Once upon a time, French kings frolicked in the pretty Upper Loire. Infatuated with the peace and serenity of the pastoral landscape, European royalty turned it into the most beautiful playground there ever was. More recently, the Upper Loire has evolved from private parklands into a quiet hideaway for a small number of luxury barge cruises. Here, the Barge Ladies recount a recent trip cruising the wine region’s waterways on the 5-star, 8-passenger Renaissance. Pour yourself a cold, crisp glass of Sancerre, while Barge Lady Kerri McConnel shares her Upper Loire highlights, and guides you through this charming area’s fruitful farmland, with supreme cycling, via lavish chateaux.



The Upper Loire can be pinpointed directly west of Paris, about a two-hour drive from the French capital, on the eastern tip of the Loiret department. The region came into being during the time of European royalty; a recreational refuge for the French nobility, ‘la noblesse’. Originally comprised of private hunting lodges and rambling country houses, these estates gradually evolved into the grand palaces we now know as “chateaux”. Some of the most esteemed architects of the era devised these ostentatious mansions, demonstrating the overwhelming affluence France withheld as a powerful European kingdom at that period. The dwellings offered the aristocratic upper classes all the contemporary comforts of city life, yet they were set against a breath-taking backdrop, and immersed in diverse natural beauty, magnificent mountains, and verdant forests. And it was surely no coincidence that, within the confines of this lavish royal lifestyle, the nutrient-rich soil and plentiful sunshine along the River Loire offer an abundance of fresh produce and fine wines to tantalise the taste buds of these privileged social classes.



At this time, the River Loire was initially adopted as an aquatic highway, transporting the Upper Loire’s bountiful grains, produce, and products to the Parisian people. (Incidentally, the rich region became known as “Le Gatinais”, or “the Garden of France”.) But the river was rendered an unreliable route of transport, as the Loire’s water levels were consistently affected by uncontrollable flooding in winter and summer-long droughts. And so, in 1604, the construction of the Canal du Briare began, and was completed in 1642. Along a similar vein, the Canal du Loing came into being in 1723, due to the poor navigability of the neighbouring River Loing and the success of the Canal du Briare’s commercial activity. The canals of the Upper Loire were abandoned in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. But today, the waterways have been perfectly preserved, comprised of gentle bends and easy-going locks, ideal for the leisurely pace of luxury barge cruising.



The Upper Loire always has been, and continues to be, exceptionally focused on its foodie produce. As a result, the locally created cuisine provides an indulgent insight into the region’s history, heritage, and modernity. The region is also France’s largest producer of vin blanc and is best known for its Sancerre; the crisp white wine is made from Sauvignon Blanc, the area’s signature grape. These white wines are best enjoyed relatively young, as their fruit-forward finish is bolstered by a refreshing zest and youthful acidity. Encapsulating summer sunshine, and bursting with juicy berries, these approachable white wines accompany many meals and menus, but our favourite pairing is with seafood. A drop of Pinot Noir is also grown in the Upper Loire, from which both red and rosé wines are produced.



It goes without saying that only the best cheese should be served with such delicious wine! And it will come as no surprise that the Upper Loire has many exceptional varieties to offer. The most famous is goat’s cheese Crottin de Chavignol, and with good reason. This little cylindrical variety has been gracing tables since the 16th century, and, under France’s strict production criteria, continues to be crafted using entirely traditional cheesemaking methods. Known and adored for its subtle nutty flavours, this cheese is a rare breed, as unusually it can be bought and eaten at all three stages of its maturity. The youthful cheese, Chavignol jeune, is solid and compact with a white rind. During the ripening phase, Chavignol bleuté, the scent becomes stronger and the rind harder. Finally, with full maturity, ‘Chavignol affiné, the cheese becomes crumbly and the rind turns blue. Crottin de Chavignol is most typically baked and served with a fresh green salad to compliment the cheese’s richness. It can also be found adorning a cheese board as a cold component. And is perfectly paired with Sancerre wines!



At first glance, the Upper Loire’s rural setting, bucolic scenery, and serene atmosphere seems to suggest that the area’s appeal is all rest and relaxation. However, there is plenty to keep more active holidaymakers moving, especially the Loire a Velo, an 800-kilometre network of pristine cycle paths. The intertwining trails offer cyclists of all abilities a way of exploring some of France’s most picturesque scenery, and some routes are a chance to challenge your physical fitness too. From fair-weather riders pedalling the canal’s adorable towpath, to long distance die-hards pushing through France’s deepest forests, cyclists of all levels can experience the exhilaration of exploration on two wheels.



