Every worthy adventure should begin with a sumptuous meal. The sun was high, and we found a quiet spot dappled in shade on the terrace of Le Petit Barbu in the town of Châteauroux, which lies in the Champagne Berry region of the Loire. The town is named after its founder Raoul Large, son of Ebbes le Noble, Prince of Deols, in the 11th century.
Figs wrapped in fois gras were followed by tender duck for the main and tiramisu for dessert. The wine for lunch was my first taste of Valençay… and I was deeply impressed. We had a Cuvée Chèvrefeuille by Francis Jourdain‘s Domaine des Moreaux, a sublime blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, full of honey, peach, and apricot yet without being overly sweet. It was the first good Loire wine of the trip and boded well for the day.
After strolling round the Prairie Saint Gildas and the Aquila, both of which flank the Indre river, and purchasing some Valençay cheese in the market, we drove north to the village of Valençay.
The Aquila in Châteauroux
I had not had time to research the place and held little idea of what to expect. I knew good cheese and wine came from here, but scant else. So, when we turned a corner and the skyline became dominated by Château de Valençay my jaw dropped.
Château de Valançay
Château de Valençay is stunning. Elevated at 135m on a plateau overlooking the Nahon river, it has stood in one form or another since the 10th century. In 1026 it was owned by Lord Bertrand and was described as a massive and heavy tower, the stubbed remains of which can still be in the courtyard. The ‘modern’ château began construction in 1540 by Jacques d'Étampes, Lord of Valençay, Grand Marshal, Governor of Calais, and Knight of the Holy Spirit. It took over 200 years to build, after which it swapped hands many times, including the Scottish economist John Law in 1719.
In 1803 Napolean ordered Talleyrand to acquire the property to ‘host’ foreign dignitaries, although this hosting extended to keeping King Ferdinand VII of Spain, his brother Infante Carlos, Count of Molina and his uncle Infante Antonio Pascual captive for 6 years. The famous chef Marie-Antoine Carême served Talleyrand here. In 1979 the Talleyrand family sold the property to an association of historic châteaux for preservation.
The village of Valençay is also beautiful. So many French villages can feel somewhat dead and desperate, a deserted sadness lingering in the air. Valençay is vibrant but not busy, alive, but not claustrophobic. Full of coffee shops and bars, chatter and wandering couples and families. Sleepy, but not dormant.
Another bottle of Valençay wine was tried in the evening, a 2020 blanc from Earl Hubert et Olivier Sinson with similar notes to those described previously. This was paired with two Valençay cheeses, one from Valençay itself and the other from Salles sur Cher, the village just up the road to the North, where we also drove to although it looks much more bedraggled than its renowned southern neighbour.
I did, however, prefer the Salles sur Cher cheese, it is just a touch creamier. We also tasted a Coeur de l’Indre, but this was less to my taste being rather hard and possessing a dusty crust rather than the soft rinds of the Valençay.
The AOC of Valençay has held its status since 2003, previously being a Vin délimité de qualité supérieure (VDQS). The vines are on the left bank of the river Cher, and much like other Loire AOC, they appear only as dotted parcels inbetween mixed agriculture of corn and cattle.
I liked Valençay. I liked absolutely everything about it, the food, the wine, the terrain, the history. A superb little region to visit that is not too busy.