Breasts of Agnes Cakes in Loches, Loire Valley

A Loire Break in Chinon at the Hotel Diderot

Chinon is the perfect escape with only a 3-hour drive from Paris. It’s over 18 years since we were here last. Don’t ask me why but family life just got in the way. So when Jamie Schler and her husband, Jean-Pierre took over the Hôtel Diderot at the start of the year, it was the best excuse to return to the Loire Valley with Antoine for a few days.

We couldn’t resist, however, a slight detour en route down via the medieval town of Loches. I hadn’t heard of the place but Antoine was right to stop, as the royal town behind the hill’s fortifications is worth seeing.  You must check out the local speciality for a teatime treat: may I tempt you to some Breasts of Agnès?

Breasts of Agnes Cakes in Loches, Loire Valley

Angès Sorel as the first official mistress of the Kings of France. Her liaison with Charles VII was legendary and so her beauty was too, apparently.  Antoine and I bought a couple (of course) and as one of us devoured and another nibbled, this rather heavy cake revealed a shortcrust pastry encasing an amaretti tartlet with hints of candied citrus fruits. Oh-là-là! Not for the faint-hearted, as I did find them rather heavy. I’ll leave you to think of puns on that one, as I contain myself.

Hotel Diderot Chinon

I’ve followed Jamie through her inspiring writings on Life’s A Feast for the past 4 years, thanks to discovering her via the fun MacTweets blog, where macaron lovers would rise to Jamie and Deeba’s monthly insane challenges and post their artistic macaron Mac Attacks.

I miss it but Jamie is forever juggling many other projects on the go: such as Plated Stories, a talented creative duo with photographer Ilva Beretta including workshops, to to mention Jamie’s writing career with books (note the plural) on the near horizon.

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How Jamie manages to do all of this and run a hotel with 26 rooms beats me. And she’s so relaxed and welcoming with all of her guests, stopping to chat outside under the shade of the banana tree. So what does she do in her spare time?

“I make jam”, she says. Proof for starters is layer upon layer of jam classics and intriguing combinations stacked to the brim in her confiture dresser in the dining room, ready to serve at breakfast.

Jamie Schler Hotel Diderot Chinon

I thought foolishly that I could try them all during our stay: fig, pear & grape; banana & mango; strawberry & rosemary; greengage; 3 plums; banana; raisin & rum; confiture pour les Soeurs Tournet (rhubarb and raspberry for a couple of regulars); orange marmalade with cocoa; warm kisses (strawberry, cherry & cinnamon).

The list goes on but who couldn’t also try the fresh local goat’s cheese with walnuts and honey and chives from the neighbour’s garden?

selection of homemade jams hotel diderot

With such a start to the day what is there to do around the medieval town of Chinon? The beauty of the Hôtel Diderot is it’s so central and within easy walking distance to the castle on the hill (there’s now even a lift!), museums, churches and restaurants (we particularly loved La Part des Anges in rue Rabelais).

On Thursday mornings, the market is just next door in the square of Joan of Arc. References to Jean d’Arc are all around the town, as is the Renaissance writer, doctor and humanist, François Rabelais, born in Chinon. In our room were a few fun quotations like

Half of the world doesn’t know how the other half live“.

Christ statue in Chinon Loire

A surprisingly familiar Art Deco statue was looking down on us from the hillside just above the hotel. Known as the Sacred Heart of Chinon, this 7.4m statue has been watching over the town since 1943 thanks to the local priest, Archpriest Vivien.

He intended that this statue provide divine protection during the war. Sculpted by Paule Richon, it was influenced by the Christ the Redeemer (Corcovado) statue in Rio. Coincidence on our return from our family holiday in Rio de Janeiro?

French medieval town of Chinon Loire France

Can you imagine living in the Royal Fortress dominating the Vienne River just before it joins the Loire, the longest river in France?

We headed to Candes-St-Martin, one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”. I’ve shared a few views of the town on social media, complete with a stunning panorama point where the sandy banks of both the Loire and the Indre rivers merge.

Geranium decorated house on the Loire

Cyclist tours are popular here – it’s largely flat and there are so many attractions to visit, including wineries. That’s another of our hobbies.  Just saying.  That would take another post!

This region around Chinon is the Touraine, also known as the Garden of France. Driving from Candes-St-Martin along the l’Indre river, I’d recommend a stop at the Château at Rigny-Ussé.

Le Notre Gardens at Chateau Usse Loire Valley

The gardens at Ussé were designed by Lenotre, just as with Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles.

