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Just a short drive or train journey from Paris, the Loire Valley once the playground of Kings, is one of the most popular destinations in France.

For most people, the Loire Valley means one thing – chateaux, and with good reason, some of the most beautiful, legendary castles in the world are found in this part of France. But there’s more to this area and a holiday here means that you’ll enjoy the finest wines, historic villages, fabulous gastronomy, gorgeous gardens and a whole lot more.

Chateaux

No French King or Queen worth their salt would reign without building or tinkering with a chateau in “the garden of France”. But one stands out above all others – Francois I. He is credited with bringing the Renaissance to France and he also brought its cover boy, Leonardo da Vinci to live in the Loire in the little Chateau du Clos Lucé (above), it’s well worth a visit after being magnificently restored, next to his own at Amboise. There are hundreds of chateaux open to the public, seemingly one at every turn, and everyone will have their favourite but the Chateau de Chenonceau (top pic) takes some beating. The stunning flower arrangements and fabulous landscaped gardens, romantic turrets and exquisite architecture make this a very special place to visit. 

Wine and Dine

Vineyard visits and wine tasting opportunities galore are to be had in the Loire. As with chateaux, everyone will have their favourite and you’re utterly spoiled for choice here. One of the most special places for the views and the wine is Sancerre. The town of Sancerre (above) is perched high on a hill overlooking lush vineyards in which grapes grow to make… Sancerre.

The Loire is famous for its mushroom caves and cheeses and just down the road from Sancerre is the little village of Chavignol. Here you can buy direct from the farm, delicious crottin de Chavignol and guess what – it’s perfect with Sancerre!

Historic Towns

The Loire is peppered with picturesque villages and historic towns and cities. There are way too many to go into here but just to whet your appetite consider these:

Bourges (above) – winding ancient streets; a chateau fit for a king but built for a commoner albeit a very wealthy one, Jacques Coeur, which got him into trouble; a magnificent Cathedral; fabulous restaurants, gourmet shops and more…

Tours – a great base for touring the chateaux of the Loire Valley. Excellent restaurants, art centres and a great vibe make this one to add to your bucket list.

Saumur – a small town that packs a big castle with the most amazing views over the river Loire.

Blois – boat rides on the river with views you’ll never forget; a truly extraordinary chateau; beautiful cobbled streets – it’s a town to fall in love with.

Angers – home to Cointreau; a fabulous castle with incredible tapestries as well as famous tapestries that are more modern; great foodie destination – a vibrant city that makes for a terrific base.

Gorgeous Gardens

Known as the garden of France, the Loire has some of the most spectacular gardens in the world.

The internationally renowned gardens of the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire with the annual months’ long festival of garden design is superb – think Kew Gardens meets Chelsea Flower Show.

The gardens of the Chateau du Rivau (above) are like a fairy tale come to life, and the theme in the gardens is, in fact, fairy tale. Giant cups, a tower fit for Rapunzel, a chapel of roses and the most beautiful, imaginative planting and quirky ornamentation make this a stand out visit. They also have a fabulous restaurant.

The Prieure d’Orsan is a little off the beaten track but oh so beautiful. Mysterious, romantic and full of witty, basketed things with a medieval theme – this place is an absolute jewel of a garden.

Explore this beautiful area and stay somewhere fabulous with French Connections – we’re here to help you make your holiday dreams come true…

Boules is a game that’s traditionally played with metallic balls on a dirt surface (as long as it’s flat and level!)  with a glass of pastis or wine at hand. 

Boules or la pétanque as it is sometimes called is played by around 20 million people in France and anyone can easily and quickly learn to play and enjoy this ancient game (it is believed to originate from an ancient Greek game of tossing coins in about 6 B.C.).

The purpose of the game is to win by throwing your balls to land closer to a small coloured ball called a cochonnet which literally means piglet, than those of your opponent. 

Rules for playing boules

The game is usually played between two teams of 1, 2 or 3 players. If singles or doubles each player uses 3 boules, in triples 2 boules per player. It’s a great game for families as even little kids can join in this one.

