Sancerre Travel Diary
This past Summer one of my dear old friends Jennie from university spent a month in Sancerre with her husband and two kids. They live in Washington DC and her husband took a sabbatical to study French at the Coeur de France. With a 2 and 4 year old, they set up camp in the center of Sancerre. I saw this as the perfect excuse to reminisce with an old friend and finally visit the medieval town, which is ridiculously close to Paris.
Since we decided to leave with less than 24 hours notice all the hotels in the center of town were full. For once our last minute disorganization paid off and we ended up finding La Chancelière, which is a most charming chambre d’hôtres (bed and breakfast) in Saint-Satur, 7 mins by car from Sancerre. (I like to think that we’re a spontaneous family but really we are just kinda last minute and occasionally unorganized.)
I want to devote an entire post to La Chancelière and Jacques and Noelle, the sweet couple who hosted us in their family home. The house, built in 1550, was once a food storehouse run by monks for the village. We chose the separate quarters towards the front of the property, which was perfect because it allowed us some privacy away from the main house. The rooms in the main house are lovely as well, but additional privacy is nice when you have a loud toddler. We had a lot of space and faced a small pebbled garden, where Noomi roamed freely.
Our hosts were so generous with their time and knowledge of the region. I truly felt how much they love welcoming families to their home. The have two friendly dogs and love children. Our daughter
terrorized played with the dogs nonstop. Every day breakfast was a lavish spread in one of the salons and served on different beautiful family antique china. I am a flea market junkie, so naturally I loved seeing what plates and tea cups were to come each morning. Lucky Noomi got to sit in a high chair that originally belonged to Jacque’s grandmother and was used by all his siblings and children as well. (Sadly this did not impress her as she slathered nutella all over it.)
After getting settled in our chambre d’hôtes we met our friends at La Brissauderie, a goat farm. My cheese-loving husband was overexcited to sample local goat cheese, which is a speciality of the region. Jennie visited several different farms during her stay and this one was her favorite because of the extra activities for the little ones as well as la chèvre. It was perfect because the kids watched the goats being milked and also could run wild and play with the uncaged animals. They also enjoyed running in and out and out and in of the bamboo forest. I typically don’t care much about cheese but Jennie bought some here and cooked us dinner with an entrée of warm breaded chèvre on a bed of salad which was delish!
After a late morning enjoying the garden and trampoline at La Chancelière we met our friends at a beautiful lookout point in Sancerre. We popped into the Office de Tourisme (next to the lookout point) and got a guided walking tour map for Le Fil d’Ariane. You follow a red line painted on the streets to discover the city’s history and important monuments. I knew there wouldn’t be time to do everything, so I always factor in one mega tourist thing to feel like I came, saw and conquered a city.
With three kids, our tour took longer than expected. There were many detours for lunch, snacks, ice cream, toilets…err and eventually the grownups couldn’t resist stopping in a few of the many wineries with their doors wide open waiting for visitors to stop and sample the wine. With crisp white wine in mind we decided to drive outside of the old town to visit a winery. We chose the Domaine de la Perrière because they have un air de jeu (playground) but arrived to sadly find they had roped it off and were not allowing kids to play. However they seemed to have zero problem with the kids running freely through the vines, which they happily did before we headed in for a tasting and self-tour through the caves. Harvest time is closer to October so when we visited in Spring, the vines were not tall.
In the weeks Jennie had been in Sancerre one of her fav family activities was driving out to the beautiful fields to fly kites. After testing various fields they found the perfect hill with a perfect view of Sancerre and shared the spot with us. The drive there was marvelous with all the yellow fields of colza (canola) plants fully bloomed. My daughter had no idea what a kite was and couldn’t understand why we had given her this colorful toy that was flying away from her. She chased le cerf-volant around crying her eyes out and screaming “No!! Noooo!! Mine Mine!!” It was impossible not to laugh, but we helped her understand how to hold onto the strings and let the darn thing soar. It was the perfect weather and she finally got the hang of it and joined the other kids jumping, laughing, and screaming “yeah!!”
Our friends decided to brave Disneyland Paris, so we chose to stay in town and ride bikes along the Loire River. It could have been a nice romantic ride along the river and through fields, but a few things conspired against me. First of all, when we picked up our bikes the overly enthusiastic guide and Thomas started chatting about their love for nature. The guide was so excited that Thomas was Swiss he suggested we take a “special route” instead of the normal one everyone has taken for God knows how many years. If only I had known they were having this conversation instead of petting the horses I would have saved myself 3 extra hours of heat, exhaustion, and butt pain. I am not a big bike rider and perpetually out of shape. Despite how miserable I was after a 1.5 hour ride that turned into 5 hours, I still recommend taking a Loire River bike ride but stick to the program and don’t go rogue like we did. It’s a bad idea with a toddler!! However she did manage to take a nap in her carriage after playing on a little beach and naked swimming in the river. After our ride, we got a babysitter (recommended by our friend) and had dinner alone at La Pomme d’Or where I was too tired to take any pictures, but enjoyed the meal.
I woke up refreshed, with a slightly less sore bum, and was happy that Noelle suggested we invite Jennie and her fam over to Chancelière for breakfast. When they arrived we headed up to the terrace to find the most magnificent table laid out. Wow! This would never happen in a hotel ever! (No way a 4 or 5 star hotel would let you invite friends from outside over for breakfast for free!) The kids had a blast running and playing with the dogs and jumping on the trampoline in the garden while Jennie and I snuck off to tour the house with Jacques.
It was our last day and after a long breakfast and checkout, we squeezed in a visit to the Maison des Sancerre before hitting the road back to Paris. This wine museum was surprisingly kid friendly. I suppose all children in France must learn to be vin savantes. The permanent exhibition was interactive with plenty to touch, slide, and open. There is a garden on the main floor with a tractor simulator and garden games that I was too lazy to figure out, so I just let Noomi run free and toss the dice around. There was a room with a 3D relief of the region and a video that projected onto the space. Not interesting for a toddler who only wanted to walk on the relief. However she loved the 4D theatre with a cute video narrated by a Maya The Bee doppelganger who flies over the region and through the winery to share how wine is made. The best part is the chairs move, vibrate and when we least expect it, water squirted us in the face. (More like a mist.) Noomi wanted to watch this twice. We weren’t too bothered by the spritzed in the face, because we were offered a glass of wine at the end of the visit on the terrace with a great view.
Sancerre is only 2 hours from Paris so we plan to go back and visit the other sites and wineries we missed on our first trip. Feel free to shoot me an email for any suggestions about planning a trip to Sancerre.