On a recent road trip through France, Modern Traveller took a dreamy detour to the fairytale town of Le Thoureil.
This is the France of fairytales, a wanderer’s cobbled idyll nestled on the banks of a mighty waterway which cuts deep crevasses between the farmer’s fields and picture-perfect landscape.
This, too, is the France that sits forgotten, just a stone’s throw from the big hitters. Chenonceau, Chaumont, Chambord: names which conjure up princesses trapped in twirling turrets, immaculately landscaped gardens planted as if by poetry and vaulting arches, home to tiled ballrooms balanced on stone stilts set right upon the river.
Dreams of châteaux lifted from children’s stories are all well and good, but it is the region’s tiniest towns which retain a real charm.
Steep, narrow alleyways, made narrower still by bright bushes laden with violet wisteria, force MT to take halting, hesitant steps, gripping the time-worn stone through dusty sandals so as not to slip and slide down to the riverside road which snakes its way past pretty green-shuttered dwellings, mossy half-walls and rusted wrought-iron garden gates. Bordered by pink and purple wildflowers, the Loire meanders lazily, its glassy surface broken solely by the occasional wooden vessel: destination set for nowhere in particular.
Each pause on the unkempt path is rewarded with a glimpse of hidden gardens, locked away behind battered wooden doors, each adorned with heavy brass handles sworn to secrecy. Near-silence reigns, interrupted only by birdsong, the flits and flutters hinting at life in the gnarled tops of the twisted trees overheard.
The little village church appears, its bell tower visible from across the slate rooftops, tilted tombstones sinking gently into the grass in its shadow. As is the case across France, a memorial to the fallen stands in the churchyard, the names — the same surnames repeated again and again — etched upon it, a testament to the toll war has taken.
The spell cast by dusky pink climbing roses clinging to crumbling gateposts, the misted glass panes of turret windows, and the red-tinged leaves of the overhanging ivy hints at fertile near-forgotten oases, out of the craning sight of the voyager.
Old friends catch up on local gossip over fresh coffee, just metres from the glistening water, the sandbar upon which battered boats are moored, and the lush woods beyond.
It is all too easy to imagine France’s fairytales here, nestled behind duck-egg blue painted gates in a village wrapped in layer upon layer of history, set behind locked doors to which only long-forgotten, half-imagined heroes hold the key.
WORDS BY SASKIA WALKER | IMAGES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS & SASKIA WALKER