Guide to the Loire regions



Forteresse Royale de Chinon

T: + 33 2 47 93 13 45

‘The château of Chinon dominates the town, and is a reassuring sight for English eyes; with its motte and bailey it bears a far closer resemblance to the medieval castles of Britain than to the other châteaux of the Loire’.

                             - Robin & Judith Yapp – ‘Vineyards and Vignerons’ - 1979

The château-fort of Chinon is one of the great architectural ensembles of the Loire Valley; a prototype by which all others could and should be judged. Its original purpose was to defend its occupants from attack from rival warrior clans; a role that it performed admirably over a period of ten centuries. Chinon has been of strategic importance since Gallo-Roman times, with the fortress built on a rocky spur (the original site of a Gallo-Roman oppidium) some three hundred metres above the town itself; the south face protected from attack by a steep cliff, whilst a series of gullies check the access from the north and west side.

From a distance this gigantic structure (it measures 700 metres long by 70 metres wide) appears to stand behind a continuous wall, but in reality the fortress is made up of three distinct sections, each separated from one another by a deep, dry moat. When viewed from the opposite bank of the Vienne (which is where most of the classic shots of the fortress are taken), the left elevation is the Château de Coudray, whilst the Château de Milieu sits, as the name suggests, in the middle. The Fort Saint-Georges (named after the Patron Saint of England) stands to the east. Stone from the Fort Saint-Georges was plundered in the 17th Century and any battlements have since been flattened.

The château de Mileu is built on the site of the original Roman castrum and accessed via a bridge over the dry moat; its entrance through a central gate set within the walls of its 36 metre high clock tower. The Tour de l’Horlage has served as the entrance since the 12th Century and was added to and secured further in the early 13th Century. The clock itself was commissioned in 1399 and credited to Henri Cressant. Its bell, the Marie Javelle, was struck the same year and has this old Chinonnais rhyme dedicated to it:

Marie Javelle
Je m’appelle
Celui qui m’a mis
M’a bien mis;
Celui qui m’ôtera
s’en repentira.

Is my name.
Whoever set me
Set me well
Who may remove me
The day will rue’

Once through the gate, the ruins of the Grand Logis appear. Located on the south side of the fortress with commanding views over the Vienne valley, these royal apartments were once home to both Charles VII and his heir, Louis XI. It was here, in the great hall, that the dauphin famously received Joan of Arc on the 3rd March 1429. All that remains of the hall today are the foundations and, at its western gable, the mantel-piece and hearth of some huge fireplace. Elsewhere, however, restoration work over the past decade has secured the buildings which were in complete ruin, with the apartments now hosting a state-of- the-art multimedia presentation on the distinguished history of the fortress.

Opposite the entrance to the apartments, on land that is now planted to lawn and trees, once stood the priory of Saint-Mélaine; the last resting place of Henry II who died here in 1189. Prior to its demolition, it was adapted into a hall for playing jeu de paume, or ‘real tennis’.

Around the perimeter of the Château de Mileu stands a series of towers. The Tour de Trésor once formed part of the royal apartments and served as the counting house. The Tour des Chiens was erected as a watchtower by Philippe Auguste and has three vaulted levels. It takes its name from its location next to the nearby kennels that housed the royal hounds in the 15th Century. The Tour d’Argenton stands at the extreme north of the fortress and is a later addition; built around 1477, its purpose was reinforce this corner and able to withstand the newly invented gunpowder. It takes its name from the trusted biographer of Louis XI, Philippe Commynes, Lord of Argenton. Evidenced by the graffiti covered walls, the tower was once used as a prison during the 17th Century.

This was the last of the three citadels to be added and is believed to have taken its name from a grove of hazelnut trees, or coudres that grew within its walls. It was added, in the early 13th Century, by Philippe Auguste who was also responsible for the excavation of the dry moat that divides it from the Château de Mileu. Within its centre stood the chapel of Saint-Martin once stood, although this has long since vanished. There commanding views from here across the Vienne to the north and west. It too contains several well preserved towers, some of which have multi-storied vaulted rooms.  

