The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                             PAGE FIVE

The Loire Valley ~ the Destination for a Golfing Holiday
                                                                                                                             by Corina Clemence

Tourists to France who bring along their golf clubs will not be disappointed or have to face the challenges of arranging tee times as they typically do when visiting Scotland and Ireland. In France there are 280,000 registered golfers for 340 courses. This translates into lots of available tee times and no crowds on a course.

There is ample space in front of you and behind you while playing golf in France. Golfers can usually walk in on their own almost impromptu and make their own tee times at courses in France, resulting in an unhurried pace of play.

A good holiday golf destination needs the following:  good accommodation at a fairly decent price, plenty of bars and restaurants for your evening entertainment, and fine golf courses.  The Loire valley region in France offers great accommodation at a reasonable price, lots of things to see and do and, of course, a multitude of superb courses. This region has been providing a temporary home for golfers from the United Kingdom for several years.

One of the Loire Valley's chief attractions is playing on a course overlooked by an impressive, majestic chateau. It is a visually striking region and one that definitely deserves special attention for any budding photographers out there.

Golf course at Château de Cheverny
Ardrée is a prime example. The course, near Tours, is a rolling parkland with natural lakes dominated by a turreted 16th century chateau that is awaiting development. Tourraine is another beautiful course. Although short, its raised small greens make approach shots extremely tough while various natural hazards keep you on your guard at all times. As its names suggests, Château de Cheverny is a grand setting for an afternoon's golf. The course was designed in 1989 and is located among 350 acres of stunning woodland, lakes and open countryside for a quite magnificent experience.

Les Aisses, located in the beautiful Sologne forest, is another of those European style courses where you can choose from three loops of nine to form your round. Château des Sept Tours and Limère Orléans are also not to be missed.

The best at Les Bordes

Les Bordes Golf Course, OrléansThe finest course in the region, however, is Les Bordes, consistently ranked in the top five of France's best courses. The golf course is a work of art and thoroughly deserving of its secluded location not far from Chateau Chambord. In terms of cost and convenience, Les Bordes is eminently achievable and should rank high on your itinerary.

Built at the behest of the industrialist Baron Marcel Bich (of the Bic empire) and his Japanese trading partner, Mr Yoshiaki Sakurai, Les Bordes was originally envisioned as a private club for their own pleasure and that of their friends. Leading architect, Robert von Hagge, was drafted and handed a simple but determined brief  "to create a golf course that would prepare French golfers to play the finest courses in the world without being intimidated".  Construction began in 1984 with money no object  ~a useful clause in anyone's contract. Von Hagge's creation is today the centerpiece of a course that enjoys to the full its charmed position in the Sologne and the ancient lake-studded forest at the heart of the Loire Valley.

In accordance with the owner's wishes, scrupulous care was taken to minimize disruption to the surroundings, and what was once Bich's hunting estate has been blessed with a course that has been ranked as one of the finest, and toughest, in Europe. Best of all, the place retains an air of privilege and privacy but is without the tiresome airs and graces that can so often put you off a destination.

The risk-reward element is very much the name of the game at Les Bordes, and,  though the course does open up a good bit on the homeward nine, your ball-striking is tested even more thorough with the slightest errors multiplied the further back you choose to play. Jean van de Velde's course record of 71 gives you some idea of just how demanding the course is, not that the difficulty should in any way put you off playing here.

Les Bordes is one of only two courses in Continental Europe to enjoy the highest rating in the Peugeot Golf Guide to 1000 European courses.   All in all, the Loire Valley offers everything the traveling golfer requires.

Corina Clemence owns and operates Château du Guerinet, just west of Blois  ~ a splendid luxury chateau
sleeping up to 16 people, set in the middle of a 4000 acre forest.   Enjoy bed and breakfast 
accommodations or rent the entire château at certain times of year and throughout the summer months ~ 
pay it a visit at the above web link.  The castle is a ideally location for all the golf courses mentioned in this article.

[Mouse over photos for description.  Photos are copyrighted property of the golf course owners.]

FEATURING the Centre Val-de-Loire ~ Part Two

Centre Val-de-Loire courtesy of France Keys

France is a land of rivers ~ some turbulent, many tranquil, but all beautiful ~ and no region is more identified by its rivers as the Centre Val-de-Loire.  As we said in our last issue, all six départements of this region are named for its rivers.  We visited three in the March issue, and we are pleased to continue our feature on the Loire, this time exploring the three other départements of Loir-et-Cher (41), Loiret (45) and Eure-et-Loir (28). 

The Eure River, with its source in the Perche Hills, flows through agricultural and wooded regions on a 225 kilometer voyage to join the River Seine near Rouen ~ on the way, it enters Chartres and passes by its famous cathedral.  The Loiret River, a mere seven and a half miles long, is a tributary of the Loire River, and completely within the Loiret (45) département. It has its source in Orléans-la-Source and ends its travels at Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Memin, south of the city of Orléans; the little river is very popular for recreational boating and taking strolls along its gentle banks.

