This year marked the centenary of the Grand Prix De Tours, so our driving tour to France for the Chinon Classic was extra special. The weekend of events is based in the stunning fortress town of Chinon, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We knew the weekend was going to be amazing by the time we were in the queue for the ferry to Caen at Portsmouth. There was a great mix of familiar faces, guests who had met at other events, and some who were experiencing this trip for the first time. It can be somewhat daunting taking part in an event like this for the first time, but here at CGT, we make sure everyone knows what to expect and where they need to be so you can relax and enjoy it!
We were blessed with the weather, and it was sunshine all the way, plus a smooth ferry crossing overnight.
Once we arrived in Caen, our first stop was for coffee and breakfast at the pretty town of Putanges. The Lion Verd Hotel laid out a lovely selection of pastries, breads, and jams. Michael Tunnicliff also treated us to his superb piano playing, which added to the relaxed atmosphere. Guests took some time to sit by the river and explore the town before we left to head towards our next stop.
Following a scenic drive that skirted around the edge of Le Mans, we arrived for lunch at the Hotel De France on the northern edge of the Loire Valley. Steeped in motorsport history, the Hotel De France has been the destination of choice for leaders of state, film stars, and motorsport royalty. The walls are covered in fascinating photographs, and there are always some beautiful cars parked in the square outside.
We had a traditional French lunch and met up with some other members of the group who had made their way separately. The food was delightful, and the conversation flowed until we had to leave to make our way to Chinon.
The afternoon drive took us through beautiful French villages, past vineyards, and into Chinon, which is described as the ‘Flower Garden of France.’
Having parked up in the Place Jeanne d’Arc, we were greeted by the charismatic Tina, who manages the Hotel le Plantagenet. This hotel offers the best location in Chinon for the weekend, and nothing is too much trouble for Tina, who made sure everyone was looked after. Our group was now complete, having met up with guests who had arrived earlier.
After time to freshen up and a pre-dinner drink, we made our way to the Hotel La Boule d’or Restaurant At’able, which was just a short walk from the hotel. We could soak up the atmosphere of this pretty town in the evening sunshine. Dinner was stunning, and the staff were friendly and accommodating. It was then back to the hotel for a quick nightcap and to prepare for Saturday’s Road Rally.
As the weather was forecast to be hot, most guests opted to set off early, so it was a busy morning getting the cars looking their best, helped by the buckets of soapy water supplied by Tina. By 11 am, everyone was over the start and on their way. The road rally is not a race; the most important timings are the refreshment stops! The route takes the participants through some pretty villages that you would not normally see and onto the first stop, which this year was at Chateau de Grillemont. The temperatures were climbing, and the spread of breads, cheese, meats, and pate, all under a leafy canopy, was most welcome, accompanied by the local wine, of course.
The chateau provided a perfect backdrop and also some great photo opportunities for our guests’ cars.
From the Chateau, it was back on the road to the lunch stop. The reading of tulip notes was a test for some, and there were many stories at lunch of following cars who were lost, only to have to all turn around and go back in the other direction! By lunchtime, the temperatures were up in the 30s, and the welcome drinks at the lunch venue were very well received. Lunch was a different affair to last year, with everyone sitting down together and a short speech to celebrate the Centenary, which was fortunately translated into English.
We then enjoyed a steady run back to Chinon with the option to stop at Domaine des Bouquerries vineyard to sample and purchase the local wine.
The Gala Dinner at the Cave Painctes is indeed something to behold. Even to those who have been before, the mixture of tradition, fun, and, well, surrealness is still a highlight of the trip.
The four-course meal was excellent, and wine flowed freely. We were entertained by both the ceremony on stage and live music. The caves are very atmospheric, and it is indeed a totally unique experience.
Overnight, the main Chinon square was transformed, ready for the Chinon Centenary Classic. This is the chance for participants to show their cars off to the waving crowds that gather along the route. There are also displays and demonstrations, one of which was Martin Overington in his historic Hesketh F1 car, which delighted the spectators.
Sunday was a lovely relaxed day, and again the weather was very good. There were some fabulous photos of our guests’ cars out on the track.
We finished the day off with a very lively meal in the Lion D’or, just next door to the hotel. There was lots of laughter and reminiscing about the highlights of the weekend.
All too soon, it was Monday and time to say goodbye. Some guests carried on to Le Mans for the Classic due to take part the following weekend, and others went back to visit the villages that were part of Saturday’s road rally. The rest made their way back to Caen to board the ferry back to Portsmouth.
The Chinon Classic is a warm, friendly event, and many of the first-time guests were planning to come along again next year. With such a fantastic group of people, it really was laughter from start to finish, with friendships and fabulous memories made.
Photo Credits: Debs Brereton and Andrew Oliver