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Golf, wine and food among the Châteaux of the Loire Valley

Have you ever wondered why, for centuries, the Loire Valley was chosen by French kings and their court as their residence? If so, why not stop in this part of the "Centre" region for a few days on your next journey to the South of France, enjoy the gentle climate, the beautiful food and wines, do some sightseeing around the magnificent Châteaux and the delightful Sologne region, and investigate some of the thirty beautiful golf courses it has to offer?

Click here for a map of the 'Centre' Region
Click here for maps of the Loire Valley

The Château de Chambord

This very welcoming region of France isn't all that far, just one hour or so south of Paris. And if French is not your forte - don't worry! The language should be less of a problem than elsewhere, as here they speak the purest French in France with no accent at all - the Loire Valley is indeed known as the cradle of the French language.

Our hosts, the Région Centre Tourist Board, selected four beautiful courses out of the thirty in the region for us to sample, all different but with one common factor - water. All but Vaugouard are situated in the Sologne, which is a wooded area of unspoilt beauty just south of Orléans, famous among other things for its 3000 lakes and its excellent hunting and fishing. Pheasant, partridge, venison and wild boar, as well as carp, pike, eel and trout are to be found everywhere on the menu.

Domaine & Golf de Vaugouard
VAUGOUARD

The Domaine & Golf de Vaugouard near Montargis is north of the Loire, bordering the 50,000 ha "Forêt Domaniale de Montargis", just over an hour south of Paris. After driving up the private alley from the gates, we were first welcomed by the powerful scent of the ancient wisteria climbing up the terrace wall in front of the Château which was in full bloom.

The Château itself is a beautiful late 17th Century white building. The welcome is warm, the human size reception rooms are cosy, you have the choice of 46 lovely rooms and the catering is, of course, superb.

The first nine holes of this wooded golf course are made more interesting by five doglegs, while the more testing second nine is undulating, featuring some very picturesque ponds and providing wonderful views back to the Château which is nestled in greenery and cherry blossom. The two most memorable holes are the 17th, where water has to be crossed twice, and the par 3 12th defended by bunkers on each side and a large pond in front.

Domaine & Golf de Vaugouard

The course also features a wealth of different species of trees such as hornbeams, beach, birch and acacias and an abundance of wild life with red squirrels, woodpeckers, and cuckoos very much in evidence.

So if you're looking for tranquillity and comfort among perfect surroundings and don't mind indulging in a little affordable luxury, this is the place for you offering complete relaxation and something for all the family to do, with swimming, fitness and sauna, billiards, mountain biking, plus, naturally, the 18-hole golf course.

And if you want to make Vaugouard your base in the area, the very welcoming staff will be more than willing to help you organise your outings.

Click here for Vaugouard details

BLUE GREEN GOLF DE LIMÈRE

Down towards Orléans and across the river Loire we drove to our next golf course, although sadly we didn't have time to play. The Blue Green Golf de Limère is just over an hour from Paris (120km) and 10km south of Orléans on the way to the Loire Valley châteaux, situated in the huge Sologne Forest - from here you could go all the way to Chambord, almost 40 kms away, through the forest!

Limère is regarded as one of the most beautiful courses in France and has been voted 7th best in Europe by Golf Européen. It winds its way through birches and heather and features many doglegs, rivers, ponds, plus 94 bunkers! The holes are very varied and do not run parallel to each other, so no monotony here. And there are plenty of challenges, with four very tough holes.

The tough, but picturesque, 14th hole at Blue Green Golf de Limère
The tough, but picturesque, 14th hole at Blue Green Golf de Limère

The most difficult hole is the tree-lined 537m long par 5 6th, with water coming into play on the second shot and a narrow, elongated green guarded by water on one side and a bunker on the other. Also tough is the 378 meter long dog leg par 4 4th, with water all along the left and a multi-tiered green: watch out for the pin placement here.