To start, toss a coin to decide who begins the game and has the right to place the cochonnet.  If you don’t have a cochonnet, you can use an object of comparable size – a stone or cork from a bottle is usual.

A circle or area is drawn by the winner of the coin toss (or a member of his/her team) in which players must stand and not step outside of while throwing. The circle should be about 0.5m in diameter and at least 1m from any obstacle.

The winner of the coin toss throws the cochonnet between 4m and 8m, or 6 to 10 paces from the circle in any direction – it must not be closer than 1m from any obstacle or you must throw again.

Any player from the coin toss winning team throws the first boule, trying to get it as close as possible to the “cochonnet” without touching it.  Both feet must stay together on the ground and within the circle while throwing and until the boule has landed.

A player from the other team then steps into the circle and aims to throw a boule closer to the cochonnet than their opponent, or to knock the opponent’s boule away. If you’re being a stickler for the rules, you should throw within 1 minute of your turn starting.

The winner or winning team starts the new round.

Usually someone produces a tape measure or some means of rule to identify who is nearest to the cochonnet if it’s not glaringly obvious – without it there can be lively debate!

Bon courage…

If you fancy a game of boules in France, check out our ever-growing list of fabulous holiday rentals and B&B properties all over France. We’re here to help you make your dreams come true…

We love French villages for their ancient buildings, shutters with faded paint, chipped plasterwork and worn timber. To make finding the prettiest villages in France simple, there is an official list of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”. The best of the best, officially judged. About 150 towns out of the many thousands in France qualify and the rules for eligibility are strict. There must be no more than 2,000 inhabitants and they must have a minimum of two picturesque, legendary, historic, artistic or scientifically interesting sites that are officially protected.

We take a look at three of the prettiest villages in France – in sunny Provence...

Bonnieux

You may know Bonnieux from Peter Mayle’s book A Year in Provence which caused millions around the world to fall head over heels in love with this little southern town. It’s one of the most popular and magnificent villages in France. There is no shortage of places to eat and as with most Provencal villages, there is a weekly market (Friday morning).

People have lived here for more than 12,000 years. The Romans came and made the most of this stunning and productive landscape opposite Mont Ventoux 40 kilometres away (25 miles). In the Middle Ages the Knights Templar were stationed in the village, poised ready to head east to the Crusades. Before they left, they built a small chapel on the hillside. The old 12th century church is a landmark and at 425 metres, has one of the best views across the valley. The church tower can be seen for miles around the countryside.

Gordes

Gordes, in the Luberon region of Provence, is one of the most popular of the officially prettiest villages of France. It’s an ancient hilltop settlement, lined with buff coloured dry-stone walls. It’s the getaway of choice for the wealthy and is very chic and oozes charm.

The site has been occupied since prehistoric times and there’s a medieval castle at the summit, which served as a fortress from the 10th century. A labyrinth of buildings made from stone the colour of pale whipped honey and topped with terracotta tiles twists and turns through the village. Even the dividing fences are made from stone. That’s the village rule.

Several superstars of French painting have sought solace and inspiration in the cradle of this stunning valley. Renoir, Picasso, Matisse and Van Gogh all put brush to canvas here in Gordes.

Lourmarin

The 1,000 year old village of Lourmarin also makes the grade.

Surrounded by olive groves, almond trees and vineyards, it has a typically Provençal ambience of gentility and beauty, at the foot of the Luberon Massif in Provence. It’s 37km north of Aix-en-Provence en route to Gordes. There are a mere 1000 residents in Lourmarin, but there are an astonishing sixteen restaurants and three café-brasseries. 

Albert Camus the French writer, philosopher and winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize for literature, lived and worked amid the town’s ambience of tranquillity and loveliness until his death in 1960. He is still here, buried in the cemetery.

Find your dream B&B, gite and holiday rental with French Connections – we’ve got thousands of gorgeous holiday lets...

France is the No. 1 consumer and exporter of oysters in Europe producing 150,000 tons every year.