La Tour du Moulin

The Tour du Moulin was built in the late 12th Century by King John (Lackland). It was of strategic importance since it is located at the extreme north-western edge of the fortress and was used primarily as a look-out. It is the tallest yet most slender of all the towers along the battlements. As the name suggests, it was once surmounted by a windmill. The Tour de Boissy was erected in the 13th Century during the time of Saint-Louis (Louis IX), but takes its name from a Governor of Chinon in the 16th Century. Noted for its low-vaulted ceiling, it once served as a chapel. The Tour de Coudray - after which the citadel is named - is the old cylindrical keep and stands at the entrance and built in a similar style to examples in Rouen and Paris. The tower stands 25 metres high and has several stories. It has been utilized over the ages as a prison and later as an impressive dovecote. Whilst technically not a prisoner (although stilled viewed with a great deal of suspicion by her hosts), Joan of Arc was accommodated on the first floor of the Coudray tower, electing to pray in the adjacent chapel, before departing for Orléans.

The most famous residents of the Tour de Coudray, however, were a chapter of the Templars who were held here in 1307 before being transferred to Paris. Led by Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Templars, 140 members of the Order were imprisoned by Philippe VI, otherwise known as Phillip the Fair. Concerned about the power and influence the Templars enjoyed (the Order was capable of creating its own states and countries, paid no taxes and obeyed only their own laws), Philippe obtained a Bull from Pope Clement V giving him permission to bring the Templars to trial; having every single member arrested on the same day.

Ordered by the Pope to leave their campaign in Cyprus (along with other Templar dignitaries and their collective treasures), Molay was told to head for Paris. Seized on the 13th October 1307 and transported to the security of the Coudray tower, Molay and his knights were held here to await trial. The men were imprisoned for three years, the walls of the tower are testament to their incarceration; engraved with the graffiti that was etched by these soldier-monks as they waited news of their fate. On the 12th May 1310, 54 of the Order were burned at the stake on one of the islets of the Seine in Paris. Jacques Molay was spared until the 19th March 1314 when he was transported to Paris to receive his judgment; which was ultimately the same fate as the rest. Whatever fortunes that might have been extracted from the Templars were short-lived, since public opinion forced Philippe to donate any gains to other monastic orders and he died the same year as Molar went to the pyre.

The recent restoration work at the fortress was extended to the Coudray tower, with the cell of the Templars and the remains of their graffiti remain very much intact.

The smallest of the three forts Saint-Georges was constructed by Heny II in 1160, his rectangular plan designed to protect the eastern approach. A chapel, palace, and an administration centre (for when Henry was in residence) were all constructed here, although this particular fort served no military purpose. It was, however, strengthened by Henrys son, John ‘Lackland’ against the warring Philippe Auguste.

The fort was flattened, probably in the 17th Century, during the pillaging of its then proprietor, Cardinal Richelieu, who had the stone walls dismantled and transported south to aid the construction of his own eponymously named town.

It is on this site, over to the remains of the chapel that a small vineyard once stood. Evidence of this exists in a series of photographs taken in the first half of the 20th Century and was also documented by CB Black in his 1905 travelogue Touraine and Brittany.

In the early 1960s only the vestiges of the chapel remained, although the crypt could still be visited. It was finally demolished and made into a vegetable garden as part of the overall renovation following a long period of archeological exploration which started in 2003. During the excavations, the tomb of a Gallic warrior, believed dating back to the time of Christ, was discovered.  

After a decade of work, the fortress is once again open for business. It’s a worthy detour and one should allow a couple of hours at least, if not half a day to experience it. Access from the town has been simplified with the installation of an exterior lift which serves both the residents of Chinon’s haute ville as well as its thousands of visitors.

The Fortress de Chinon is open all year (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) from 09h00 to 19h00 between April and the end of September, and 09h30 to 17h00 for the rest of the year.

La Chapelle Ste-Radegonde

La Chapelle Ste-Radegonde
T: + 33 2 47 93 18 12
The troglodyte chapel of Ste-Radegonde is located on a rocky ledge above the town. Access is via a path, the start of which is located close to the church of Saint-Mexme (see below). From this point, allow yourself around 20 minutes of walking time, following the Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau before turning left into the Rue des Pitoches. This steep rise has numerous abandoned troglodyte houses running alongside it. Before setting off it’s important to understand that the chapel is kept locked, so it is best to consult the tourist information office in town for details on how to access the chapel before embarking on the route since nothing can be seen from the exterior.