The short par 4 14th is the most scenic hole on the course, with its huge pond and its many rhododendrons, but its beauty should not distract from its difficulty: the driver is best forgotten off the tee or you might end up in the water, and you'll need to be accurate with your shot into its well-protected green.

Blue Green Golf de Limère

The final hole is tough again, with a water hazard near the drive-landing area, a sloping fairway and an island green. Aim well left with your drive and pick the club to go for the green with extra care!

In contrast, perhaps the easiest hole on the course is the par 3 16th, but it pays not to be too long when trying to avoid the very popular bunker in front of the green.

Golf de Limère, formerly a motorcycle circuit, is not quite as secluded as the other courses visited, with a number of private houses dotted around, but is an excellent test for good players that manages to remain playable by all, thanks to landing areas that are quite generous and not too penalising.

Apart from golf, you and the family can also enjoy being pampered at Les Balnéades Solarium & Balneotherapy next door or take part in the many activities on offer such as traditional archery or the very hi-tech laser clay pigeon shooting.

 
The Domaine des Portes de Sologne

There will be no trouble finding accommodation, as the 3-star Domaine des Portes de Sologne Hotel (see photo right) on-site has 120 rooms plus another 120 self-contained cottages. As many conferences are held here during the summer, it is perhaps preferable to visit Limère in April/May or September/October; this is no hardship, as the course is at its most beautiful in the autumn.

Click here for details of Blue Green Golf de Limère

CHÂTEAU DE CHEVERNY

Cheverny, only 15 minutes south of the city of Blois and the A10 Motorway, is situated in the heart of the Sologne region close to the famous Châteaux of the Loire Valley and it is part of the 142 hectare estate of forest, meadows and ponds belonging to Château de Cheverny.

The La Rousselière pond at Château de Cheverny in the Sologne
The La Rousselière pond at Château de Cheverny in the Sologne

The wooded course is built over the former hunting grounds of the Château, and organised around the huge La Rousselière pond and other smaller ponds. It is flattish, which sometimes makes it difficult to choose the right club, while water, numerous bunkers and large, well-kept greens make it a challenging course that yet remains playable by all levels of golfer.

The 13th at Cheverny

The most difficult hole is the 10th, requiring a good drive aimed left towards the big oak, with water all along your left, while your second shot will need to be accurate to avoid the four bunkers protecting the green and the stream across the fairway. The par 4 8th may be a birdie hole if you aim right of the fairway bunker in the middle and manage to stay clear of the three greenside bunkers with your approach. The most beautiful hole is probably the 17th.

When you play this natural course you get a feeling of peace, serenity and space. It occupies 40 hectares (100 acres), and the wild life here is amazing: ducks and swans, herons, coots, moorhen, deer and much more. Plus, of course, not a house in sight anywhere, just as at Vaugouard and Les Bordes.

The Clubhouse is in a renovated old French farm building, where the restaurant serves excellent food at very affordable prices: the Formule Par costs only £13 and the gastronomic menu a modest £19. There are large bay windows offering beautiful views over the terrace, the pond and the course and from which you may even be lucky enough to spot the odd deer in the evening! It offers all the usual facilities, with the addition of a swimming pool.

Click here for Cheverny details

 
Les Bordes seen from the air
LES BORDES

The delightfully scenic, serene and challenging woodland golf course of "Les Bordes" is consistently ranked among the finest in Europe.

Situated in the perfect seclusion of the Sologne forest, less than two hours south of Paris on the south bank of the river Loire, the course was the brainchild of industrialist Baron Marcel Bich (of the famous Bic ballpoint pens) and his trading partner and friend Yoshiaki Sakurai. The land was a former hunting ground belonging to the Baron, and the two friends decided to create, for their own pleasure and that of their guests originally, a world-class golf course and an idyllic golfing retreat with excellent facilities at which one would experience "no stress".

