On a hill overlooking the Indre in the heart of the Loire Valley, Loches remains one of the best-preserved medieval cities in France today. With its shadowy cobblestone streets, sweeping views of the enclosing forest landscape, and lively marketplace and cuisine, Loches has a particular authentic charm difficult to find elsewhere. A half-hour from Tours and a three-hour drive from Paris, it’s an off-the-beaten-tourist-path detour for visitors of the Loire region, as well as an easy weekend getaway for Parisians seeking a breath of fresh air.
I find the best way to learn about French history is simply to wander and take in the historical sites themselves. Loches may be a quiet city today, but its sundry past features some of France’s most fascinating characters: Joan of Arc, Anne of Brittany, and King Charles VII and his notorious, “favorite” official mistress, Agnes Sorel.
Collegiate Church of Saint-Ours
Start with the Collegiate Church of Saint-Ours, a Romanesque structure dating back to the 11th century whose two spires distinguish the hillside. Admire the intricate and bizarre carvings of animals around the front doors before continuing inside to the tomb of Agnes Sorel, known for her distinct elegance and allure. She died suspiciously at 25 after giving birth to her fourth child (scholars speculate mercury poisoning).
Next, stroll up to the Royal Lodgings or the logis royal. In June 1429, Joan of Arc rode here after her victory at Orléans to convince Charles VII, then a dauphin, to travel to Reims and be crowned as the rightful king of France.
The castle keep, or, donjon, nextdoor is one of the oldest in Europe. Constructed in 1030 as a defensive structure by Foulques Nerra, the Duke of Anjou, it was turned into a prison in 1801 by Louis XI, son of Charles VII. Make your way to the top of the tower to behold the 360° view of the countryside, where approaching enemies could have been seen from miles away.
Further down the hill you’ll find the busy outdoor market (open Wednesdays and Saturdays), considered one of the best in the region. Chat with the local shoppers and farmers and sample specialties of the region such as fresh goat cheese, rillettes, and rillons (slow-cooked, extremely flavorful morsels of pork belly).
Loches offers a number of terraces where you can enjoy a glass of Vouvray or St Nicolas Bourgueil and people-watch the afternoon away. Sforza serves decently priced, fresh, handmade pizzas. Down the road, La Gerbe d’Or is slightly more expensive but a classic Lochois option. For those feeling swept up by the history of their surroundings, L’Auberge Médiévale offers a medieval-style interior and menu along with a view of the countryside.
If you stay for more than one day, Loches’s nearby attractions include the Beaulieu-lès-Loches (a sister city to Loches that was its rival for 700 years) and, a few kilometers north, Chenonceau, a small château built over the River Cher, where Catherine de Medici governed France as a regent from her little green room.
Château de Chenonceau
For lesser-known spots, Le Musée de la Préhistoire in the village of Grand-Pressigny is worth checking out. Or you can drive 10 minutes south to the small commune of Saint-Jean-Saint-Germain and bathe in the fresh water of the Indre on a hot summer day.
- Cité Royal de Loches – 37600 Loches. Tel: +33 (0)2 47 59 01 32
- Sforza – 3 Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, 37600 Loches. Tel: +33 (0)2 47 94 06 19
- La Gerbe d’Or – 22 rue Balzac, 37600 Loches. Tel: +33 (0)2 47 91 67 63
- L’Auberge Médiévale – 4 Place Charles VII, 37600 Loches. Tel: +33 (0)2 47 59 86 71
- Le Musée de la Préhistoire – 37350, Le Grand Pressigny. Tel: +33 (0)2 47 94 90 20
Written by Isabel Miller-Bottome for the HiP Paris Blog. Images by Isabel Miller-Bottome. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.