The history of the chapel goes back to the 6th Century and a hermit by the name of John the Recluse. He was a refugee from the Saxon raids in Britain and he settled in the grotto. Having acquired a reputation for great wisdom, Queen Radegonde (a German princess and the wife of King Clotair I) came to consult with the recluse on spiritual advice following the collapse of their marriage and her decision to leave the court in order to found the convent of Saint-Croix in Poitiers. Radegonde subsequently built the chapel here in John’s memory and the cave was later enlarged to accommodate the hermit’s remains.

A Romanesque portal leads into the chapel which is partly supported by a number of columns. Deep inside the cave, a Merovingian holy well is accessed by a steep flight of stairs. Other attractions are some 8th and 9th Century sarcophagi and sculptures on the walls, but the chapel’s greatest asset is the 12th c frescoes believed to depict the Royal Hunt with Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, their daughter, Jeanne, and two sons, Richard (the Lionheart) and John (Lackland). The symbolic handing of a falcon to Richard is said to signify his eventual succession to the throne. Other commentators believe that the frescoes depict not Henry but John and his queen, Isabel d’Angoulême, and accompanied by his mother, Eleanor.

In addition to the hunting scene frescoes there are further paintings which date from the 17th Century and believed to recount the life of the now venerated Sainte-Radegonde. Apparently, the older frescoes were only discovered in 1964 after a piece of plaster fell off the wall. Until 1959 the chapel cave had been inhabited, since the time of the Revolution, as a private dwelling, until finally the town council took control of it and began to clean up its gallery.

Le Musée d'Art et d'Histoire de Chinon
44 Rue Haute Saint-Maurice
T: + 33 2 47 93 18 12
Also known as the Musée des Amis du Vieux Chinon, the town’s museum is found in an ancient building in the medieval quarter known as the Hôtel des États-Généraux. Richard I is said to have died here on the 6th April 1199 after being fatally wounded in battle at Châlus. Whether this is true, his body was certainly laid in state in its hall before being transferred for burial at nearby Fontvraud Abbey. Two hundred years later, between 1427 and 1428, the building was to become the meeting house for the French Parliament whilst they raised funds for Charles VIIs campaign against the English.

The museum was created in 1906 and contains a rich collection of exhibits which help to illustrate the long-standing importance of Chinon. Two stand-out exhibits are the Cope of Saint-Mexme and a fine portrait of Rabelais, painted in 1833 by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). Originally housed in the church of Saint-Étienne, a vestment known as the chape de Saint-Mexme; it’s an ornate Oriental brocade which most likely dates from the 11th Century.  Some commentators claim that it is 500 years older than this, although it is clearly more recent than the 4th Century and the era of Saint-Mexme himself. The cope, woven from Persian cloth, was probably made as a mantle for a horse and liberated as a trophy by a returning crusader.

The museum is open daily from May to the end of September, with more limited opening outside of the season.

The three churches of Chinon  


Saint-Mexme (pronounced Mème) is the oldest and most celebrated church in Chinon. It’s also the most impressive, although it has long-since been deconsecrated. According to Gregory of Tours, the church was first founded as a monastery but came to be named after Mexme, a disciple of Saint-Martin, who became a local hero after his arrival in the town in the mid-5th Century. The legend states that in 463 the whole town had taken refuge in the fort to escape from the renegade Roman general, Aegidius and his Frankish army. During the ensuing siege the warriors had managed to intercept the only well and having no water, Mexme prayed for rain, to be rewarded with not just sufficient water to drink but enough to flush the enemy from their camp. He became a saint within his own lifetime.

All that remains of the original white collegiate church, said to have been built over the relics of the saint, is the atrium, nave and two towers. The northern tower is Romanesque and contains some curious 12th Century murals. In the lower hall of the south tower are two large 15th Century frescoes. The curious bas-relief representing Christ on the cross with a soldier is believed to be at least as old as the church itself.

The building was secularized during the Revolution, after which it started to fall into ruin. It had been restored and much modified, with the nave serving as a school until 1983, after which the 19th Century additions were demolished and a major archeological excavation conducted. Today it acts as a cultural centre and contains a small theatre.

