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Dinner in Loches - Loire Valley

It was one of those sunny, sweet, spring eves, that follow a rainy start to the day.
We had just finished our visit at Chateau de Chenonceau (see our visit here) and we wanted to find a dinner destination quaint and romantic enough, to round off our gorgeous day. 
We headed to the lesser known town of Loches.
Usually, visitors head to Amboise after Chateau de Chenonceau, but we thought that Amboise deserves a whole day to itself.
The drive south of Chateau de Chenonceau, took us through endless green fields, gentle hills and even a leafless forest - it was great fun catching the afternoon light through the tall, dense trees.

Three options for dinner:
La Loire en Tonneaux - a wine shop really, with bistro seating and warm blankets outside.
Great for an informal evening of wine drinking and food picking. Grab a glass of red alongside a charcuterie board and watch the evening fall over the elegant townhouses and cobbled streets.

Sforza - gloriously massive, stone-oven-baked pizzas! Pizza in France? Mais oui!
A family place, full of locals, always a good sign, when it comes to food!
Apart from the thin, velvety, delicious pizzas, they also do salads with chunky tuna too.

Le P'tit Restau - your dreamy, petite, elegant, picture perfect, small French town restaurant!  3 starters, 3 mains and 3 desserts, changing every week.
All presented delicately, in candle-lit, intimate surroundings.

La Loire en Tonneaux
Dreamy, creamy and yummy pizzas at Sforza
Le P'tit Restau

Loches is a charming medieval town, built by the river Indre.
The castle that sits just above the rest of the medieval houses is not your usual chateau though; it's enclosed in a citadel, where all alleys and cobbled streets lead up to. 

It's not as touristy, as other towns around the region, it's got ample dinning options, romantic strolling routes and panoramic viewing spots; if you are after an easy-going trip, it'd make a good base to visit the Loire Valley from.

Roadtripping around the Loire - Chateau De Chenonceau

Chateau de Chenonceau was the reason we decided to take a trip to the Loire Valley. 
For me it's always been this romantic destination, with its' arches stretching over river Cher, sat amongst bright green forestry - the stuff of fairy tales.
Yet, on this rainy April day, I couldn't be more miserable - we had driven all the way from London to experience the charming Loire chateaux and the weather couldn't have been more uninviting, cold and windy; not ideal for our outdoors Easter expedition.
Wellies on, wrapped in warm coats, umbrellas underarm, we set off. The rain was constant and made the day feel sad during our drive through the little villages.
We picked the toll-free route from Tours on purpose, in an attempt to see as much of the countryside as possible. Remember, all motorways in France have tolls, so pick wisely.

Eventually, the rain stopped and as we drove into the Chateau entrance the sun came out!
My wise husband looked at me and said "we wouldn't have had these amazing colours to photograph, if it hadn't rained"...where did this little insightful comment come from? 
The dramatic tree-lined long drive leading up to the gardens and Chateau
The old stables that housed a hospital in WWII
You can't spot the chateau from the entrance.
But you start getting a sense of the importance and history of this place with every step down the long, tree-lined walk. Imagine the commotion and excitement that Henry II of France would have caused, when he'd ride down this driveway with his Court, to visit Diane de Poitiers, who lived here. Imagine her heart flickering at the sight!

One Chateau. Two gardens. Two women tied with the history of this place.
Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers; the wife and the mistress.

Catherine de Medici ruled France from a tiny room in the Chateau, overlooking the Cher.
What a place!

Diane's Garden
Catherine's Garden

Time for tea in the Orangerie...bring on the pastries
On the left of the Chateau, Diane's garden: utterly symmetrical, with sharp-looking flowerbeds.
On the right of the Chateau, Catherine's garden: greener, fuller, featuring impressive water fountains, somehow warmer.

We spent more than an hour wondering around the gardens, always returning to the edge, to lean over and look at river Cher flowing through the arches that hold up this elegant structure.
I'll be honest: I was so mesmerised by the colours around the gardens and the amazing blue sky that I really didn't want to go inside.
We stopped at the Orangery instead for tea and cakes, that gave us time to take in all of the sunny images around the grounds.

View of the spot where the original watermill was built

The Ballroom, stretching over river Cher
Afternoon light, over the Cher
Window in the Green Study, where from Catherine De Medici ruled over France  
The main part of the Chateau was built at the site of a pre-existing water mill, hence, it's not one of the largest Chateaux in the area.
Some of the fireplaces were lit though and that gave the whole place a more "real" feeling.
The ball room stretches over the entire width of the river and with a dozen windows on each side it feels like you are on a boat, hovering over the Cher.
Catherine de Medici built over the arches, originally used for promenading from shore to shore, in order to create a space suitable for the French Court to gather.

