Why now is the time to book a trip to France’s vineyards

View from the restaurant terrace at Relais de Chambord. Photograph: TMCO Holdings/ MarugalView from the restaurant terrace at Relais de Chambord. Photograph: TMCO Holdings/ Marugal
View from the restaurant terrace at Relais de Chambord. Photograph: TMCO Holdings/ Marugal
With the restrictions and costs of travelling to Europe about to be lifted, hopefully for good, now is the time to plan a trip to the vineyards of France.

Apart from Champagne, the vineyards of the Loire are the nearest French vineyards to England, roughly a five-hour drive from Calais and about four hours from Caen. The Loire is the longest river in France and the vineyards along it and its tributaries constitute one of the most important wine regions of the country.

From Muscadet near Nantes and the Atlantic coast to the hills of Sancerre bordering Burgundy and the Chablis area, there are 51 different wine appellations and a host of grape varieties and wine styles, produced from over 140,000 acres of vines. One of the most interesting regions is the Touraine, near the city of Tours, which is also the prime area for the world-famous Châteaux of the Loire.

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The Relais de Chambord is a contemporary boutique hotel located in the grounds of the magnificent Château de Chambord, so close it seems as if you can almost touch the ancient stone walls. Chambord is perhaps the most majestic of the Loire renaissance châteaux, dating back to the mid-16th century, when it was built as a hunting lodge by King Francis I. The Relais de Chambord was originally the stables for the château, now magically transformed into one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World and set in a unique position.

The ideal location to stay a few nights, enabling visits to the many grand châteaux nearby, such as the charming Louis XIII Cheverny with its hunting hounds, or Chenonceau dating from 1522, which spans the river Cher. Both of these are in vineyard areas with appellations of the same name. Chambord itself has a new vineyard project started in 2015, with 30 acres of vines planted with some ancient grape varieties such as romorantin, only a mile from the hotel.

The Relais de Chambord was transformed from a run-down two-star hotel started in the mid-19th century, to the present four-star luxury hotel which opened its doors in 2018. Expertly managed by the specialist high-end hotel management company Marugal, the boutique hotel still preserves its authentic charm, the renovation having been undertaken with guidance from the renowned French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte.

The hotel is set in the most stunning and unique location in the 13,500 acres grounds of Château de Chambord, a Unesco world heritage site. Fabulous views of the château are everywhere, from many of the bedrooms, the Grand Saint Michel gourmet restaurant, the bistro restaurant and the bar with its spacious outside terrace, the most amazing place to sip a glass of local sparkling Loire wine.

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A journey back in time, with all the comforts of a modern luxury hotel. The perfect place to stay among the châteaux and vineyards of the Loire.

An unforgettable experience.

Richard Esling is a wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. He runs agency and consultancy WineWyse, is founder and principal of Sussex Wine Academy and is chairman of Arundel Wine Society

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