Les Bordes was designed by Texan course designer Robert Von Hagge and it opened in 1986. With no expense spared, he created a beautiful course winding its way through the forest, with long and challenging varied fairways, huge white sand bunkers and water coming into play on twelve of its eighteen holes.

The toughest hole without question is the 510 metre par 5 14th with a drive over water, water also to the right, more water if you pull your second and an island green awaiting your pitch!

The 18th at Les Bordes

Holes 15 to 17 have no water would you believe, but the magnificent dogleg 18th more than makes up for this. When you play it, do remember Michel's advice to us: "Try to be among the 20% who make it on the 18th tee in two!" Onlookers staying in the cottages along the 18th fairway once told him that they'd been counting the players who managed the exploit. You have to be really very accurate with your first shot to attempt the green with your second. And being on the green on this hole as on many others here doesn't mean you'll sink the ball in two.

The Baron's favourite however was the 7th for its natural Sologne pond landscape look, it is a tough Par 5 where, whether you go for the green in one or two, you may find water!

This course is indeed a challenge to even the best players; the course record is one under par, held by none other than Jean Van de Velde! It will punish the over-confident or the too bold but if you follow Michel's other advice to play within your limits and if you do manage to master your nerves, you will be in for a most enjoyable and memorable round and will also gain a lot of confidence from it.

When you first arrive here, you know you have come to a truly special place "la crème de la crème" of golf courses and you can't help but feel privileged. The grounds are immaculate, the staff couldn't be more welcoming, the buildings, made with old noble materials in the local Sologne countryside style are unassuming, and you'll later be welcomed by a Rodin statue beside the practice green!

 
The Restaurant at Les Bordes

The Clubhouse Restaurant with its old beams and huge fireplace is informal, simple but elegant - let's call it unpretentious luxury. When you first walk in, you do indeed feel the relaxed atmosphere the Baron so wished for.

The Restaurant serves quality traditional or regional cuisine in the evenings, and although "à la carte" is available for lunch, people more frequently choose to tuck into the appetizing buffet with a selection of lovely desserts. And why not wash it down with a bottle of the Baron's own Saint-Emilion? Wine was his other passion.

Inexplicably, golf at Les Bordes has an unjust reputation of being both expensive and too demanding. In fact, the course can be managed by all if played "conservatively", and as regards price, a round of golf here will set you back between £48 and £82 as a non-hotel resident on weekdays, while lunch starts from £13 and dinner from £31.

Should you decide to stay in one of its rustic but most comfortable cottages, Les Bordes could provide also an excellent base from which to explore the châteaux and vineyards of the area.

Click here for more details of les Bordes

However, just in case you really did feel overawed, you could always try the Baron's second eighteen-hole course, Golf du Prieuré de Ganay just next door, where he wanted to create a course for less experienced players with cheaper green fees.

Click here for details of Golf du Prieuré de Ganay

LOIRE VALLEY "REGION CENTRE"- THE HOME OF FINE CUISINE

Good food, as celebrated by local famous 15th century writer Rabelais and his gluttonous gigantic friendly characters Gargantua & Pantagruel, has been a tradition here for centuries.
The "Garden of France" as the region is nicknamed, benefits from an abundance of quality local produce: poultry from the Orléans area, game and venison from the Sologne, fish from the numerous lakes and rivers, vegetables such as Sologne wild mushrooms and Cléry-St-André asparagus, and fresh fruit, including strawberries, pears and apples from its vast orchards. And, of course, we must not forget goat's cheeses and wine, as its sloping hills are ideal for wine growing.

Here are a few specialities from among the many in the area:

 
Montargis pralines

Montargis pralines
Don't miss this renowned Montargis speciality, made from caramel-covered grilled almonds created by the Duke of Praslin, minister and peer of the realm, who used to be fond of handing them out to the ladies in his entourage. They can also be used in cooking; we tried Duck with Montargis Pralines - delicious!

