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Summer 2006 | Loire Valley

Summer 2006 | Loire Valley

It's unfortunate that many gay visitors to France confine their stay to Paris when the bucolic splendor of the Loire Valley is just a short drive or train ride away.

The Loire, France's longest and least-tamed river, stretches from deep in the country's interior to the Atlantic coast, but most of the châteaus (including Château Sully, pictured) are clustered between Orléans and Angers southwest of Paris. This is where France's kings, queens, and nobility lived, loved, trysted, and schemed. Modern travelers can spend the night in fabulously refurbished châteaus, stroll through sumptuous gardens, explore fairy-tale villages and towns, and feast on some of the most exquisite cuisine on the planet. Unlike cosmopolitan Paris, the Loire Valley is quintessentially French. The "purest" French is spoken here, and the locals cling vigorously to their "art de vivre." Yet in spite of a reputation for conservatism and an almost slavish adherence to tradition, the Loire has loosened up big-time over the past few years, following the lead of nearby Le Mans, which made history in 2004 by proclaiming itself the first "gay-friendly" city in France. Gay establishments are popping up everywhere, it seems, in the major cities of Orléans, Tours, and Nantes and the smaller royal towns like Blois and Amboise, which boasts no fewer than five gay-run hotels.


Amboise boasts no fewer than five gay-run lodging establishments and makes an excellent base. Right in the center of town, on the left bank of the Loire on the site of an ancient royal monastery, is the elegant Manoir les Minimes (34 Quai Charles Guinot; 011-33-247-304-040) run by Eric and Patrice, an outgoing gay couple who speak perfect English. A more romantic lodging option is the Chateau des Ormeaux (Route de Noizay, 37530 Nozelles; 011-33-247-232-651) located a few miles outside of town. It's owned and managed by a trio of gay guys, who'll give you a choice of a room with a turret boudoir (literally "pouting room" in French) or a stylish troglodyte apartment (cave dwellings carved out of the soft tufo limestone are a highlight of the region). Emmanuel Guenot, one of the owners, is happy to share with you his stories of transforming an abandoned castle into an upscale lodging establishment. "We've become not only hoteliers but also winegrowers, decorators, chefs, tile layers, and pool maintenance specialists," he explains. In Orleans gay-run, tastefully remodeled Hotel de l'Abeille (64 Rue Alsace Lorraine; 011-33-238-626-584) offers lots of Old World atmosphere just steps from the train station in the center of town. If you have a car, the fabulously upmarket, gay-friendly Chateau de Reignac (19, Rue Louis de Barberin, 37310 Reignac-sur-Indre; 011-33-247-941-410) dates from the 15th century, and is well situated for exploring the region; it's outside of Tours on the banks of the Indre River.

"Fooding and conviviality" promises the sign above NEXTdoor (6 Rue au Lin; 011-33-238-624-000) in Orleans's medieval district. Inside, you'll find trendy decor, a largely gay clientele, and imaginative cuisine like goat cheese wrapped in smoked salmon, served on mache with olive oil drizzle. For more traditional fare try the cozy bistro setting at Chez Noe (195 Rue de Bourgogne; 011-33-238-534-409), or Brasserie du Martroi (12 Place du Martroi; 011-33-238-421-500) on the city's central square. Try the monkfish in saffron sauce, followed by a tarte tatin. In Amboise sexy chef Sebastian Begouin cooks up an amazing eight-course feast at his newly opened Pavillon des Lys (9 Rue d'Orange; 011-33-247-300-101), which also boasts four vast and impeccably decorated rooms. Menu items range from "natural" foie gras with a fig compote to southern veggies wrapped in coconut leaves. The lesbian-run Café des Arts (32 Rue Victor Hugo; 011-33-247-572-504) on the main square is a homier option, for both food and lodging. In Tours sample regional favorites like rabbit with mustard sauce or sautéed veal kidneys at l'Hedoniste (16 Rue Lavoisier; 011-33-247-052-040), just steps from the cathedral--and several gay venues.

Tours has a thriving little gay scene scattered throughout the town's fascinating historic center. Start at the cozy café-bar La P'tite Chose (32 Rue de la Grosse Tour; 011-33-247-760-009), which is especially animated during the monthly meetings of Tours's Angels (011-33-699-272-684), a gay sports, culture, and leisure association that meets at 7 p.m. on the last Thursday of every month. Le Lionceau (55; 011-33-247-611-713) is an old, smoke-filled standby just down the street from the newer Queer (108 Rue du Commerce; 011-33-247-750-427). Tours also boasts a disco called Le GI (13 Rue Lavoisier; 011-33-247-662-996), right near the cruisiest part of the promenade along the Loire. The most popular nightclub in the region, however, is Boys'club (5 Mocquebaril, St. Laurent Nouan; 011-33-254-872-139), located along a country road near Beaugency. Both clubs feature drag shows and plenty of prancing pretty boys. (Keep in mind that French discos don't really get going until 1 a.m. or so.) In Orleans stop by le P'tit Café (255 Rue de Bourgogne; 011-33-238-625-886), a friendly bar-café.

Visiting the Chateaux usually tops the list here. Must-sees include Chenonceau (pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the extensive grounds), Azay-le-Rideau (features an evocative sound-and-light show on summer evenings, as does the chateau in Blois), and Chambord in central Amboise. You'll need to rent a car--or a bike--to get to Chambord; try LocaCycle (2 Bis, Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau; 011-33-247-570-028). Most chateaux are open during regular business hours, seven days a week, with entry fees under $10. In Amboise make sure to visit the Clos Luce and the whimsical 18th-century Chanteloup Pagoda, both set inside stunning parks. For a fun and fascinating dose of kitsch, the Mini-Chateaux Park (La Menaudiere, Route D31; 011-33-247-234-457) on the way to Chenonceau, is worth a stop as is wine-and-food tasting at Loire et Terroirs (1 Bis, Quai de Violettes in Amboise; 011-33-247-234-152), an excellent place to stock up on edible souvenirs. In Tours sample traditionally made bread at Au Vieux Four (7, Place des Petites Boucheries; 011-33-247-052-040), just behind the magnificent Cathedral Sainte Croix and the adjacent Fine Arts Museum (18, Place François Sicard; 011-33-247-056-873). Worn out from all the traveling? Spend an afternoon at Les Balneades Spa (275 Allee des 4 Vents, 45160 Ardon; 011-33-238-697-373) near Orleans, which offers up massages, water treatments, a gorgeous pool, a fully equipped gym, and a hammam/sauna with a teahouse. For more information on gay travel in France, consult the French Government Tourist Office's gay travel site. Bon voyage!
Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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