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Loire Valley Wine Guide: Touraine

Loire Wine Guide: Touraine

I casually weaved my way through the crowds, soaking up the sights, sounds, and scents of market day in Bourgueil. This has always been one of the more impressive markets in the Loire Valley; not some half-hearted effort, a few trestle tables loaded with trinkets for tourists. No, this is a real market, a sprawling expanse of traders and vendors who descend upon the town every Tuesday to serve the needs of its hungry inhabitants.

There are, of course, the core elements of any market; the poissonnier with his truckload of fish and shellfish, resting on beds of crushed ice, as well as the bouchers and the charcutiers (they are sometimes one and the same), selling everything from bavette d’aloyau to rillettes and rillons. And there are the fromagiers with their cheeses, most produced locally, but for those with more exotic tastes there are a few from more distant lands. And there are rows and rows of tables laden with fruits and vegetables from the fertile fields of this region, reminding us exactly why the Loire Valley is also known as Le Jardin de France. You might even find the occasional vigneron, selling his home-bottled rosé and red. Some words of advice; try before you buy.

Then there are the stalls which serve to remind us that this is no 21st-century supermarket, where everything comes neatly packaged and ready to consume in all its anodyne glory. There are stalls piled high with buckets filled with herbs and spices, and trestle tables laden with olives of every size and colour from green through brown and purple to jet black. In the latter case you buy by the weight, the price varying according to whether the stallholder recognises you as one of his regulars, or as a more affluent tourist, here today but gone tomorrow. And then there are the poultry sellers with their stock of live birds for sale; hens of various breeds, quail, ducks and even geese. Some you can take home to provide you with eggs during the coming year, while others you can fatten in preparation for the next religious feast day. The prices here remain steady; for some not-quite-unfathomable reason I have never seen a tourist tempted to buy at this stall.

Loire Wine Guide: Touraine

Having drank my fill of the market (as well as an early morning espresso or two) I wandered down through the streets of Bourgueil, leaving behind the hustle and bustle. I soon found myself alone in a quiet street, and that was when I spotted it; the hotel I had stayed in on my first ever visit to the Loire Valley, close to thirty years ago. It was undoubtedly the one; it had the same blood red shutters and the same broad double-doorway, so wide you could drive a car through it, into the courtyard behind. Although, when this hotel was built by Monsieur Delavigne (from a family of vignerons, perhaps?), sometime during the 19th century, the only vehicles passing under that archway would have been a coach and horses.

Cue soft-focus screen. Cue eerie music. It’s a Bourgueil flashback scene.

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