So how does one even begin explaining the delights, pleasures and advantages of living in “La Vallee des Rois”, the “valley of the kings” which is the UNESCO world heritage site centred around the western Loire, the last major wild river in Europe?
Connected by history to the Plantagenets – Ducs of Anjou and Kings of England: beloved by painters and photographers for its light and colour: world-famous for its wine: called the ‘garden of France’ so you get great fresh food in markets and restaurants: its culture – concerts, festivals, exhibitions – and loved by its residents for the warm, relaxed life style….the list is endless. The quality of life here is great – not rushed, but not isolated either, you can take time to enjoy the things that really matter in life.
The smaller towns are generally charming, having retained a great deal of their old world appeal, but they do not feel abandoned. (We can talk about many examples from Doue la Fontaine, Saumur and Thouars in the west, through Chinon, Azay le Rideau in the centre to Amboise or Loches in the east) The average age of the population here is one of the lowest in France, and the economy is healthy and growing.
Tourism is important but, vitally, it has not taken over. If you run a gite, bed and breakfast, or campsite you know that the season is long, often starting before Easter and continuing though until late October. And this means that it is still possible in this area to go into the holiday business with a high chance of success. We don’t have “holiday towns” here which put up the shutters in winter – your life in winter may be just as sociable as it is in summer. The winter weather is usually sunny too!
The wines are generally well known, ranging in the whites from the crisp and dry through to the lusciously sweet Coteaux du Layon and Vouvray. The roses, both dry and medium, are improving in quality all the time and now offer some good summer wines. The reds are becoming world famous, generally they are full of fruit and suit the local cuisine admirably.
Saumur and Vouvray are the main areas for the traditionally made sparkling wines, noble alternatives to champagne at a fraction of the price. Wine-growers are welcoming and helpful, and always – time allowing – willing to discuss their wines with tastings. Open days are common during the spring and autumn and are a good time to visit, and the many wine fairs offer great opportunities to get to know the local produce – and the local people at their most relaxed!
What about houses and – equally important – prices? As an area with an active local population, and high levels of employment, there are few real “cheapies” although there are bargains to be had. As with the rest of France prices have been falling over the last few years, but not to the extent of some
areas – typically here by 15/20%. This means that for around £80,000 it is still possible to find older town houses in need of updating, or smaller village houses for restoration. Equally a nice renovated farmhouse is now in the range of £200/250,000, but needing work you will find them much cheaper than that. There are glorious larger properties about, but of course that listed manor-house or chateau is going to cost a great deal more.
So in brief – why the Loire?
- Easy access via several airports (Nantes international,Tours, Poitiers to the south) or by fast train (direct access to Paris from Angers or Saumur in 90 minutes, also from Orleans) You can catch the Eurostar from Paris or the direct link to Lille. And via excellent motorway links to all other parts of France and, indeed, the whole of Europe.
- Climate – the European weather divide follows the river: to the north, it’s like a warmer version of the UK, whilst to the south, the climate is decidedly more like the south of France – hotter and drier. The summers are warm, with over 1900 hours of sunshine per year and temperatures in the 20s and up to mid- 30s. And the winters? Generally short, sunny and not too cold – after all, the coast is not that far away.
- Life-style – Whether you love markets, shopping, eating, gardening, drinking,people-watching, cycling, walking, music, or just the quiet life – the Loire has it all. The Abbeys at Cunault and Fontevraud, and the major towns, have amazing concerts and cultural events all year round. It’s all here, but it doesn’t rush. And with major towns and cities never too far away, there is superb medical care wherever you live, with modern hospitals and clinics which run efficiently and are fully up-to-date.
- History – the Loire is a living history book. It is dolmens, medieval villages, 11th century churches and abbeys, Gallo-Roman remains, the coloured tomb images of Richard the Lionheart and Henry ll at Fontevraud, the tank museum at Saumur – and hundreds of historic castles, some private, some open to visit. Nature – much of the area is within the Parc Natural Regional of Anjou, a national park with an emphasis on ‘green’ development and care for the environment. After 10 years in existence you can see which communes are included, just in the way they are maintained. Around Doue-la-Fontaine and up to the Loire is rose-growing country, surrounded by vines … the old song “Days of Wine and Roses” could almost have been written for this lovely region. Fields of sunflowers and roses in the summer almost overwhelm you with colour.
Come and try “La Douceur Angevine” – the gentleness of Anjou – once you’ve lived it for a while, you’ll never want to leave it