We really didn’t have the time to research exactly which towns to visit in France ahead of time. Our decisions were made pretty hastily, mainly based upon cycling distances between towns. Well, upon arriving into Chinon around 7pm, we were really glad that we had planned to stay two nights here. We passed through what seemed to be normal industrial suburbs – a bit disappointing – then descended down to the town centre, a medieval village with the river to the south and vineyarrds to the west. We were thrilled to discover that the accommodation that I had booked us was right in the centre of the old town, an ancient stone inn.
In some ways it’s better to do your research in advance. But there is more of a sense of adventure when you discover things as you go. Over our day in Chinon, we found out that nearly one thousand years ago, Chinon had been the centre from which Henry Plantagenet had ruled as king of England as well as over much of the Loire Valley. He had built one of the three connected castles towering on the cliff-top over town. His son, Richard the Lionheart, had lived and died here, too. And Chinon is the town where, in 1429, Joan of Arc visited King Charles VII. She was a peasant girl who claimed she saw and spoke to the saints, and she became an advisor to the king and to the military, leading them to many important victories.
Just wandering around town was incredible – all stone buildings, some with the medieval timbers supporting them showing through the sides: giant oak beams 500 or more years old, from old growth trees of a size that France has not seen for centuries. We climbed up through town. The tall stone clocktower of the easternmost castle had been beckoning Dave since we had arrived there – and ascended for a visit to the castles.