Chinon - your views please

Jan 12th, 2004, 02:32 PM
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Chinon - your views please

Talking a short break to France this coming May and will be based either in the Loire Valley or maybe further SE towards La Rochelle. I'm pretty easy either way but am tending towards the Loire as its less of a drive from the St Malo ferry and I've got to visit a vineyard near Angers to pick up a few cases of wine I've waiting for me.
... Well after searching this board I thought I'd found a pretty good hotel and a good price in the town of Chinon. So I 've turned to my guidebook of France and here's a direct quote regarding the town:
"[of the chateau] all is ruined within. In an attempt to make up for this loss, a medieval quarter below has been restored in over sanitized fashion, and the town's total dedication to tourism has removed whatever charm Chinon might have possessed."


"Below, the town continues... in sterile fashion: medieval streets vaunting their olde-worlde-ness, overpriced cafés and brasseries..."

So: questions to those who know Chinon - are these fair comments or should I consider my week long break in Chinon afterall?

Many thanks for your views

Dr D.
(sorry for the length of this initial post!)
Dr_DoGood is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 03:49 PM
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I visited Chinon in May, 2001. I wouldn't agree with the assessment at all. I found it a delightful little town.

I found the castle ruin quite refreshing. It's an old fortress and not just another pleasure palace like so many of the Loire chateaux really are. The fortress is where Joan of Arc picked out the Dauphin to lead the troops against the regime in power. I liked climbing the clock tower that's still intact and thinking that Joan of Arc had really been there.

About half way up the hill to the fortress was a narrow road that meandered along the hill side. I walked down it looking at the troglodyte dwellings, actual homes carved into the limestone hill side. Some were abandoned, some had become storage/gardening shacks and some had people actually living in them. As I recall there was a small chapel carved out too.

Make sure you walk across the Loire river at dusk and watch the castle ruins be illuminated. It's beautiful. Just walking around the old town is pretty, a pretty plaza here, a beautiful old building there.

I remember eating at a restaurant very near the bridge over the Loire. It was "Restaurant Deux Boules d'Or" (restaurant of two golden balls) or something like that. It was very good. At the time I think I paid about 30USD for an excellent 3 course meal with house wine.

You said you'd be there in May. Watch your holidays so you don't get caught off guard. May 1st is May Day, May 8th is Victory 1945 Day and May 20th is Ascension Day. I happened to be in Chinon for May 8th in 2001. There was a small veterans parade that was fascinating to watch. It was hard to imagine that the elderly gentlemen marching were once young men at war.

While in Angers, take a Cointreau tour, see the tapestries at the castle and visit the David d'Anger museum. It's a stunning display under a glass-roofed, old church remodeled expressly for the purpose of displaying his sculpture.

I'm assuming you'll have a car so you can visit things around Chinon. Azay-le-Rideau is close as well as Langeais and Saumur. There's a nuclear reactor museum a few miles outside of town. I didn't have a car so I didn't go, though with a car I would have. My guide book (which incidentally likes Chinon ) said it has been closed due to security. You should check the tourist office to see if it's open and arrange a tour.

I spent two and a half weeks touring the Loire Valley. I started in Angers and ended up in Beaugency. The further east I went the more tourists there were. That has made me lean towards enjoying the western Loire much more than the eastern part.

By the way I was in La Rochelle in December and loved it there.
indytravel is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 03:56 PM
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I think Chinon is fine as a base for touring. The castle is in ruins - charming but not a lot to look at and the town is cute - maybe a little cutesy - but not offensive. But unless you plan on visitng some chateaux, wineries, etc. you'll run out of things to do. (We stayed at a 14th century chateau /hotel a couple of miles from town which was an incredible experience - especially their dinner en famille - and quite modestly priced. I'm not sure about any hotels in the town and we only had 1 meal there - a light dinner in a modest creperie which was fine.)
nytraveler is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 05:01 PM
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My Good Doctor...

I hasten to add my agreement with indy & nytrav (and disagreement with that guide book!)
TuckH is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 06:37 PM
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We spent several days in Chinon at the delightful Hotel Diderot. We weren't aware when booking, but it happened to the weekend of the Rabellaise (sp?) festival -- a huge and fun event. So certainly the place was crawling with tourists then, but we still found it a fine town, and we liked it a lot better than Amboise, our other base in the Loire.
Patrick is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 09:05 PM
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The Chateau Chinon is a partial ruin, but you can go in and there is a nice museum section with period costumes. You can walk the grounds and enjoy fabulous views and you can climb down into the dungeon where Joan d'Arc was prisoner. (I needed a flashlight but my husband managed nicely without one.)

The town is lovely as is the walk along the river. Yes, there are touristy things there, but they are ubiquitous in Europe. Enjoy the beauty and ignore the beast.