Poire Tapée (literally 'Beaten Pear')

 
Poire Tapée
In the 19th century, Rivarennes a village close to the Loire river was the capital of Poire Tapée. To preserve them, pears were sun or oven-dried, then hit with a mallet and sent all over Northern Europe. Today they can for example be marinated in Chenin wine and accompany hot goat's cheese as en entrée, eaten with duck filet as a main dish or served with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Tarte Tatin (Upside down caramelised Apple Tart)
Everybody's favourite, this dish was named after the two sisters and hoteliers of Lamotte-Beuvron, and is very simple to make. You will need the following ingredients:

 
Tarte Tatin

- 150g butter
- 125 g icing sugar
- 1 kg apples
- Flaky or short pastry

1. Put the butter in a 24cm flameproof pie dish and sprinkle with sugar.
2. Peel the apples, cut them roughly into quarters, remove the pips and place them side by side, curved side down, then fill the gaps with large slices.
3. Cook until caramelised on a low flame (10 to 15 minutes) and bake for about 15 minutes (thermostat 180° to 200°).
4. Roll out the pastry and spread it on top of the apples, making sure it overlaps slightly, then put back in the oven for about 15 minutes.
5. Take out of the oven and allow to stand for a few minutes. Turn over onto a serving dish quickly.
Simply delicious especially served warm with vanilla ice cream!

Pithiviers aux amandes
This is an almond cake from the town of the same name and is again very easy to make. You will need the following:

 
Pithiviers

- 400 g of almond custard (see below)
- 600 g of puff pastry
- 50 g of icing sugar
- 1 egg

1. First make the Almond custard (crème d'amandes). Mix 100 g of powdered almonds with 100 g of sugar. Then add 100 g of softened butter and mix again. Finally add 2 or 3 eggs one at a time and mix well.
2. Now cut the pastry in two and roll out. Spread the almond custard over one rolled out half. Put the other half on top and press down the edges to seal in the custard.
3. Glaze the top with a beaten egg yolk and cut patterns in it with a knife.
4. Start cooking at gas mark 240º and turn the heat down to 200º when the pastry starts rising. Cook for 35 minutes and serve warm.

 
A Loire Valley vineyard
CENTRE LOIRE VALLEY WINES

Vines have been grown on the sun-facing hills above the river Loire for centuries.

On these gravel or limestone soils, wine growers only use a few grape varieties: Sauvignon or Chenin Blanc for white wines and a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir for reds and rosés.

  • Sauvignon gives a fresh and fruity dry wine with a green citrus flavor;
  • Chenin Blanc is aromatic and has a very good natural grape acidity. It is used for dry or sweet wines;
  • Pinot Noir gives a dry red or rosé very fruity wine and again a taste and smell of red berries;
  • Gamay gives a fresh and fruity, lightly-coloured wine with an aroma of red berries that can be very refreshing, when served chilled, thanks to low tannins and high acidity.
Loire Valley grape varieties
The Loire Valley grape varieties (from L-R):
Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Gamay

PAIRING LOIRE WINE WITH FOOD

The reds are excellent with fish, rabbit, pork meats ("charcuterie")… They should be served cool. The whites are ideal with warm entrées, aperitifs, fish, goat's cheese, as an apéritif...

You will find Loire Valley wines under the 'appellations' Sancerre AOC, Mennetou-Salon AOC, Quincy AOC, Reuilly AOC, Châteaumeillant VDQS, Coteaux du Giennois and AOC Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny.

The Domaine des Huards
The Domaine des Huards - Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny AOCs

New-comers to the French recognised AOC appellations, Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny are situated close to the Châteaux of Blois and Chambord and we were able to sample them at the award-winning Domaine des Huards located just 4 kms from Cheverny Château.

