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Royal Preserve - discover Loches (37)

Royal Preserve - discover Loches (37)

Around 40km southeast of Tours, the historic town of Loches rises from a once strategically important rocky spur on the banks of one of the Loire’s most significant tributaries, the Indre.

Despite being one of a select group awarded the coveted ‘Ville d’Art et d’Histoire’ label, Loches remains relatively undiscovered. Having not sacrificed its soul to mass tourism, it has managed to preserve just about everything you hope to find in a medieval French town. Better still, we get two towns for the price of one: a fortified complex constructed on the high ground, and an intriguing huddle of mostly narrow streets which developed through the centuries on the banks of the river at its feet. 

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The urge to head straight up and see the upper town right away feels irresistible, but if you can hold on for now then you’ll find that getting your bearings and seeing the sights down below is time well spent. Much of what you’ll see has an appealingly unselfconscious look and feel of antiquity, with sun bleached facades of almost white local stone topped-off with steeply pitched roofs, mostly of slate but interspersed with a few of terracotta tiles.

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Here and there a few painted signs proclaiming long departed businesses survive on the old stones, while spearing heavenward from the heart of it all is Touraine’s only Renaissance belfry – the 52m-high Tour Saint-Antoine, which was constructed between 1529 and 1575. Tucked away nearby, and a century older, but looking well preserved for its advanced years, is a fortified gatehouse off the Place du Blé known as the Porte des Cordeliers. Its two drawbridges across the diverted waters of the river controlled entry to the outermost of three walls by which the town was originally defended.

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The most impressive entry point, though, is its companion the Tour Picois, built during the 15th century and bristling with defensive features. Its severity was softened considerably when François I financed the addition in 1534-43 of the Hôtel de Ville in his beloved Renaissance style (the Royal salamander emblem appears twice on the carved decoration). Beyond the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville the streets are in their own way no less interesting. Turning left will take you back down to the Porte des Cordeliers, but if you turn right into Rue du Château you’ll begin a gentle climb past another Renaissance showpiece known as the Chancellerie.

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The crisp delicacy of its Italianate decoration is in total contrast to what lies ahead, in the form of the mostly 13th century Porte Royale, built to provide a heavily fortified entry to the upper town, or citadelle. The gateway is currently undergoing restoration work, but mounted on its monolithic walls is an inscribed tablet recording the passage through the gateway of Jeanne d’Arc in May 1429. Once within, turn left and you’ll pass a small museum dedicated to local 19th century landscape artist Maurice-Etienne Lansyer. A little further on you’ll reach the Eglise Saint-Ours, a former collegiate church with a pair of curious octagonal pyramids set between its main towers. In the porch is a section of a Gallo-Roman pillar, whose carved imagery includes fighting gladiators, plus a huge, richly sculpted Romanesque/Gothic doorway with some of its original rich colouring intact. Look inside and in a side aisle you’ll find the beautiful recumbent tomb figure of Charles VII’s mistress Agnès Sorel.

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Beyond the Collégiale, the Logis Royal was begun during the 14th century, but lost its former military aspect when larger windows were added to match the Renaissance style of the remainder of the building. Inside are Flemish tapestries and paintings (including a triptych of The Passion c1485 and attributed to Jean Fouquet of Tours), plus a transcript of the trial of Jeanne d’Arc, who met Charles VII here in the Grande Salle and convinced him to fulfil his destiny as King of France.

After the refined sophistication of the Logis, you can’t fail to be impressed by the raw, no-frills military muscle of what lurks at the opposite end of the plateau. The Donjon de Loches rises like a stone fist from the site of a powerful military complex founded during the 11th century by Comte d’Anjou Foulques Nerra. In fact, the Donjon is now merely a hollow shell, but the upside is that you can climb a series of vertiginous steel-mesh interior walkways all the way to the summit. If this doesn’t appeal then simply admire the exterior from the landscaped park-style area between the donjon and the ramparts. Alternatively, if you come in summer, picnic on a shady bench amid beautiful public gardens just across the River Indre, while enjoying the classic view of the chateau.

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Find out more

Office de Tourisme du Locheois

Place de la Marne, 37601 Loches

www.loches-tourainecotesud.com

See also: www.chateau-loches.fr 

www.vile-loches.fr 

Markets: Wed & Sat mornings

End March: Loches en Fête au Fil de l’Eau

 

© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. First published in February 2014.