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Sancerre in the Loire Valley

The village of Sancerre in the Loire Valley

What may surprise you most (it did us) on a visit to the vilage of Sancerre, in the department of Cher is the way that it rises from the plains of the Loire Valley as if to proclaim its position as lord of all it surveys. It is a position of strength that has made the village a strategic location for most of its history. The village grew up around a small church and then abbey of the11th century but there is evidence of an even earlier Roman settlement - it was probably they who planted the first vines.

The hilltop village of Sancerre in the Loire Valley

This eventually led to a fortress being built by local noblemen in the 12th century to secure what at the time was one of the most important defensive sites of the region. The castle walls had six defensive towers built into it - one,  the 'Tour des Fiefs' which has survived the ravages of time, can still be climbed today to take in the surrounding panoramas. The fortification helped repel English armies from two attacks during the Hundred Years' War, unfortunately the protection did not extend to the nearby church and abbey which were destroyed by the English.

During the French ‘Wars of Religion’ the town was also the site of the infamous ‘Siege of Sancerre’ (3 January-19 August 1573) where the Huguenot (Protestant) population held out for nearly eight months against the Catholic forces of the king before finally giving in to starvation - they were reduced to eating their dogs - and a promise of religious freedom that never actually materialised. The king would eventually order the destruction of the defences so as to prevent any future resistance to the crown. Speaking of resistance, the town also played its part during WWll as the regional centre for the French Resistance.

The village square at Sancerre in the Loire Valley

There is a pretty town centre where the majority of commerce can be found. There are a number of good restaurants in and around Sancerre including the Michelin rated La Tour in the town centre itself and with choices from pizzas to gourmet cooking you should be able to find something to suit your tastes and budget. There is also a 'salon de the' within the well stocked patisserie.

'La Tour' restaurant in the village of Sancerre in the Loire Valley

Despite its turbulent history the town has been able to maintain much of its architectural heritage with many fine examples of 15th century houses surviving to this day.  Its picturesque streets make exploring the town a pleasure and you will find yourself stopping off at a cafe or restaurant or trying the famous local wine in the many wine caves spread throughout the town.

Narrow street in the hilltop village of Sancerre in the Loire Valley

pituresque street in Sancerre

 

Narrow street in the hilltop village of Sancerre in the Loire Valley

 

Ah! the wine - it's what brings most visitors here - it's why we went. The dry, white Sancerre wines from the Sauvignon Blanc grape have made this little corner of France famous the world over but did you know that until the dreaded phylloxera arrived in the late 19th century, this was Pinot Noir country producing mainly red wines. The Sauvignon Blanc grape planted to replace the lost vines thrives in the variety of soils (terroirs) that surround the town. Limestone, clay and flintstone (silex) all contribute to the tastes. The area which includes many of the surrounding hamlets does however not only produce its famous white wines but it is also home to some very good red wines crafted from the Pinot Noir grape and some delightful, savoury rosé wines.

photo showing the red rose and white wines of Sancere

To get some insight into the 'terroir' and how it affects the local wines we suggest you visit one of the caves where a very knowledgeable staff will talk you through the geological qualities of the soil and allow you to taste their effect on the wines.

Maison de Sancerre in the village of Sancerre itself

Next to the church in the town, (3,Rue des Meridiens) you will also find the Maison-des-Sancerre which provides the same comprehensive information on the soil and the producers but in a more formal way plus they will let you know about visiting the hundreds of wine houses of the surrounding area. You should  also check out the views from their garden.

There is a tourist circuit, available from the tourist office on Esplanade Porte César - ask for 'Le Fil d'Ariane' leaflet - which is a red trail painted on the roads which gives you a guided tour of the town (there is also one for the kids). If you walk to the end of the road you will be rewarded with great views over the river Loire.

You will also be looking down towards the hamlet of Chavignol which is home to the famous goat's cheese of the same name 'Crottin de Chavignol' which is supposed to be a great accompaniment for the white wines of the area. The hamlet only has 200  inhabitants but its numbers swell during high season when visitors come to sample the cheese and do a spot of wine tasting in one of the many wine caves along its main street.

 

When we visited the town we stayed in the centrally located 'Le Clos Saint Martin' which was very comfortable - you can check it out here along with other hotels in the town.

 

 

 

External links:

 

www.actualites-maison-des-sancerre    You can see some great photographs of the vine harvest here

 

www.maison-des-sancerre.com             Find out about wine events in the area

 

www.golf-sancerre.com/                        Golf

 

vins-centre-loire.com/                            Wine events in and around Sancerre

 

Blogroll:

 

loirevalleyexperiences.blogspot              A visit to the area

 

www.thewinedoctor.com/                      The 'winedoctor'

 

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Towns & villages

 

 

"Author: Jim Craig"