles Perrault to write the oft-told fairy tale.
This trio of chateaux is the perfect way to end a tour of the Loire, telling the story of a region that was at the heart of French power politics with duels, intrigue and murder for many centuries. Yet, CroisiEurope’s Loire cruise, with visits to Nantes and St Nazaire, also shows today’s thriving Loire-Atlantic region.
Loire chateaux region fact file
CroisiEurope’s six-day Loire cruise onboard the MS Loire Princesse runs from April to October with prices from £1,487 per person for the cruise with all meals, drinks and port taxes included.
If you enjoyed Michael’s cruise through the stunning Loire chateaux region, you can read the first part of his tour of Nantes and the Loire Atlantique.Last modified: July 18, 2022