King Henri IV (1553-1610) was said to eat 300 of them at a time, his grandson Louis XIV had them delivered fresh daily to Versailles or wherever he was and was known to eat six dozen at a time.  Diderot the French philosopher and Voltaire the writer and philosopher ate them for inspiration, as did Napoleon Bonaparte before going into battle. Casanova, the 18th-century lover used to breakfast on 50 oysters.

To this day the French still can’t get enough of them and they are the food of choice at times of celebration like Christmas and New Year – around half of all oysters eaten in France will be eaten between these two festive dates.

98% of oysters are cupped but they can also be flat (called plats) – and much more expensive.  They are ranked for size by number: from 0 to 5 for cupped oysters and from 000 (the biggest) to 6 (the smallest) for flat ones.  Cupped oysters are designated “fine” or “special” which indicates the amount of meat, with special oysters being the meatiest ones.

How to eat oysters

Oysters are almost never rinsed which is to help preserve the flavour. You’ll find them on sale in supermarkets, poissoneries, and at street markets, kept on ice and often beautifully displayed (like these above at the market at La Fleche in the Loir). In restaurants too they are generally served on ice to keep them fresh. Take an especially small fork, gently pry the oyster, squeeze lemon or mignonette sauce, made of chopped shallots and red wine vinegar in the shell, or go au naturel and slurp it back in one gulp.

French for oyster is huître – pronounced wee-tra (without the h).

Oyster bars are known as huiteries and you’ll find them in all major towns.

You generally order demi-douzaine – a half dozen or a douzaine – a dozen

Oyster regions of France

Normandy Oysters: Known for its highly iodised and fleshy oysters. Fans may have their favourites such as the special oysters of Isigny, tasty and pulpy, and those of Saint-Vaast, which are known for their nutty flavour. Utah Beach is said to produce sweet oysters.

Brittany Oysters: Cancale, Saint-Brieuc, Morlaix and the Bay of Brest are all well-known for cupped and flat oysters; most of the small amount farmed are from Brittany.

The Cancale oyster is farmed in the shadow of the Mont Saint-Michel and has a firm and salty flesh.

The Paimpol deep-sea oyster, raised in farms far out in the bay, is deliciously juicy and plump.

Another Brittany celebrity is “the Belon”, whose appellation designates three Brittany estuaries on the south coast of Finistere where the coastal seawater mixes with freshwater from rivers and springs.

The oysters farmed around Quiberon and in the Gulf of Morbihan in southern Brittany grow in richly fed tidal streams and have a distinctive and energising flavour.

Oysters from the Central West Coast: Ile de Ré, Noirmoutier. Oysters farmed off the Vendée coast are highly reputed.

Marennes-Oléron, Charente-Maritime is the most extensive oyster farming area in the world with the advertising slogan “Matured in Marennes-Oléron and nowhere else”. The ancient salt marshes which form the oyster beds give an aroma and sometimes a special hue to the oysters.

Arcachon Oysters:The Arcachon Basin (Aquitaine) has been producing wild oysters since days of old. Today it has become an important breeding centre, supplying spats (oyster larvae) to most of France’s oyster-farming basins. The baby oysters suction onto terracotta tiles placed by the farmers and are then placed in sacks to continue growing.

French Connections has fabulous rentals in all these areas – so why not check them out and va va voom to France and enjoy oysters fresh from the water!

 

Going to festivals and events in the summer in France is a great way to experience the country’s culture and ambiance. There are hundreds, if not thousands of great events on all over France and here we pick just a few of our favourites.

A word about the traffic in France in the summer

July and August are when schools close in France and French people take their holidays. The majority of holidays are taken in France and that means it can get very busy. You can pretty much guarantee every weekend starting from mid-July until the end of August will see increased activity on the roads everywhere.

The worst traffic jams are usually the middle week of July - the first big holiday departure en masse for the French. The last weekend of July is traditionally the busiest of the summer and the first weekend of August is also busy.