Adding to the allure of the area are the sensational chateaux, first built hundreds of years ago by the upper echelons of French society. The castles can be found sprinkling the Upper Loire’s sprawling landscapes where they were once hedonistic hideouts! Political unrest and frequent change meant that the chateaux were neglected and eventually abandoned by their original owners, but public funds and private ventures have beautifully preserved, and even fully resorted many to their former glory in more recent years. The Upper Loire boasts a collection of iconic castles, including Fountainebleu, Vaux-le-Victomte, and La Bussiere, and incredible unknown chateaux too. Each palace is testament to the extravagant lifestyles of the royals so vehemently rebuffed during the social and political upheavals of the French Revolution.



It is without doubt that that the Upper Loire offers a total sensory experience for those interested in the secrets of European history, sophisticated wines, active exploration, and rest and relaxation. The sweeping French countryside, timeless lure of architecture, and lovely stretches of vineyards throughout the Upper Loire effortlessly encapsulate its many enchanting eras.




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Pocket Guide to France

A-Z of Luxury Barge Cruising

A Day on a Barge Cruise

A Taste of France Aboard the Luciole

August is one of the most popular vacation months. Despite the millions of holiday-goers lining the beaches of the Mediterranean, the Aegean and Caribbean Seas and boating around the Lakes of Europe and North America, there are still some secret places to escape the crowds. Our local experts reveal some true gems for enjoying the lovely summer weather far away from the masses.

Kythnos, Greece

One of the least visited of the Cycladic islands, this rugged island bordered by turquoise waters is situated between Kea and Serifos. As the owner of Kythnos 1F told our experts at Five Star Greece; “There is nothing to do and nowhere to go, I can’t think why I built a house here.” Sounds like paradise!

Kythnos FC is a spectacular, six bedroom villa built on a headland between two secluded sandy beaches, on the southeast coast of the island. The serenely minimalist architecture and décor reflects the peacefulness of the location. A sandy beach below goes largely unnoticed by other visitors. This is one of Five Star Greece’s best off the beaten track properties.

Contact them here for further information and to start planning your holiday in is perfect peaceful paradise.

Apulia, Italy

For a secluded summer escape in Apulia, the last great unspoiled part of Italy, consider renting unique group of four “trullo” buildings, available through by Trust and Travel. Accommodate up to 18 guests, the buildings are set around a wonderful pool and are encircled by five hectares of olive groves – ideal for staying cool on hot summer days.

A ‘trullo’ is a traditional dry stone Apulian house with a conical roof. This particular property, was discovered and meticulously restored by a Roman architect who has successfully retained its historic character with a clean contemporary look accentuated by modern art. The network of rooms includes two kitchens, three living rooms, eight bathrooms and eight bedrooms (one bedroom has two bunk beds for four children).

There is a natural indoor/outdoor flow and thee are a number of terraces and covered porches, among which is a beautiful shaded area next to the 16 x 5 m pool. Guests can enjoy meals on its two dining terraces with an outdoor fireplace, pizza oven and barbecue.

This region is filled with endless olive tree fields, rolling vineyards, stunning beaches and excellent restaurants in the picturesque towns like Ostuni and Ceglie Messapica and Cisternino and Locorotondo.

Hide away this August in this authentic and quiet part of Italy with by Trust and Travel at this link. For those who can wait until September, Trust and Travel is offering some special rates on this rental, further details here.

Masai Mara, Kenya

August may be one of the most popular season to holiday in Kenya’s Masai Mara, however, it’s also a wonderful time to visit. Our experts at Cottar’s Bush Villa and Cottar’s 1920s Camp tell us how to beat the crowds:

“The Masai Mara national reserve is an extremely popular destination over the summer as the annual great migration occurs during this time,” explains Katherine Darnborough, marketing coordinator at Cottar’s. “As you can imaging it can get pretty crowded but we’re situated in our own Olderkesi Conservancy that borders the main reserve so you have 7000 acres all to yourself.

“Cottar’s Bush Villa and Cottar’s 1920s Camp are the only properties in this conservancy and with the camp having only nine tents it truly is a private and exclusive experience. You get the best of the Masai Mara without the masses of minibuses and crowds. The Masai Mara is a truly spectacular safari destination especially during the annual migration of wildebeest and zebra, it’s not to be missed!”