This is the only church in Chinon that sits within the medieval fortified town. Built on the foundations of an earlier edifice first mentioned in the 10th Century, the existing building was funded by Henry II during the 12th Century and its size illustrates the importance of Chinon during this period of history. In 1429, Joan of Arc elected to pray here before her audience with the dauphin and again whilst she awaited the deliberations of those who had been appointed to determine her veracity. Inside, there is one large (if dull) painting that has been optimistically attributed to Rubens.  


Also built on the site of an earlier church (the lower part of the tower which supports the present belfry was retained from the original), Saint-Étienne was re-built around 1480 by the master builder and architect, Robert Mesnager at the instigation of Philippe de Commynes, the Governor of Chinon. A Flamboyant Gothic portal is carved with his Coat of Arms.  

Les Caves Painctes – The Painted Caves
Impasse des Caves Painctes
T: + 33 2 47 93 30 44
F: + 33 2 47 93 36 36

‘Je suis où est Chinon et la cave paincte aussi, j’y ai bu maints verres de vin bon et frais…’  - Pantegruel knew of a painted cellar, ‘having myself drunk there many a glass of cool wine
                                                                              – François Rabelais

These former Roman tufa quarries, transformed into 1.5 kilometres of galleried wine cellars, owe their name to Rabelais who, in his fifth book describes a scene painted on the lintel above the entrance to the caves which depicts ‘dancing women and satyrs, accompanying a laughing old Silenus, on his ass’. In reality, any paintings that may have existed disappeared a very long time ago, but the caves remain dedicated to Rabelais and his dive bouteille (sacred bottle) and it is here that the wine brotherhood of Les Bons Entonneurs Rabelaisiens meet (entonner being the French verb for spontaneously bursting into song as well as meaning to cask wine). After the Chevaliers de Tastevin of Burgundy, it is believed to be the most prestigious confrérie in France; its primary purpose being to raise the profile of the local wine and to embellish a sense of Rabelaisien pleasure on the 5,000 or so members that have been annointed to date. Banquets are held in the caves once every quarter (in January, March, June and September), where its elected dignitaries dressed in ermine robes swear to uphold and defend the good name of Chinon and to annoint new members.  

 The caves are open daily (except Monday) during July and August with four guided tours per day. There is a modest entrance fee.

Musée Animé du Vin et de la Tonnellerie
Mme. Martine Gouron
12 Rue Voltaire
T: + 33 2 47 93 25 63
F: + 33 2 47 93 01 34
How to spend a wet afternoon in Chinon; this somewhat disheveled looking museum offers a somewhat clichéd insight to the work of the vigneron and barrel maker.

Maison de la Rivière
12 Quai Pasteur
T: + 33 2 47 93 21 34
The past glories of the Loire and Vienne’s maritime heritage are honoured in this old boat-builders workshop which contains numerous scale-models of examples of boats that used to ply these waterways. Open Tuesday to Sunday from April to September, Thursday to Sunday for the rest of the year (except January when it is closed).   

La Cave Monplaisir
Quai Pasteur
T/F: + 33 2 47 93 20 75
This 2,500 square metre ancient quarry on the quay alongside the Vienne is used by three Chinon growers: Domaine de la Fontaine and Cousins Radolphe Raiffault and Julien Raffault, for the barrel aging and storage of their respective cuvées. Its original purpose was for the extraction of tufa for the numerous chateaux and other significant stone buildings in the region. Visitors are invited to take a torch and conduct a self-guided tour of the impressive galleries, which contain around 700 casks and thousands of bottles, before returning to taste the various producers wines.

La Forêt Domaniale de Chinon
To the north of the town there is a great expanse of forest. Noted as the hunting grounds for a succession of French kings (Louis XI had two lodges here; one at Little Bonaventure and the other at Les Forges) as well as being the location for the Benedictine monetary of Turpenay whose land-holding was extensive. Today there are a total of 5,300 hectares mixed woodland stretching continuously between the towns of Chinon and Azay-le-Rideau and offers a weekend retreat for the many Chinonnais who come here in the autumn months to hunt for mushrooms and wild boar.  