Have a nice trip.
SalB is offline  
Jan 12th, 2004, 11:11 PM
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Thank you everyone, you've put my mind at ease... Chinon it is then!
Thanks, Indy for your detailed response and I'll certainly check the dates carefully.
Patrick - that's the very hotel I intend booking; I found mention of it when I searched this forum and then viewed their website - looks absolutely ideal; glad you enjoyned your stay there too.

Now, what I really ought to do is reconsider my guide book! (I'll nip out a Michelin Guide Verte at the weekend).

Thanks again

Dr D.

Dr_DoGood is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 03:29 AM
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I found Chinon to be quite charming and fun to wander around. Who care's if it's a bit touristy or cutesy? I'd rather see that than "authentic" multi-storey car parks or grim tower blocks.

Make sure you stop off at the Couly Dutheil estate. We bought some nice bottles from there a couple of years ago.
hanl is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 08:06 AM
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I stayed at the Hotel Diderot too. It must be the hotel of choice for Chinon.

I really liked the hotel. I had a ground floor room that looked onto the courtyard. It was carved back into the limestone, so I felt I was having my own little "troglodyte" experience. It also had one of the biggest bathrooms I've ever seen in a little French hotel.

Nytraveler has it right. Chinon itself is worth about a day and a half. After that I assume you're using it as a base to explore further a field. I wouldn't want to spend a full week just staying in Chinon. I'd rapidly have nothing to do but sip wine all afternoon on a terrace with a view of the castle ruins. Wait a minute, that doesn't sound so bad.

I'm sure you're aware of this, but I'll mention it for others reading this thread. Don't miss the delicious Chinon red wines.
indytravel is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 09:02 AM
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We spent about two weeks in the area in Oct/Nov. '02 and opted to make Angers our base. We really enjoyed being in the city, which is very agreeable, lots of nice little restaurants, etc. However, it depends on you want a city or small town as a base. From Angers, we visited Fontevraud, Saumur, Azay-sur-Rideau, Chinon, etc.
Chinon didn't strike us as the best place to stay for an entire week. However, I think the description in your guidebook is rather harsh.
BTilke is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 09:29 AM
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Lucky you, going to Angers! I hope you have some time to explore there - we loved it!

I also agree about Chinon, though I've never stayed overnight there. The fact that the castle is a total ruin makes it special - standing in that space where Jeanne d'Arc met the Dauphin with only remnants of the walls around you somehow makes it more impressive than a castle where everything has been put back into place.

The town is fine. Some guidebook writer was having a bad day.
StCirq is online now  
Jan 13th, 2004, 09:58 AM
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I think it's on the River Vienne, not Loire. the confluence of the two is not far away though.

at any rate, I enjoyed it. rent a bike to get around, it's pretty.
flygirl is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 03:08 PM
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You're right flygirl, it is the Vienne River. I must have had too many glasses of that Chinon red.
indytravel is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 03:22 PM
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Dear all thanks for your very positive noises... I've now determined it'll be 5 nights at the Diderot in Chinon with a final night in Dinan so as to be close to the ferry at St Malo for crossing home the following morning.

Yes indeed we're taking the car so Chinon will only be a base to explore the Loire - probably a chateau or two - any suggestions? (I've done Chenonceaux before and Blois whilst criss crossing the Loire between the Channel Ports and the South Of France).

I'm also very interested in seeing the Apocalypse Tapestry at Angers and obviously we'll be taking in a couple of vineyards too.

Thanks again for all your helpful comments and suggestions - you do realise now that this is all on your (collective) head.

Dr D.
Dr_DoGood is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 04:59 PM
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Suggestions? Of course, the Abbey at Fontrevaud, which is nearby, is very much worth the better part of a day's time. Also nearby - and underrated I think - is Montreuil-Bellay and its hilltop castle.
TuckH is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 05:17 PM
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I stayed in Chinon and thought it was charming. A fun place to just wander and window shop. Walk across the bridge and look back at the ruins of the chateau at sunset, the colors were beautiful. There's a little park with a bench - big enough for 2 plus a bottle of wine! The chateau Usse is a short drive from there. I believe this is one that the author of Sleeping Beauty based his castle on - can't recall the whole story. Usse is beatiful from the outside, especially as you approach it from the road that ends at the chateau(don't know the name). I didn't go inside but wished I had (next time). I did visit a little local goods store about a block from the chateau. They had a nice selection of local wines, candies, food, pottery, etc. It was delightful!
cls2paris is offline  
Jan 13th, 2004, 09:34 PM
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If you're going to Angers, you may wish to stop at the Chateau Montegeoffroy. This is a basically a private home lived in by members of the original family. It escaped the revolution, so the feel is very authentic with original furnishings made for the chateau.
RonZ is offline  
Jan 27th, 2004, 09:02 PM
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I highly recommend Château Villandry for both château and gardens. The gardens are amazng. Also enjoyed Château Langeais, Château Azay-le-Rideau and it's a bit of a drive but Château Chambord. Chambord was my least favorite but the largest and has the wonderful double staircase. If you do go, be sure to see the equestrian show.

Have a wonderful trip.
SalB is offline  

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