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Saumur France

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Saumur is a charming town, full of charming townhouses, and on a charming stretch of the River Loire. The elegant Chateau de Saumur, the local wines, the sandy banks of the river, the equestrian traditions and historical sites, everything about the Loire region seems to come together in Saumur. There are troglodyte dwellings in the cliffs nearby, if the chic town centre begins to seem too comfortable for you.

The chateau dominates the town from its hilltop. Building began in 1246 under Louis XI and Saumur is one of the rare chateaux that displays 14th century architecture, what came at the end of the Middle Ages and before the Renaissance. In the latter 14th century Charles V's brother, the Duc Louis Ier d'Anjou, built the more decorative residence on the site of Louis XI's fortress, prefiguring Renaissance style in the large windows. In the 16th century, when the castle became a Protestant stronghold, the palace was fortified with buttresses and the like. For €2 you get to climb up the watchtower and visit the dungeons and for €6 you gain entry to the royal apartments as well, which house the two museums. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs has tapestries and china, but the Musée du Cheval up in the attic is the best bit (excuse the pun). There are bridles and saddles from all over the world in an impressive collection that spans time and space.

After the chateau, museums, gardens and a wander through the old town, you might need a pick me up at the Maison du Vin, quai Lucien, which serves méthode champenoise sparkling wines, and also has useful lists of wine growers and local caves. Then it's on to the École Nationale d'Équitation in St Hilaire St Florent for a tour of the riding school for €6.50 in the morning, or €4.50 in the afternoon (training sessions are in the morning). Nearby is the Musée de Champignon (€6.50) where you can tour (some of) the 500km of underground mushroom growing caves, which account for 70% of France's supply of champignons de Paris.

Having worked up an appetite, head to place St Pierre for dinner in the Auberge St Pierre at number 6 (02 41 51 26 25) with menus from €9 24, or for something special go back to the chateau to Les Délices du Chateau (02 41 67 65 60) and sample the €30.50 or €58 menu. You will be unsurprisingly tired after such a packed day, so drift off to sleep in your picturesque, if a little pricey, hotel. Try 18th century Anne d'Anjou, 32 quai Mayaud (02 41 67 30 30) with rooms from €70 and upwards, or the less expensive but lovely Cristal Hotel, 10 12 place de la République (02 41 51 09 54) with river or chateau view rooms from €40 55.