 
Jocelyne Gendrier in the tasting room at the Domaine des Huards

The Gendrier family have grown vines here since 1846 and they have been using biodynamic methods for quite some time now on their 34 hectares, no chemical weed killer or fertilizer here but it does mean a lot more mechanical work to get rid of weeds and diseases.
They produce white, red, rosé and the delicious Crémant de Loire, a sparkling wine made using the same method as Champagne.
For further details, click here: infos@gendrier.com
Or visit their website: www.gendrier.com

EXPLORING THE REGION & TOWNS TO BE VISITED

The Château Royal de Blois

While in the region, it is worth making an effort to visit the towns of Blois, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours, and also because of their world-famous châteaux, Amboise, Chambord and Chenonceau.

Apart from the traditional visits such as the Château Royal de Blois which was built for King François I in 1515 and is one of the most prestigious Renaissance monuments in France, you could also try the more innovative trails the Tourist Board is constantly developing to promote the region, such as costume tours in the old town of Blois.

You might even consider a cycling tour; there's no better way to see this picturesque region and its wooded countryside at a leisurely pace, and if you're not feeling too energetic, Blois even offers electric bicycles!

 

The Maison de la Magie
In front of the Château Royal you will find the new 'House of Magic', dedicated to Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (better known as 'Houdini'), the famous magician who was born in Blois. The museum displays automatons form the 19th century, a collection of magic objects and interactive attractions.
Up to four magic shows are performed every day from April to November.
Maison de la Magie
1 place du Château
41000 BLOIS
Tel : +33 (0)2 54 55 26 26
Fax : +33 (0)2 54 55 26 28

ORLÉANS

Joan of Arc
 
Orléans was bustling with activity while we were there (first week of May) as they were preparing for the commemoration of Joan of Arc's liberation of the city for the 577th year. We walked around the old town at night and everyone was indeed very festive, with people eating out and music everywhere.

The Château de Cheverny
CHEVERNY

The beautifully furnished Château de Cheverny is said to have the best preserved tapestries of all the Loire Châteaux.

Here you can go on a boat trip, admire its nature reserve, watch the hunting dogs being fed, or visit the Tintin exhibition. Tintin's creator Hergé took inspiration from Cheverny when he created Marlinspike Hall (le Château de Moulinsart).

THINGS TO DO (apart from golf...)

The Centre Loire region is well worth exploring. Access is easy - it is the next stopping point beyond Paris, and it is full of history. You will also find it excellent value for money, it is a paradise for nature lovers, and there is plenty to do, whether you like your relaxation traditional or more adventurous:

- Visit a few châteaux in the Centre-Loire Valley
- The Cheverny & Tintin exhibition
- The House of Magic in Blois
- Visit at least one vineyard
- Hot-air balloon rides
- House-boat hire
- Cycling tours

Plus, increasingly rare these days, the golf courses are almost empty!

Click here for more information on golf courses in the Centre Loire region.

HOW TO GET THERE
  • By road: 1 hour south of Paris by the A10
  • By train: Rail Europe combines Eurostar with trains to the region's stations
    www.raileurope.co.uk or Tel 08708 371 371.
  • By air: London Stansted to Tours by Ryanair. (Tours is 60km from Blois)
    www.ryanair.com
WHERE TO STAY

Near Golf de Vaugouard :

  • Domaine et Golf de Vaugouard ****
    Chemin des Bois
    45210
    Fontenay-sur-Loing
    Tel : 02 38 89 79 00
    Fax : 02 38 89 79 01
    E-mail : golf@vaugouard.com
    Website : www.vaugouard.com
  • Hôtel de La Gloire ***
    74 Avenue du Général de Gaulle
    45200 Montargis
    Tel : 02 38 85 04 69

Near Golf de Limère :

Near Golf de Cheverny :

Near Les Bordes :

In Orléans :

October 30, 2006

For more information, visit the French Tourist Office website: www.loirevalleytourism.com


 Photo credits: © CRT Centre - Les Bordes - Domaine & Golf de Vaugouard - GolfToday

 



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