Useful website: This French government website predicts traffic flows and gives the latest details of congestion. Information is provided in English: www.bison-fute.gouv.fr

Some of the best summer events in France

Main Square Music Festival Arras, Hauts de France: 20 June – 2 July. The small town of Arras, is the venue for one of Europe’s major musical events – The Main Square Festival. Dozens of the best up-and-coming artists plus leading international artists. This year performers include Radiohead, www.mainsquarefestival.fr

Paris Plage: 8 July – 3 September. Two miles of the Seine (near the Pont Neuf) becomes Paris Plage, the city beach, perfect for sunbathing and relaxing. The aim is that Parisians stuck in the city can enjoy a stroll along the traffic-free river bank or a lazy day by the water. Play petanque and volleyball, take in a concert or enjoy tai chi and dancing – festive, fun and free entertainment. Details: quefaire.paris.fr

Festival of Aix, Aix-en-Provence, Provence; 3-22 July. Spectacular music festival in various locations in this lovely town www.festival-aix.com

Festival d’Avignon, Avignon, Provence: 6-26 July. This annual arts festival is magnificent, with performances given in dozens of venues and in streets and open air spaces throughout the city and beyond; plus hundreds of “unofficial” shows www.festival-avignon.com

Cosmo Jazz Festival, Chamonix, Haute-Savoie: 22-30 July. Free concerts in some of Chamonix’s most amazing locations – such as the top of the Aiguille du Midi, Lac Blanc and Grand Montet. Cosmo Jazz Festival features brass bands playing in breath-taking scenery. www.cosmojazzfestival.com

Festival du Bout du Monde –Crozon, Brittany: 4-6 August. A three-day music festival held on the Peninsula of Crozon, the Festival at the End of the World celebrates French and world music www.festivalduboutdumonde.com

Festival Interceltique de Lorient, Lorient, Brittany: 4-13 August. About 700,000 people from all over the world invade the Celtic land of Lorient to enjoy the cream of Celtic music, from Galicia to Scotland. http://www.festival-interceltique.bzh/

Classique au Vert, Paris takes place in the leafy Parc Floral every weekend from 5 August to 17 September. World-class classical musicians gather while Paris is at its quietest to serenade tourists and Parisians in the beautiful Parc Floral de Paris. https://classiqueauvert.paris.fr/

Route du Rock Festival, Saint Malo, Brittany: August 17-20. Ever since August 1993 and a concert by a group of unknown musicians from Oxford (now known as Radiohead), the Route du Rock Festival of Saint Malo has gone from strength to strength, and become something of a benchmark in terms of British and American pop and rock. www.laroutedurock.com

Rock en Seine, Paris: 25-27 August. Concerts held in the lovely and historic gardens at Domaine National de Saint-Cloud with dozens of top bands: https://www.rockenseine.com/

This is just a smidgeon of what’s on this summer in France, check at local tourist offices for lots of details and nip over to French Connections rental pages to find your dream accommodation in France...

Known as Aquitaine’s “pearl”, the city of Bordeaux, is elegant, sophisticated, packed with beautiful buildings, fabulous restaurants and it is THE place to go if you love wine.

It’s a city with a 2000 year old history and sometimes called the “Port of the Moon” referring to the crescent moon shaped harbour, created by the flow of the Garonne River which runs through its centre.

Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees Mountains, Aquitaine and its capital city, Bordeaux is a fabulous place to visit. Around the city explore a wine connoisseur’s paradise with noble chateaux and breath-taking scenery. Inside the city fall in love with its unique and historical treasures and a real feeling of joie de vivre.

Beautiful Bordeaux

Ancient buildings, quirky shops, fabulous cafés, and elegant squares – this sunny town is perfect for the café lifestyle. Bordeaux has UNESCO World Heritage site status and with good reason – the architecture and sites are fabulous.

Bordeaux has the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe, rue Ste Catherine, so finding a souvenir to take home shouldn’t be a problem. Don’t miss Le Miroir – Bordeaux’s stunning water sculpture in front of the Place du Bourse - it’s a must see. And, and on a hot day, it’s a must cool down and run through it place. The perfect place for a promenade is along the river front here.