Orléans is the département's principal city, but it is not the most unique French city by any stretch.  On the other hand, the Orléanais ~ the surrounding region ~  is heavily forested and spectacular.  The Orléanais, Blésois, Sologne and Touraine cover a large portion of le Centre from the Loire River boundary with Burgundy westward to Anjou, and south past the Cher and Indre river valleys in what appears to be one enormous green area on the map of France, gingerly dotted with endless numbers of lakes and étangs (ponds). This is the home of the great Renaissance châteaux of France.  Also in the Loiret is the large town and château of Beaugency (famous for finally being saved from the English by Joan of Arc in 1429), the famous earthenware pottery center and beautiful town of Gien, the 14th century château of Sully-sur-Loire, the Orléans suburb of Olivet where one can go boating or fishing  on the River Loiret,  and Europe's longest bridge-canal at Briare, a steel masterpiece designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1896 to take canal traffic safely across the Loire.   It's a serene area, filled with innumerable châteaux and quiet little villages, a place to get lost in history and your own thoughts. 

The château at Sully-sur-Loire, was built in the 14th century for Guy de La Trémoïlle, the new husband of its heiress, Marie. He maintained the castle beautifully, holding receptions in its keep in his role as the chamberlain to the Duke of Burgundy.   Later, in the early 1600s, Henri IV’s minister, Maximilien de Béthune, became its most famous owner.  He excavated canals at Sully to prevent flooding.  The system, designed by Raymond du Temple, the royal architect who transformed the Louvre, still functions to this day.  Sully-sur-Loire is a very pretty castle with turreted towers and  impresses visitors with its charm and human scale. 

The château at Gien may be the most unexpected of all the Loire Valley châteaux. The château is not a fortification in any sense of the word, and its appearance somewhat belies the fact that it was built as long ago as the late 1400’s.   Its owner and builder, Anne de France, was the wife of Pierre III de Bourbon, Lord of Beaujeu, and the daughter of Louis XI who presented her with Charlemagne's fortress.  From 1484 until 1500, Anne supervised the construction of  the château over the old fort.  The style is quite unusual and the architecture is a wonderful example of French Renaissance before the influence of Italian design. 

Gien, rebuilt after much devastation in World War II, is quiet beautiful. Gien is renowned for its faïencerie (pottery factory) in production since 1821, which  is easy to find west of the town on the D952 road to Orléans.   There you will find tableware and art objects,  and you can visit the museum to view 19th century pottery and see how the ware is produced.  The museum hours are 9 AM until 5:45 PM, closed for two hours from 11:45 AM for lunch.  You will also note that many street name signs in Gien are actually colorful faïence from the pottery.

If you are seeking a serene little village along a small river for such activities as picnicking or boating, we highly recommend Olivet. It received its name following the Second Crusade when Louis VII deeded the land along the Loiret to monks he had brought back with him from Jerusalem.  They named it after the Mount of Olives.  It sits prettily on the south bank of the Loiret in as pastoral a setting as you will find anywhere.   Olivet is truly a garden spot in France,  filled with flower fields and gardens.  Trees line the river banks, people are often seen fishing, and rowing teams from the university in Orléans may glide by as they practice their sport. 

The François I exterior staircase, Château de Blois, photo Blois tourism web siteThe Loir-et-Cher (41),the southernmost of the three départements, is named for the Loir and Cher Rivers which run through it, but its largest river is the Loire. It has as its primary city, Blois, 115 miles from Paris.  There is a beautiful historic area, and the city straddles the River Loire.  Vieux Blois, the old city with a pedestrian quarter, houses the cathedral and the château along the river banks.   Until Versailles became the seat of French Kings in 1598, the Château de Blois held that distinction.  Its architectural style varies from Gothic to French Renaissance, but the mix is done so well that the château is a harmonious blend and pleasing to the eye.  Perhaps its most famous feature is the François I exterior staircase (shown in the photo), octagonal in shape and part of the most dramatic wing of the château.  It is said that King François watched jousting from its balconies.  [Interesting note:  A lady-in-waiting to François’ wife and cousin, Claude, was an English girl, Ann Bullen, daughter to England's ambassador to France.  Following her experience at the French court, she returned to England having changed her name to Ann Boleyn.  Henry VIII discovered her and, as they say, the rest is history.]

Vendôme, surrounded on three sides by the loop of the River Loir, is just northeast of Blois about 22 miles.    Noted for its well-preserved old buildings and lovely gardens,  like Olivet it also has a good selection of restaurants along the water.  One of our favorite towns, on the banks of the River Cher, is Montrichard.  In fact, a photo taken on our visit in 2006, adorns the first page of our web site.   From the donjon high on the hill behind the town, buildings step down the hillside to the road running along the river bank.  Across the Cher by bridge, you reach a lovely park where the best views of the town can be enjoyed.  Within a few kilometers of the town are troglodyte caves to visit ~ some perfectly converted for the purpose of aging wine!

                                                                                                                                           continued on page 6

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