Cottar’s has a beautiful private Bush Villa is booked on exclusive basis only. The 10,000 sq ft villa features a spacious living room, dining room, a vast viewing deck, five en-suite bedrooms and a 25m swimming pool. Its guests enjoy their own private vehicles, guides, dinning and other activities.

Enjoy your own private piece of the Masai Mara, Kenya with Cottar’s here.

Upper Loire Valley, France

For those looking to enjoy France this August without the crowds of Provence and the Cote d’Azur, the Upper Loire beckons with miles of pristine countryside, beautiful villages, enchanting castles and divine gastronomy. Within the inland waterways of this unspoiled region, the 6-passenger Meanderer Barge serenely sails, inviting her guests to discover a peaceful world of provincial beauty and pastoral allure.

“Often referred to as The Garden of Paris, or the “Gatinais”, the canals along the River Loire were built in the 16th and 17th century to supply its abundant produce to and from France’s capital,” details Stephanie Sack of Barge Lady Cruises, through whom this cruise can be arranged. “After the introduction of train travel in the 19th century, these canals fell into disuse and, as a result, have remained largely intact and untouched.”

“While plying these placid inland waterways, Meanderer guests will visit the delightful town of Montargris, often called “Little Venice” due its latticework of 131 flower-adorned canals and bridges.  Ancient houses, some half-timbered, add authentic architectural flair; pralines, the crunchy confection made from almonds in cooked sugar, were first concocted in Montargis in the time of Louis XIII, and can still be purchased at the original candy shop.”

Stops in towns like these are only one of the highlights of the cruise. Discovering the region’s delectable cuisine – either on visits to local wineries or through the delicious meals back on the boat – is an important and much enjoyed part of the cruise.

Plentiful opportunities for walking and bicycling along the placid canal augment the experience, while the ever-present ambiance of the countryside’s history is a welcome companion. Owned and operated by George and Susan Kovalick, the lovely and sophisticated couple apply their passions for fitness (bicycling, hiking, boating, and tennis), cuisine, history, and the arts to accentuate the natural setting and create a unique, well-rounded experience.

This piquant bouquet of bucolic ambiance, rural relaxation, and gourmet delights sets the appealing tone for a crowd-free cruise in August on the Upper Loire on the Meanderer. Find out more by contacting Barge Lady Cruises at this link.

Salzkammergut Lake District, Austria

The former summer playground of Austria’s aristocracy, including the Emperor and the country’s intellectual and artistic elite, the gorgeous Salzkammergut Lake District boasts crystal clear lakes, pre-alpine mountains, dense forests and picturesque villages. Within this dreamy setting is Schloss Kogl, a magical baroque castle nestled amidst the country’s largest private forest.

Built in mid-18th century, the castle has been in the family of the Barons of Mayr-Melnhof since 1872. Comprehensive renovations were carried out in the early 2000s to carefully restore the castle to its previous splendor. It is decorated and furnished in a sophisticated fin-du-siècle style and provides a refined retreat in this marvelous part of Austria.

Summertime is the perfect time to stay at the castle where guests can spend hours strolling its verdant grounds, swimming in summer the pool or playing a few rounds in the historic bowling lane. The castle also has its own private “Teehaus“ on nearby Lake Attersee, so you can make the most of the lake in privacy.

Enjoy an elegant and delightful summer in Austria’s Lake District at Schloss Kogl here.

Dolomites, Italy

Surround yourself with sweeping views of the stunning Dolomites this August at this gorgeous retreat available through Homebase Abroad. The luxurious four-bedroom lodge also has its own on-site spa and a stainless steel lined year-round whirlpool outdoors, adding to its relaxing environment.

From its position on a mountainside in the UNESCO Heritage Site Dolomite Mountains and nestled by 27 hectares of dense woodlands, its the ultimate private mountain escape. Constructed as a private hunting lodge of the ‘vescovi’ in the 16th century, it has always been a place of sport and repose. It exudes a chic mountain feel and is equipped with the best modern amenities included an onsite pool, spa and an 18-hole golf course.

The indoor spa includes a Finnish sauna, Turkish bath with chromotherapy, whirlpool and emotional shower or if you prefer to soak up the awe-inspiring scenery, relax in the outdoor heated whirlpool. It remains at approximately 39 degrees year round with spring-fed water.

At your doorstep you can explore the mountains while hiking, road-biking, mountain-biking and a number of other active pursuits.

Savor the splendidly tranquil Dolomites this August with Homebase Abroad here.