Last month I talked a little about Paris. This month we will venture away from Paris and towards another beautiful area of France so often called the Garden of France and the cradle of the French Language. It is of course the Loire Valley.
The Loire valley is a very popular tourist area and once you have been there you will be smitten. Not only is it a most beautiful part of France but it also has so many things to see and do for everyone, young and old. If you are holidaying with your family or on your own it is the ideal place to visit and stop over for a while to absorb the culture and cuisine which is just fabulous.
It is great for walking holidays and also if you are a cycling enthusiast as the countryside is breathtaking. It was also a area popular with the French Royal families too in years gone by especially for hunting and relaxing away from the busy city of Paris. The French Royals have left a legacy for all to see with the most beautiful chateaux, gardens and parks. I love the chateaux and am quite content just strolling around absorbing all the surroundings and the history.
Although the Chateau Chenonceau is considered to be the loveliest of the Loire chateaux, my favourite has to be the Chateau at Villandry.
There is a great love story attached to Chateau Villandry. A young Spanish doctor, Joachim Carvallo, came to France in 1893 and he fell in love with a young American girl called Ann Coleman. They married and lived in Paris for a few years and had three children. They saved enough money and eventually bought the castle of Villandry which at that time needed restoring. The doctor became a French citizen and during WW1 he converted part of the estate to make a hospital for the wounded soldiers where he and his wife cared for them. They continued to restore the castle following the war and designed the most beautiful gardens that we can see today.
A life times passion for this loving couple created a beautiful place for us all to enjoy and I guarantee you will love it too. I just love the kitchen garden and wish it were mine! The gardens are truly amazing and in fact they are described as a 'true Renaissance-inspired masterpiece' as their geometry is perfect and their paths intersect at right angles.
If you are coming from Paris by car it is about 240 Km : A10 exit 24 (Joué-lès-Tours) then A85, direction Saumur, exit 8 (Villandry).You can take a train from Montparnasse station then taxi from Tours or Saint-Pierre-des-Corps stations.
Other areas and towns to enjoy are Amboise, Blois, Chinon, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours simply because we love the history surrounding them, the old buildings and the heritage.
Samur is a pretty little town, with it's buildings of white tufa stone and sits on the banks of the Loire river. It is a welcoming place to stop for a rest and refreshments and you will find good inexpensive places to eat. It also has a beautiful chateau which you will want to stop and admire.
If you love horses, then you are in the right place as Samur has a long history with horses. It was home to the French Calvary Academy, and is home to the Cadre Noir horsemen. A visit to the French National Riding School is an experience not to be missed as you will see the riding tricks and skills of the best horsemen in the world. The annual Carousel (an equestrian show that takes place in July) draws thousands of visitors.
Another fascinating place to visit and especially good for children is the famous Troglodyte Village of Rochemenier. Here you will see dwellings or homes that have been dug out of the soft tufa stone and are called Troglodytes. Part of these are now a museum and show how they were used up until about the 1930's. They were said to keep a constant temperature of cool in the summer and warm in the winter. You will see some farm houses and even a chapel carved out of the stone. It's difficult to imagine people actually living in houses created in this fashion but they did and in fact people still do in some even today - wealthy Parisians have some for second homes!
If you want a place to eat you will find many restaurants to suit all pockets and all will provide you with the best of French food. The Loire is famous for it's fresh fruit and vegetable produce as well as it's dairy food which it supplies to the rest of France.
If you are self catering you will have no problem purchasing the best of food for your meals and the markets are the best places to do this. Fish is plentiful as well as poultry and cheeses, with goats cheese being very popular.
To close our trip to the Loire this month I have included a recipe using fresh fish and the speciality Loire butter sauce. I hope you like it and if you are in France, do try to sample the real thing as it is just divine!
Saumon au Beurre Blanc (Salmon with Butter Sauce)
This is a really beautiful dish using fresh salmon which in the Loire is fresh from the river. It can also be made with pike-perch called zander. I have used fresh salmon which is so good accompanied by the Loire speciality of a melted butter sauce flavoured with shallots and white wine vinegar. It is easy to make and if you are on holiday you can choose to make your own but it would be a shame not to taste the real thing if you are in France.
The butter sauce can be made ahead of the vegetables and the fish and kept in a vacuum flask, or you can make it as the vegetables are cooking. It will take about fifteen to twenty minutes. The fish will take about ten minutes.
Ingredients for 4 people
- 2 lbs white fish such as pike-perch, sea bass, sole (or salmon if youprefer)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 shallots finely minced
- 6 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon thick cream or crème fraiche
- 6 oz butter cut into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
Place the shallots and white wine vinegar in a pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
Cook until the liquid has reduced leaving about one tablespoon of juices.
Add the cream and mix well with a whisk.
Reduce the heat and add the butter a little at a time whisking as you do.
Continue to whisk in all the butter, lowering the heat or removing from the heat if it melts before it is well blended.
Finally add the chopped tarragon.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cover the pan and keep in a warm place. (You can put it in a vacuum flask if you wish)
To cook your fish you can either dust it with seasoned flour and lightly fry it in butter and oil or you can steam it for about five minutes. I have steamed the salmon in the photograph here.
Serve with the butter sauce, small potatoes and French beans.
For more French recipes from Gaynor, visit French recipies to love