La Maison de la Devinière - Musée Rabelais
T: + 33 2 47 95 91 18
F: + 33 2 47 95 89 37
Originally known as Les Cravandières, La Devinière is a small country manor that was built by Antoine Rabelais at the end of the 15th Century and is the disputed birthplace of his son, the celebrated humanist, François. In reality, it’s a fairly simple yet attractive farmhouse which consists of two stories; the first floor being accessed by an external stone staircase. Alongside is a multi-cavern cellar containing three separate presses (one attributed to being an oil press, the other two for wine) and there is a well preserved 17th Century dovecote comprising of 288 pigeon-holes. The house, which contains a small museum, is open for visits every day of the year (except for Christmas and New Year).

Next to the property is a small vineyard, made up of four separate parcels and planted to both Cabernet Franc and Chenin. It takes the simple appellation of Touraine. The vines here are tended by Domaine de Millarges, the local Lycée Agricole, with its students responsible for making the wine which is subsequently offered for sale at both La Devinière and in the shop at the Fortresse de Chinon.

L'Abbaye de Seuilly
T: + 33 2 47 95 83 28
This former Benedictine priory was raised to the rank of an abbey in 1095. Partly destroyed between the 15th and 18th Century, it was made famous by Rabelais who received his early education here and subsequently immortalized it in Gargantua. Today it houses a Maison de Pays and promotes local crafts and produce. It is open for visits from April to the end of the season.

Château de Coudray-Monpensier
This ostentatious château stands incongruously in open rolling landscape close to the village of Lerné. It too was made famous by Rabelais with Gargantua granting the château to one of his officers following the battle of Picrochole. The property is clearly visible on the horizon from the family home at La Devinière.

Constructed between 1401 and 1422, the three-story Château de Coudray with its high slate roof is flanked with huge round towers and demonstrates the defensive architecture of this period. It was further enlarged in the 1480s by Louis de Bourbon, the son of the first Duc de Bourbon, as well as the husband of Jehanne, the bastard daughter of King Louis XI and his mistress, Marie de Sassenage. Given that it was considered to be a great honour to be married to the daughter of a monarch (even if she was illegitimate), Louis celebrated the accord by adding the moniker of Monpensier to the name in 1481. Early in the 20th Century, Coudray became the home of the Flemish writer Maurice Maeterlink (1862-1949) who set to restoring the property. Still in perfect condition today, it is now a private medical centre.

Château de Rivau
Le Coudray
T: + 33 2 47 95 77 47
Sitting amid pastures of arable land, this 13th Century château has something of a feudal exterior and a renaissance core. Fortified in the 15th Century by Pierre de Beauveau, Chamberlain to Charles VII, Joan of Arc is said to have passed through its portal en-route to Orléans. It is also mentioned within the works of Rabelais after Gargantua’s gave Le Riveau to Tolmère, captain of his foot-soldiers, after the victories of the Picrocholean War. Defended by a dry moat and accessed via a drawbridge, the château today is better known for its gardens which have been renovated to follow the original 15th Century design and include a rose garden, wild flower garden and a secret garden. The building has also received a facelift and is filled with Gothic and Renaissance furniture, although the primary reason to visit remain the gardens.

Officially, one of France’s Most Beautiful Villages. This community at the edge of the Chinon appellation is made up of a selection of 15th and 16th Century house. Many of these minor bourgeois houses are grouped around a communal well and were built by those in service to the Turpin-de-Crissé dynasty who were also responsible for funding the mid-16th Century church. For several generations, the Turpins had held the position of Royal Chamberlain at the court of Anjou. Overlooking the farmland of the Manse valley, one can imagine the strategic importance of this once fortified stronghold. Building work on its château started in the 11th Century, although even after 500 years of ongoing construction it was never truly completed. One family member, Jacques Turpin, who accompanied François I on his Italian campaign returned with ambitions to redevelop the edifice into an Italian Renaissance style residence. The dwelling was neither finished nor inhabited and what remains today forms just part of the remains of the earlier fortress.

This is very much a village of second homes; the currently population of around 100 souls being about one-fifth of what it was in the 17th Century and as such has a sense of abandoned charm. For wine lovers, there is a single remaining vigneron in the village and whose vines can be found within a small clos at the rear of the château. The vineyards are classified as humble Touraine. 

