Innumerable destinations and wonders speckle the map, with beauties such as The Taj Mahal, Big Ben and the Sydney Opera House. While amazing and oftentimes moving, I don’t travel for the photos, but to experience something I can’t find at home: the culture, the people and the Place. That’s why I love Saumur, because the French culture comes alive.
If France is high on your list of destinations, make your way into the Loire Valley. Staying true to traditional food, culture and language (some argue maybe a little TOO -), the people in the Loire provide tourists with a truly French experience. A dreamy slice of rich gâteau (cake) sprinkled with castles and a side of sparkling wine, the Loire will serve up something from your high school textbook.
One of the foremost icons in the valley, the Chateau de Saumur displays artifacts, architecture and art dating back to the 11th century. With amazing views stretching over the Pays-de-Loire and France’s biggest river, the Loire, the Chateau should be on your bucket list.
While constructive tours are conducted in French, self-guided tours are available. The pamphlets provide insight into the rooms, history of the building’s progressive history, and fun facts about the mysterious missing wing (you’ll have to go to find out more).
Guests are welcome to roam the (open) castle corridors, chambers and walls, with artifacts and art on display to enhance the experience. Each room’s number on the pamphlet corresponds to information about the chamber’s importance or function.
However, nothing tops the views from the mullion windows. Majestically standing on top the fortress wall, the Castle boasts of panoramic views of the valley’s rolling vineyards and village clusters.
The castle’s rich history includes several re-construction phases to accommodate both the inhabitants and château’s functions. Beginning in 962 with the construction of Saint Florent Benedictine Abbey (not much remaining), to the left wing’s renovation into a museum, the grounds have progressed with time.
Observing the architecture’s detail alongside the artifacts and tapestries, a lingering scent of the past trickle down the corridors and spiral staircases. The people who found refuge in the walls, or others who loathed their captivity (Napoléon revitalized the decrepit structure in 1808 and transformed the château into a State prison), leave a legacy, as the inhabitant’s history and stories live through the walls, worn steps and ghost-like hallow chambers.
The tour continues outside the château walls, with a meander through a small museum of Saumur’s rich equestrian history. Cases of artifacts back-date to about 700-500 B.C. Just show your château tour ticket when you enter. It’s worth the time.
After your tour, grab a bite to eat or café at L’Orangerie. If you’re on a budget like me, grab a picnic table at the adjacent park, and enjoy your meal with a view people have enjoyed for centuries.
Rain or shine, a tour through the château and walk through the horse museum shouldn’t be missed. If you’re not keen to walking up one of the many trails to the château, you can rent a bike, or take the 33 Agglobus line from le Centre Ville (€1,60), and exit at the Chateau stop.
Depending on time of year, basic tour tickets cost between €5,80 and €7.