Discover the 12th, century symbol, the scallop seashell, signalling the way to Le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostella – Way of St. James – pilgrimage route. Found throughout Bordeaux’ historical squares, inlaid in cobblestone streets and embedded in building facades and fountains around this medieval city, leading the faithful to the notable and majestic Basilicas of Saint-Michel and Saint Seurin, and Cathedral Saint André.

Foodie Bordeaux

Eating and Drinking in Bordeaux offers you a huge choice. Massive. Nip to the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux for a relaxing drink in a classy setting (you might bump into one Gordon Ramsay – he has a restaurant there, Le Pressoir d’Argent). Nip across the road to dine in style at another of Bordeaux’s most prestigious eateries, the Café Opera at the Grand Theatre.

Try wine tasting – there are lots of wine bar specialists. And don’t forget to try the local speciality, cannelé, a cake that dates back to the 19th century when the nuns of Saint Eulalia created the recipe. With a caramelised shell and sweet tender centre, it’s seriously lush.

Don’t miss the Marché des Capucins dating from 1749, sometimes called the “belly of Bordeaux”. Offering regional delicacies and a sublime number of delicious cheeses, it’s a must for any true foodie.

Find your dream rental in Bordeaux with French Connections – it’s our job to help you make your dreams come true...

Limoges is the capital of the Haute-Vienne region in southwest France. It’s famous for its porcelain manufacturing industry and there are lots to see, do and enjoy there.

Potty for Pottery

Fans of The Antiques Road Show will know that Limoges Porcelain is the crème de la crème, the best in the world, and it all started in 1768 when a kaolin quarry, a major component of making porcelain, was discovered close to the city. To this day the town of Limoges is peppered with stores selling cups and saucers of every size, shape and style. You’ll find a marvelous array of dinner services, teapots, ornaments and lights in quirky shops and huge warehouses of porcelain.

There are plenty of porcelain specialists to visit in Limoges but one of the best is Bernadaud. There you can learn more about the history of the town’s famous product in their museum as well as buy some of the finest tableware. The real deal is translucent, just hold it up to the light and you’ll see the faint glow through the solid fine china. What to see and do in Limoges:

What to see and do in Limoges:

Porcelain fans will love the Adrien Dubouché National Museum of Porcelain with over 10,000 porcelain and earthenware pieces from all over the world, a must-see for ceramics fans.

Limoges Enamel: Just as famous as the porcelain is the enamel work. The first Champléve enamel was created in Limoges in the 12th Century. Today enamellists are reviving a tradition that’s thriving and developing. Try your hand at enamelling at the Maison d’Email (nothing to do with the internet, email means enamel in French), but book in advance to be sure of a place, cost approximately 10 Euros for lesson and for equipment to make your own enamel souvenir…

Musée des Beaux Arts: The city’s impressive art museum is inside a beautifully restored 18th-century bishops’ palace. Enjoy the views over the city from the pretty gardens…

Rue de la Boucherie: Pedestrianised rue de la Boucherie was named for the butchers’ shops that lined the street in the Middle Ages, the timber buildings are quite beautiful…

Eat, drink and be merry: Relax at a terrace café, enjoy a meal at a restaurant – there’s a whole lot of choice here. Try Le Bistrot Jourdan for authentic atmosphere, lovely setting and great food.

Fresh air and glorious countryside: Get out and about to discover picturesque villages and lush green countryside, places like Lupersat (above), a typical Limousin village with a great little restaurant, La Bistrot d’Emile ( 2 route de Sermur) where you can watch the bread being made for lunch and buy wine to take home. Not too far away is Aubusson, the centre of excellence when it came to tapestries.

For information on what to see and do in Limousin visit: www.tourismelimousin.com

French Connections have loads of lovely holiday homes available in and around Limoges from gorgeous cottages to grand chateaux - making your holiday dreams come true...