Le Moulin Fort
Walk through the woods along the south bank of the River Cher from the campsite at Le Moulin Fort at dawn. If the weather’s good there’s every chance you’ll start hearing voices from the sky. The gods calling to you at last? Well, you never know. But more likely, it’s the occupants of a couple of Montgolfière balloons drifting overhead towards the château at Chenonceaux. Keep walking through the trees for five minutes and you’ll see why. Built across the river is one of the Loire valley’s finest sights. When it catches the morning rays, the sandstone of Chenonceau glows gold and is perfectly reflected in the almost still waters of the river. It probably looks even better from the basket of a balloon but if you don’t have a head for heights, you can always catch the bateau mouche that operates from the riverbank opposite the campsite.
The charmingly appointed site of Le Moulin Fort occupies a strip of river bank along the Cher river, one of the tributaries of the Loire. Just a little upriver from the château and a stone’s throw from a weir, it’s overlooked by willows, fringed by waist- high grass and is a perfect picture of sleepy French tranquillity. It’s the kind of place that makes you realise that weeping willows and lazy water somehow go together like baguette and cheese, onions and berets, Gainsbourg and Birkin. Le Moulin Fort has the kind of lackadaisical air that will have you sitting staring into space whilst time ticks by almost as slowly as the waters of the river. Before you know it, the sun will be going down, the waters darkening, and you’ll wonder where on earth the day went.
But before you idle away your entire life on the river bank, remember that this is the Loire and there’s a lot to see. Chenonceaux is a picture-postcard kind of place with ivy-clad hostelries and narrow streets of honey-coloured buildings, vaguely reminiscent of the Cotswolds. The château itself is open daily – the price of admission is worth it just for the gardens and the views alone. Catherine de Medici laid out some of the parks and added one of the galleries around the time when Mary Queen of Scots was a visitor.
The nearby town of Amboise has another of the most picturesque châteaux of the Loire, sitting high on its ramparts on the south bank of the river. The town is also famous for being the last residence of one of the world’s great artists, Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci spent his final years at Le Clos Lucé in Amboise on a pension of 1000 écus soleils (that’s quite a lot), all courtesy of François I who was a fan of Leonardo’s work. Not such a man of taste, though, to spot his most famous painting. It is rumoured that the Mona Lisa, never much of a hit during the artist’s lifetime, used to sit in a corner of his studio, leaning against the wall. Perhaps that’s why she looks so rueful – though, sometimes you wonder if she wouldn’t rather swap her current abode on the wall behind bullet-proof glass at the Louvre in Paris for the quieter surroundings of Leonardo’s house at Amboise. Or even a spot overlooking the willow trees at Le Moulin Fort.
Two good clean blocs sanitaires with separate male and female facilities, including hot (well, warm) showers. There is a busy bar/restaurant in the mill house (often so busy you’ll need to book) that serves decent grub and beer. There’s also a swimming pool, kid’s pool and a small play area. Campers can fish for carp, perch, bream, trout and catfish in the river. Permits are available at reception. Wi-Fi is available in the bar and on the terraces (€1/day).
Tents, campervans, caravans, well-behaved dogs – yes. Large, young groups are not encouraged as it's all about peace and quiet by 11pm.
There are bikes for hire at the campsite for you to enjoy the quiet back roads of the Cher. Treat yourself to a hot-air balloon flight over the château (about €200 per person, including children – who must be of a certain age or height to be able to see over the edge of the basket). The dawn flights afford unrivalled views of the Loire valley and Château de Chenonceau (0033 2 47 23 90 07) in the middle of the River Cher.
Food & Drink
Classic French cuisine can be enjoyed across the river on the terrace of La Roseraie (0033 2 47 23 90 09). There's a 3-course 'bistrot' menu available at lunchtimes for just €16.50. Also in the village the Cave des Dômes (00 33 2 47 23 90 07) sells the wine that’s bottled at the château.
May – September.
Follow the D976 east from Tours on the south bank of the Cher, bypassing Bléré. There’s a main junction between the villages of Francueil and Chenonceaux. Turn left there, heading for Chenonceaux, and the campsite is along the banks of the river, just before the bridge on your right.
The site lies 1km from Chenonceaux train station which goes directly to Tours centre where there's a shuttle service to and from Tours Airport (Tours-Stansted flights)' or to St Pierre de Corps which is the TGV station (direct links to Paris 55mins). However, there are very few buses and it's almost impossible to get to the main tourist attractions without a vehicle (or a bike if you're fit and enthusiastic). Car rental is available nearby.
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