Chinon is a town rich in both culture and history. The old town – la vielle ville – is nestled in between the Château on top of the hill and the river Vienne. For many generations, it was the home of kings and the seat of the government.
Interestingly, it was the home of the Plantegenet Kings (yes, of England). Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine lived here and kept the Royal Treasury in Chinon. Richard the Lionhearted was also born here. The remains of the Plantaganet castle, with its imposing ramparts and belltower, have recently been restored and are well-worth visiting.
If you want a feel for the period and Chinon's past, watch the film "Lion in Winter" with Katharine Hepburn. Be sure to visit the Château and walk the city’s impressive ramparts. It was to Chinon that Joan of Arc (in French, Jeanne d’Arc) came to meet with Charles VII. Legend has it that the king traded places with the court jestor as a test to see if Joan truly was guided by God. Joan came into the hall and walked directly to the King, totally ignoring the imposter.
The area is known for its fine wines. Be sure to visit some of the local growers as well as wine from the neighbouring towns, Bourgueil, Vouvray, Saumur and many more.
The center of Chinon is very charming. The rue Voltaire is cobbled and lined with houses, shops and restaurants in beautiful old buildings, many of which date back to the fifteenth century and the reign of Francis I. Most of these historic homes and 15th century buildings have been restored.
You'll also want to see the well Joan of Arc used as a step to get up on her horse and the Museum of Wine.
The Restaurant du Chateau, located at the entrance of the castle is a combination bar, tabac and restaurant. It is run by Martine and Jean-Louis and they do a very good lunch (closed in the evenings). In the warmer months, there is usually room outside on the terrace. It’s a good spot for breakfast or for a coffee anytime (and for only 1 Euro). If you’re there for your morning coffee and baguette, be sure to try the jelly. Martine makes it herself from the grapes growing over the terrace.
Remember that in this part of France you will need to pay attention to meal times. If you’re looking for lunch at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, you will almost certainly be disappointed. However, here you can usually get a croque monsieur sandwich with a beer or glass of wine. It’s located on the main road (Route de Tours) halfway down the hill into the center of Chinon. From Chez Tim drive back towards Chinon to the roundabout near the cemetery. Turn right, down the hill and pull into the parking lot on the right. The Restaurant du Chateau is across the street next to the Office de Tourisme.
The Tourist Office is a good place to pick up all kinds of brochures and see what special events are happening in the area. The main office is in the center of Old Chinon.
There is also a nice café at the far end of Chinon, at the Place Mirabeau, near the Place Jeanne d’Arc which boasts a statue of Jeanne d’Arc on a horse. The Café Mirabeau is an unpretentious French café with a nice outside terrace in front of the 18th century chapel. The chapel is now used by Chinon's music school and for their summer festival concerts.
If you don't feel like cooking and are looking for traditionally prepared foods to take back to the cottage for dinner, try Aux Délices du Terroir, 2, rue Marceau (near the Place Marabeau). Sylvie & Patrice offer everything from homemade boudin noir (don't ask, but try it!) to various pâtés and more exotic main courses.
Until recently, Chinon was home to a fine gourmet restaurant – Au Plaisir Gourmand, 2 rue Parmentier. We're counting on guests to send us their recommendations for current fine dining.
Bicycles can be rented at the SNCF train station or at the hotel Agnès Sorel, 4 quai Pasteur, phone 02.47.93.04.37. Going into the town of Chinon, just where the main road comes to the river, turn right. The hotel is a couple of buildings down and the bikes are in good condition. They also have maps of the area with bike paths indicated. There are some lovely paths that go along the river Vienne all the way to where it meets the Loire river.
Baker's and Butcher's Shop
The butcher’s shop is at the bottom of the hill going into Chinon – it's a pleasant 10-minute walk. Turn right out of the driveway, then left at the stop sign and keep going "straight." When you get to the intersection, keep going down the hill. Turn right at the bottom and the butcher's shop is on the right. The baker's shop is across the street.
There are two fairly large supermarkets at the entrance to Chinon and one in the center, Place de la Mairie. The Leclerc is a good place for any shopping you might want to do. In addition to carrying a good selection of local wines, They also have has an impressive selection of clothing, garden, camping, a good selection of meat and miscellany. The newly-remodeled Intermarché is slightly smaller but also very well equipped.
Please note that the Leclerc has recently relocated to the entrance of Chinon in a large shopping center. I hesitate to mention the McDonald's at the entrance or the other mega-stores that have moved into the area. The Big City has come to Chinon ... or at least to the city limits!
On the other side of the street from the old Leclerc, is a Pharmacy, Pharmacie des Groussins, 1 rue Château-d'Eau (02.47.93.30.05). There are also several in the center of Chinon, Place de la Mairie and one in the new Leclerc
Banks & Money
For banks, you will want to head into the center of town. Most of the major French banks are represented. There is also an Automatic Teller Machine (un distributeur de billets) at the Leclerc which takes most international Visa and MasterCards. Keep in mind that in France you can purchase almost anything, almost anywhere, with a Visa or MasterCard. There is no need to carry lots of cash when traveling in France. If you have trouble with an ATM card, I recommend the CIC at the bottom right of the Place de la Mairie. For some reason it does better with foreign debit/credit cards.
Castles & Historic Monuments
Azay-le-Rideau is just 26 kilometers northeast on the D751 towards Tours. This is one of the true jewels of the Châteaux of the Loire.
The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud
The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud dates from the 12th century. Henry II, Eleanor of Acquitaine and their son, Richard the Lionhearted, are buried here and their life-sized gisants are on display. Westminster Abbey, in London, has been trying to get them – to complete their collection of English Monarchs – but as these two English kings lived here, ruled from here and died here, Fontevraud is keeping them!
Napoleon turned the abbey into a prison. The last prisoner left in the 1980s so the abbey was spared both the horrors of the French Revolution and the more unfortunate periods of restoration. The Abbey has been under constant restoration since then and is now used as the Cultural Center of the West.
The carved pieces in the living room Chez Tim come from here.
Built 1513-1521, Henri II gave Chenonceau to his mistress, Diane of Poitiers, who built the bridge from the château to the other side of the river. At the death of the king, Catherine of Medicis, Henry II's widow, took back the château and built the double gallery over the bridge. The castle has been beautifully restored, as have the gardens.
The château is a bit big for a cozy evening by the fire, but don't fail to notice the chimneys – all of them with geometric patterns – no two are the same.
Pay particular attention to the double spiral staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci where you can go up without meeting anybody coming down!
Chinon was the birthplace of François Rabelais (1494-1553), renaissance man, monk, doctor, philosopher and writer. You can visit his country home, La Devinière, which is just a few miles away. Rabelais made Chinon famous by using it as the center of his Picrocholine War with his gigantic heros Gargantua and Pantagruel.