Les Roches Tranchelion
This forgotten hamlet sits below a cliff face between the villages of Avon-les-Roches and Crissay-sur-Manse. Sitting above - on the edge of the precipice - are the roofless remains of a 16th Century collegiate college church built by the des Tousche family in 1522. Although outside of the Chinon appellation, documents indicate that the vineyards once stretched as far as the hamlet, but where presumably lost after the period of phylloxera. Today, just a couple of smallholdings remain at the foot of the church.

Le Prieuré Saint-Léonard à L’Île-Bouchard
Just on the edge of the town, this old priory was constructed in 1067 and acted as the parish church until the 13th Century, but has sadly been abandoned and decades of decline have left it in ruins (albeit attractive ones). Within the remains of the chapel are numerous sculptures depicting the life of Christ from the nativity up to his the time of the crucifixion. It’s worth seeking out and spending a few quiet moments here. 

L’Eglise de Saint-Nicolas
T: + 33 2 47 58 58 01
For such a modest place of worship in an equally ordinary village, the Romanesque church of Tavant is said to be one of the most interesting in France, both for its architecture and for the frescoes contained within. Some, which depict the childhood of Christ, date back to the 10th and 12th Centuries and can be viewed as 27 separate scenes in the crypt. The most famous is a painting of King David playing a harp. The images are considered to be of significant importance within the French art world due to their sense of realism and it has been written that these paintings have ‘no equals within the Romanesque wall paintings of Europe’. Opening times are sporadic and the church is kept locked otherwise, so it is best to contact the maire to ascertain when access can be gained. Tours of the crypt are guided and there is a modest charge.

Sanctuaire Carolingien de Cravant
P: + 33 6 07 04 43 34
Away from the main road that runs between Chinon and Panzoult is the older part of Cravant, known as Le Vieux Bourg. It is here, at the centre of the hamlet that one discovers this pretty little church which has been receiving worshipers since it was first consecrated in the 10th Century. Dedicated to Saint-Léger, the nave dates back to the early 900s and is a rare example of the Carolingian style, being built of small stones. The Romanesque apse is believed to be even older; from the time of Charlemagne (742-814). In the chapel are remains of 15th Century frescoes which are believed to depict its benefactor, Georges de La Trémoille (the Minister to Charles VII) and his family, who are seen making an offering to the Virgin and Child. Beside the church are the remains of the Abbey de Grandmont, founded by Henri II for a chapter of the Bonshommes Order – known as the Monks of the Crab-apple Tree.

Maison des Vins et du Tourisme
14 Rue du 8 mai 1945
Beaumont en Véron
T: + 33 2 47 58 86 17
F: + 33 2 47 58 86 62
This information centre in the middle of Beaumont doubles up as a tasting centre and point of purchase for 26 wine producers in the Véron peninsular. It’s worth dropping in for a snap-shot of the wines on offer that day. Open all year between Tuesday and Saturday from mid-October to April between 10h00-12h30 and 14h30-18h30. 

Eco musée de Véron
T: + 33 2 47 58 09 05
This small museum in Savigny-en-Véron has exhibitions on local winemaking history and the ecology of the Loire and Vienne flood plains. Open daily (except Tuesday) between April and November. There is a nominal entrance fee.

Musée de l'Atome à la Centrale Nucléaire de Chinon
T: + 33 2 47 98 77 77
Nicknamed La Boule (the bubble) and put into service in 1963, this was the first nuclear powered generator in the country and today supplies 40% of the power required to central and north-western France. The facility is impossible to miss as one crosses the Port Boulay bridge that connects Chinon to Bourgueil, with the towers of steam generated visible from around the appellation.

In 2009, La Revue du Vins de France reported that the facility had changed its name to incorporate the name of Chinon; much to the chagrin of local producers concerned about the negative impact this might have on their wines. Prior to its construction, the land here was covered in vines; a natural extension of the Véron. From the facility moving westwards the vineyards still exist, with Radolphe Raffault claiming those closest to the Centre. The facility is open for visits on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons by appointment. Visitors are required to carry an identity card or passport.

Tourist Information Offices:

  Office de Tourisme de Chinon
1 Place d’Hofheim
T: + 33 2 47 93 17 85
F: + 33 2 47 93 93 05
Open 1st October to 30th April – Monday to Saturday 10h00 to 12h30 and 14h30 to 18h00. Open 1st May to 30th September everyday between 10h00 and 17h00.

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