Chinon is ideally located at the crossroads of three ancient French provinces : Touraine, Anjou and Poitou. This situation explains the historical importance of the town’s fortress, while the river Vienne, flowing at its feet, made it a busy fluvial port. Today, Chinon remains the best base to discover the Loire Valley. And there is so much to do that a short introduction can be of help.
- The fort-city – Once enclosed behind high walls, the old fort-city is stuck between the foot of the fortress, along rue Voltaire and rue Haute-Saint-Maurice, and the river, along rue du Commerce. Numerous historical landmarks. At the western end, pay a visit to Au Vieux Marché antique store and wine shop, and do not miss the spectacular Caves Plouzeau cellar, try the excellent Les Années 30 for lunch or dinner, and take a peek inside Saint-Maurice church (all in rue Haute-Saint-Maurice). In rue Voltaire, the Cave Voltaire offers a fine selection of wines and serves cheese platters or cold cuts.
- Musée du Carroi – In the center of the fort-city. Small but interesting museum recounting the history of Chinon. Temporary exhibitions. Just in front, very nice antique bookshop Librairie Lacoste. From there, you can take the long, steep ramp that leads to the fortress.
- City hall square – Perpendicular to the river. Small farmer’s market on Sunday. Numerous bars and terraces around the Three Graces fountain, in a picturesque setting. From there, you can take an elevator to the fortress. Restaurants : you should try Le Chapeau Rouge. Just behind City hall, do not miss Le Café Français (French bistrot at its best) and La Cabane à Vin (wine bar and shop).
- The royal fortress – An impressive series of fortified enclosures sitting on top of the hill. Inside the park, a small coffee-shop serves food and drinks during the season. Ideal for picnics. You can decide to just enjoy the park and the views, take a nap in a lawn chair, self-guide with the help of pamphlets, or hire a local guide (recommended) for a full visit.
- The hillside – The coteau (hillside) makes for a lovely walk, starting at the fortress (coteau Saint-Martin) and following to the east with coteau Sainte- Radegonde. Small houses, gardens, numerous troglodytes dug into the creamy limestone. At the end of the walk, visit the intriguing Sainte-Radegonde’s chapel.
- The canonial quarter – On your way down from the coteau, shoot for the two-steepled church (Saint-Mexme), surrounded by fine houses erected for the canons who were living around it. Open to the visit. Eastbound on rue Diderot, you will be back at the hotel. If you pass it, you can pay a visit to the Couly-Dutheil cellars and winery (shop, visits, wine tasting). Southbound, you will reach the place Jeanne d’Arc (weekly farmer’s market on Thursday) the river.
- The banks of the Vienne – Nice place to take a walk, picnic or feed the ducks. Interesting flea market each 3d Sunday of the month. Heading east, you will walk under the old railroad bridge (a Gustave Eiffel creation) and then, taking a right on the dirt road, reach la Belle laveuse, once the locals’ beach, now a nice picnic spot with a magnificent view of the city (you can still take a dip, but at your own risk).
- The bridge and the island – The old bridge crosses the Vienne river in two steps, finding support on the island (île de Tours) that sits mid-current. The island makes for a nice walk with a couple of houses and small gardens. Once you reach the south bank of the Vienne, turn around to enjoy the view of the fortress (very nice at dusk, when the site lights up). Once on the left bank, on the right hand side facing south, la Guinguette (from May to October) serves food and drinks, often with live music at night.
- Place Mirabeau, rue Rabelais, rue du Commerce – Parallel to the banks of the Vienne, numerous restaurants : try L’Océanic, La Part des Anges, L’Ardoise, Un Air d’Antan (all in rue Rabelais) and Côté Jardin (in rue du Commerce).
- Segway visits – eFollowme (rue du Commerce, Chinon).
- Antiques : Au Vieux Marché – La Boutique Bleue – Passé Présent – Brocante (quai Jeanne d’Arc) – Antiquités La Grange (on the road toTours) – Monthly flea market (on the banks of the river, 3d Sunday of the month).
- Crafts : Xavier Rémon-Beauvais (orfèvre) – Atelier Incipit Liber (book binding)- Les Copeaux d’abord (knife-makers churning out the local Chinon knife) – Valérie Merlin (sculptor).
- Painters : Atelier Triphonoff – Atelier Sentrais – Atelier Blanchard – Atelier l’Art est Public.
- Giftshop : Confluences – Artisanes de Touraine – Grain de Papier (stationery).
- Local delicacies – Le Palais de Rabelais (place Hoffheim) – Tarte vigneronne (apple pie glazed in wine jelly) pâtisserie Ayrole.