What a glorious day. We left happy, smiling and looking forward to a well-deserved dinner...on to Loches!


Cheesepie in a Twist {Strifti Tiropita} & Cool Cucumber Salad

Strifti Tiropita {aka Cheese Pie in a Twist} is a special dish found around mountain, village restaurants in Greece. My favourite part is that it's baked in a spiral shape and when it's done all of the folds and creases make it look so intriguing.  It makes for great picnic food too because you can break pieces off by hand, when it's cooled down.

The pickled cucumber salad is the perfect light, crunchy and punchy accompaniment to the salty, cheesy pie.

Strifti Tiropita - with Homemade Pastry

- Two cups of plain Flour
- Three tablespoons of Olive Oil
- Two tablespoons of White Wine Vinegar
- One cup of warm Water
- One teaspoon of Rock Salt
- Plain Flour and Corn Starch mix for the rolling, about half a cup

- 250gr Feta, crumbled
- 100gr Ricotta
- Two Eggs
- Two tablespoons of chopped Dill
- Salt & freshly ground Pepper

Home-made Pastry - Mix the Flour, Vinegar, Olive Oil, Water and Salt in a deep bowl.
Use your fingers and try to incorporate more and more flour, as you go along. If the dough feels a bit too sticky add another half a handful of flour.
When the dough has taken up all of the flour start kneading it in the bowl: push part of the dough away from you, using the bottom of your palm, then roll the dough back in with your fingers, repeat a couple of times until you have a little ball.
Cover with a wet towel and keep in a warm space for an hour and a half to two hours. I keep it in the boiler cupboard.

Rolling out the Pastry - flour a dry surface with a handful of the flour-corn starch mix.
Knead the dough a bit more on the flat surface, as you did before. Split the dough in two parts, it'll be easier to handle.
Sprinkle some more flour-corn starch mix on the dry surface and roll one of the dough parts out, by keep turning it around towards all directions. Ultimately, pick a side of the dough to stretch out more so that you end up with a rectangular shape - or as close to it as possible.
This was my first attempt ever at making pastry, so I resorted to cutting off all of the uneven parts and rolling them over the corners missing, to get close to a rectangular shape. It worked!
The Filling - In a bowl mix the crumbled feta, ricotta, eggs, dill and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. 
Assemble - Spread half of the filling on the rolled out rectangular dough, staying away from the edges.  
Fold around 2 centimetres of the dough in, over the filling, all along the side. 
Brush with olive oil along the fold. Continue folding over, brushing with olive oil every time. 
You'll end up with a flute-like, soft, feta-bursting roll.  
Repeat with the second piece of dough.
The "Twist" - This part is delicate, be brave.
Move the dough rolls on a parchment paper-lined baking tray. Start from the middle, working around creating a spiral.
As you place the dough on the baking tray, twist the roll to create little folds. don't force it or it'll brake. Allow a bit of space between the spirals, this will allow the heat to get to all sides of the dough and it'll expand a bit.
Bake - for an hour at 180C.

Cool Cucumber Salad
- One Cucumber
- Three or Four tablespoons of White Wine Vinegar
- Half a teaspoon of Rock Salt
- Half a teaspoon of Sugar
- One Red Chicory
- A handful of Pomegranate Seeds
- One tablespoon of olive oil
- Salt
- Juice of half a Lemon
- Two tablespoons of chopped Dill
The Pickle - Mix the vinegar, salt and sugar in a deep bowl.
Cucumber - Give it a rinse and using a potato peeler shave off thin slivers, until you reach the seedy part. Stop there, this part is too watery.
Drop the Cucumber shavings in the Pickle, toss around, cover with Clingfilm and put in fridge for half an hour at least.  
Chicory - Rinse under running water, cut in half and then slice each half vertically in long strips.
Assemble - Start wit the Chicory strips, drizzle the olive oil over them and some salt.
With the help of a fork, create little Cucumber nests, as if you were eating spaghetti. Drop the Cucumber nests over the Chicory.
Drizzle a few tablespoons of the Pickle over the salad, but not too much, you want the Chicory to remain crunchy.  
Sprinkle with the chopped Dill and Pomegranate seeds over the salad.
Finish off with squeezed Lemon.
© Life Love London

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