What better way to visit the beautiful French châteaux of the Loire Valley than in a shiny black 1953 Citroën Traction Avant!
When I learnt that Loire Valley Time Travel is run by two fellow Australians, I was curious to hear their story and learn more about their tours.
Susan and Simon lived in England for many years before coming to the Loire Valley. Susan, the tour leader, worked in one of the world’s leading heritage organisations and has a particular interest in textiles and costume. Having originally trained as a hotel manager, she is passionate about the food and recipes of the Touraine region.
Simon, the driver, was formerly a professional musician and teacher. He loves Célestine and thinks that 80 km/h is the perfect speed to cruise through the countryside. He’s very willing to stop and have visitors take photos or just soak up the scenery. After all, none of the historical sites in the area will disappear “if we take 10 minutes longer to get there,” he says.
Although Susan and Simon only started the tours a couple of years ago, they have already met with immense success. I’m not surprised.
When we went to see them recently, they took us for a mini tour to Château de Boussay, stopping off on the way to visit another village. They really are the perfect guides – knowledgeable about the places we went to, attentive to our interests, relaxed and professional at the same time.
Susan is also a nature-lover, in fact a professional field taxonomist, and knows as much about local bees and native orchids as she does about the history of the Loire Valley and its châteaux. It’s fascinating to listen to her.
A regular one-day tour usually includes two châteaux, with lunch at a ‘working man’s restaurant’ or a relais, and a private wine-tasting at the end of the day. I asked Susan about the choice of restaurant. “Well, our visitors have often spent a week or so in Paris dining in restaurants recommended in their guide books and surrounded by other tourists. They are delighted to be among local French people who usually work close by.”
They pair up Chenonceau and Montpoupon, Azay-le-Rideau and Villandry, Chenonceau and Cheverny, and Valençay by itself as there are both the château and the car museum to visit. A real treat for car lovers.
“Cheverny is one of my favourites,” explains Susan, “and a favourite with the clients too. I love the dogs. Its real importance is that it is really the only major Loire château which retains its original interior, and the interior is contemporary with the exterior. It is a remarkable survival, and a great credit to the family. We combine it with Chenonceau as they are almost exactly 100 years apart and bookend the Renaissance very nicely.”
For those with a little more time, there are two-day tours and weekend breaks that include Loches, for example, prehistoric monuments and World War II memorials as well as the châteaux mentioned above. Special tours include a ‘last minute lucky dip’ (I’ll let you find out about it for yourself) and nature tours.
And if you are a ‘foodie‘ like a lot of Australians, you’ll love their wine and food tours that combine a visit to the classic château of Chenonceau with mushroom caves and wine tastings.
How would you like to join Susan and Simon in Célestine one of these days?
All images by Rosemary Kneipp