Outdoorsy things to do
- Forest adventure – Saint-Benoît adventures – Forest adventure park offering high wire confidence courses.
- Cruising on the Vienne – Compagnie de navigation Vienne Loire : la Chinonaise, la Diligente, and le Tonnant (Chinon) – Le Gargantua (Chinon) – L’Amarante and la Belle Adèle (Candes-Saint-Martin) – Bruno Bateaux, Saint-Germain-sur-Vienne – CPIE Touraine Val de Loire(Candes-Saint-Martin). For more, look here.
- Canoeing and kayaking – Clan (Chinon Loisirs Activités Nature), Chinon. Look here.
- Hot air balloon – Touraine terre d’envol – Art montgolfières. Look here.
- Cycling – All the maps are here – Boucle vélo 19 : de port en port (16 km) – Bréhémont | Boucle vélo 20 : au fil de l’eau (16,5 km) – Rivarennes | Boucle vélo 21 : la belle au bois dormant (8 km) – Rigny-Ussé | Boucle vélo 36 : villages entre Vienne et Manse (24 km) – L’Ile Bouchard | Boucle vélo 37 : les troglos de Courtineau (37,6 km) – Crissay-sur-Manse | Boucle vélo 38 : entre Chinon et Candes-Saint-Martin (24 km) – Savigny-en-Véron | Boucle vélo 39 : entre Chinon et la vallée de la Vienne (20 km).
- Hiking – All the maps are here – Les Puys du Chinonais, 3.5 km – Candes Saint-Martin, 3km – Seuilly, 8km – Avon les Roches, 13 km – Panzoult, 12 km – Bréhémont, 12 km – Champigny sur Veude, 11 km – Crissay sur Mande, 14km.
- Horse riding – Centre équestre d’Isoré (Beaumont-en-Véron) – Centre équestre du Noisillet (Cinais) – Centre équestre des Landes (Léméré) – La Balonnière (Saint-Benoît-la-Forêt) – Les Attelages de la Gadouillère (Rivarennes)
- Zoos – ZooParc Beauval (80 minute drive) – Bio Parc Doué (50 minute drive)
The arts and literature circuit
- Seuilly and la Devinière (Rabelais museum) : birthplace of French humanist and writer François Rabelais, father of Gargantua and Pantagruel.
- Montsoreau : between Chinon and Saumur, the castle’s history inspired Alexandre Dumas for the character of Diane de Meridor, heroin of his novel La Dame de Montsoreau. The castle now hosts a collection of contemporary art.
- Fontevraud : one of the largest and best preserved medieval abbeys in Europe. Also a regional center for arts and culture. Le Restaurant à Fontevraud is worth a try (always call first).
- Champigny-sur-Veude : one of the seven remaining French holy chapels and its stunning stained glass panels.
- Loudun : the city was racked, in the 700’s, by a large possession scandal involving its convents. Interesting museum devoted to Théophraste Renaudot, the creator of journalism in France.
- Huismes : Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning’s home.
- Saché : the castle – once a favorite stop of the writer in Touraine – is home to the musée Balzac. Fine restaurant : l’Auberge du XXème siècle. Alexander Calder once lived in the village and left a landmark mobile.
- L’Islette (close to Azay-le-Rideau) : the castle was chosen by the sculptor Auguste Rodin and his pupil Camille Claudel to host their tempestuous relationship.
The garden circuit
- Château et parc de Langeais
- Jardins du château d’Ussé
- Azay-le-Rideau (potager en carrés à la française)
- Jardins du château de Villandry
- Jardins du château du Rivau
- Parc du château de Richelieu
- Demeure de Ronsard – Prieuré Saint-Cosme
- La Bourdaisière (conservatoire de la tomate)
- Chaumont-sur-Loire (festival des jardins)
- Jardins du château de Valmer
- Arboretum de la Martinière (Montbazon)
- Chedigny (le village des roses)
- Jardins du château de Chenonceau
- Jardins du château de Chambord
From Chinon to Richelieu (south of the Vienne)
- Rivière : make a stop and visit the charming small church on the banks of the Vienne.
- Ligré : nice little village of winemakers.
- Léméré : pay a visit to château du Rivau and discover its quirky gardens.
- Champigny-sur-Veude : do not miss the holy chapel.
- Richelieu : a city built for the Cardinal de Richelieu.
- Tavant (on your way back) : do not miss the frescoed church.
- Sazilly : nice restaurant, l’Auberge du Val de Vienne.
From Chinon to Azay-le-Rideau (north circuit)
- Huismes : little village. You can visit Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning’s house.