Over the past 20 years the castle has been renovated and it’s quite an achievement. This castle is perfect for family outings, as the tower includes many rooms devoted to the Sleeping Beauty, as Charles Perault on coming here was inspired to write his famous classic. Like the Belle au Bois Dormant tower, there are life-size models all around the castle, which makes it all rather charming.

Chateau Usse Touraine Region

In the bigger castles like this one, the owners were obliged to prepare a room for their Roi, the King of France – even if they slept in them or not. Just for the record, the other nearby fairytale castle, Azay-le-Rideau (see my blog post on this), is currently being renovated but worth a visit to see how it’s being done.

Another must visit in the area around Chinon is Villandry Castle. More famous for their gardens we appreciated having a guide to take us around inside the castle. The parquet flooring also echoes the love garden theme below.  The higher you climb the stairs in the tower, the more you can appreciate the gardens’ grandeur and symmetry.

Gardens of Villandry Loire

Our guide told us the good news, “Now enjoy the stroll through the gardens and don’t forget that to pick the grapes and taste them if you think they’re perfectly ripe”.

Decadence indeed.

Stopping in Tours on Saturday morning, returning home to Paris, the market at Les Halles is legendary.  Especially the cheese counters, including a Meilleur Ouvrier de France‘s gigantic selection of the local goat cheeses. As I turned to leave, one last wink came from Agnès with these beautiful ashen-coated specimens, perfect with the local white wine of either Sauvignon blanc or Chenin.

Goats cheese French market

Cheers to you from Chinon, readers, and thanks again to our lovely hostess, Jamie at the Hôtel Diderot! Well done Jamie in finding such an idyllic setting. Antoine and I have found yet more excuses to return again very soon.

17 replies
  1. Christina | Christina's Cucina
    Christina | Christina's Cucina says:

    Here I’d thought I’d seen and read this post, but obviously I had not! Now I know why, looking at the date: you must have had it ready to publish around the time we were in Bordeaux or at Karen’s! You organized thing, you!

    What a beautiful trip, Jill and I’d love to go to Jamie’s hotel, too- even if it was just for the jam! Wow! How DOES she do it all!?

    I loved all your photos (and did not think they were too small or shrinking at all) and can appreciate just how much time these collages take! A LOT.

    Keep it up-you’re a natural travel writer! xx

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Appreciate your kind words, Christina. I love posting about my travels and hope to do more.

      Yes, it takes a long time to prepare posts – especially with the photos. Since this post was written last summer, I have upgraded the site and so have gone through each post to enlarge many photos that were a bit on the small side.

      You would LOVE the Diderot Hotel – Jamie is so welcoming and there’s so much to see and do in the area.

      Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      You would LOVE the hotel Diderot, Carol. OK. I realise that these collage photos are not the best idea; just seemed the best excuse to accommodate a ridiculous amount of photos I wanted to share with you all. I shall learn to pick and just enlarge in future. It’s tough! 😉

      Reply
  2. Amanda Brucen
    Amanda Brucen says:

    France is so beautiful thanks for all your great inspiring posts Jill. I will be in Paris in two weeks time and already have planned where to go thanks to teatime in Paris!

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      What a wonderful pleasure to hear that from you on return here, Amanda. Glad to be of help and have a super time in Paris soon! There are more posts coming up. And the good news is that I’m now back for good for a while ….

      Reply
  3. Liz
    Liz says:

    I’m SO excited that you got to stay at Jamie’s hotel! And now we all can see the marvelous jam she’s been cooking up. Such fun!!

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Isn’t it fun to see the famous jams in person, Liz? Put this on your list to come over with Bill. I am just as excited as you, believe me…

      Reply
  4. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Oh, Jill, what a wonderful write up about your entire trip! I can’t tell you enough how thrilled I am that you and Antoine visited and stayed at the hotel! It really is a fascinating and stunning town and region. Your photos of Ussé and Villandry – both which I must visit (again) very soon – are beautiful. And thank you for the compliments on the hotel, the breakfast, and the jams (have you tried yours yet?)… we so loved having you guys here and do hope your stay was perfect. I look forward to your next visit!

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      We loved our stay Jamie and can’t wait to return since there’s so much we still want to see and your hotel is just the perfect base. We’re also keeping your jam for a rainy Autumn weekend when we’re stuck in the house and so can imagine being at the hotel in Chinon! x

      Reply
  5. Linda
    Linda says:

    Well I think Chinon is where to go next in France. Thank you Jill for always pointing out where to go!! 🙂 Linda

    Reply

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