- Rigny-Ussé : the impressive castle of the Duke of Blacas is thought to have inspired Charles Perrault for his Sleeping Beauty.
- Rivarennes : home of the poires tapées, a local delicacy. Visit la Maison Hérin or la Maison de la Poire tapée.
- Bréhémont : a typical village on the banks of the Loire, with a nice little harbor and some traditional sailboats.
- Lignières-de-Touraine : do not miss the frescoes in the church.
- Langeais : visit the castle and its gardens. You can have lunch at Le Coin des Halles.
- Azay-le-Rideau : visit the castle and try l’Auberge Pomme Poire, very nice restaurant just out of the city.
- Saint-Benoît-la-Forêt : in the heart of the Chinon forest. look for the signs for Turpenay and discover the ruins of the ancient abbey.
From Chinon to Azay-le-Rideau (south circuit)
- Cravant-les-Coteaux : winemakers village. You might want to have lunch at l’Auberge des Coteaux.
- Panzoult : a village of winemakers. Visit the stunning cooperative cellar, carved in the rock and adorned with naive sculptures.
- Crissay-sur-Manse : listed among the prettiest villages in France.
- Villaines-les-Rochers : a village of basketweavers.
- Saché : Balzac’s museum and a fine restaurant : l’Auberge du XIIème siècle.
- Azay-le-Rideau : visit the castle and try l’Auberge Pomme Poire just out of the city.
From Chinon to Saumur (southern bank of the Vienne)
- Saint-Germain-sur-Vienne : visit the small roman church and pay a call to Château du Petit-Thouars to meet the Count’s family ; you might want to book a picnic, a visit of the winery or a wine tasting.
- Candes-Saint-Martin : pretty village and unique roman church at the junction between the Vienne and the Loire. Entering the village from Chinon, you can have a bite at Enfin du Vin, a wine bar that presents the widest selection of Loire Valley wines.
- Montsoreau : visit the place, the castle and board a boat to sail the Loire.
- Fontevraud l’Abbaye : sprawling nunnery turned prison in the 1800’s. Necroplis of the Plantagenêts family. Admire the painted sarcophagi of Richard the Lionheart and of his parents (Henri II and Eleanor). Also a regional center for arts and culture. Le Restaurant à Fontevraud is worth a try (always call first).
- Brézé : a unique monument. There is a castle, and then another (underground) castle under the castle.
- Saumur : military city. Textbook medieval castle. Home to the Cadre Noir, the French military school of horsemanship. Book online to attend the daily routine. Musée des blindés (Armored vehicles museum). Lots of wineries and cellars to visit (Bouvet-Ladubay, Gatien & Meyer, Ackerman) and a gem of a distillery (Combier) well worth a visit. Nice restaurants : you want to try Le Gambetta.
- Musée Maurice Dufresne (here) in Marnay, next to Azay-le-Rideau : a unique collection of vehicles, mechanical pieces, unusual objects and posters (3.000 pieces).
A bit further
- Tours (40 minute drive to the east) – Large city – Shopping – Restaurants – Old Tours – Fine arts museum – Modern art museum (CCOD) – Musée du compagnonnage (craftsmen guilds museum) – Saint-Gatien cathedral – Saint-Martin basilica – Tours castle – Botanical garden (les Prébendes). Golf de la Gloriette.
- Angers (60 minute drive to the west) – Large city – Angers Castle – Tapestry of the Apocalypse – Jean Lurçat museum of tapestry – David d’Angers museum (sculpture) – Fine arts museum – Shopping – Restaurants – Old Angers – Terra Botanica (theme park).
- Loches (50 minute drive) – Medieval dungeons – Royal residence – Enclosed medieval city – Saint-Ours church – Lansyer museum (paintings) – Golf at Loches-Verneuil – Excellent restaurant in Chedigny (15 minute drive) : Le Clos aux Roses.
How far is it ?
- Rigny-Ussé : 18 minute drive
- Azay-le-Rideau : 20 minute drive
- Fontevraud : 25 minute drive
- Langeais : 30 minute drive
- Brézé : 35 minute drive
- Villandry : 30 minute drive
- Saumur : 35 minute drive
- Tours : 40 minute drive
- Loches : 50 minute drive
- Chenonceau : 60 minute drive
- Angers : 60 minute drive
- Amboise : 65 minute drive
- Chaumont-sur-Loire : 80 minute drive
- Blois : 90 minute drive
- Cheverny : 90 minute drive
- Valencay : 90 minute drive
- Chambord : 96 minute drive