Neither of us has ever been to the Loire Valley (or Valle de Loira as I learn it's called in Spanish) before and it's on our way south so we made the decision to take the scenic route through Orleans, Montrichard, Chenonceaux and Tours. The chateau at Chenonceaux was breathtakingly elegant, spanning the river and filled with Tintorettos, priceless tapestries, furniture and history. We parked overnight by a river in Montrichard, awoken by the fishermen setting up their lines to catch carp in the early morning. The rain was biblical and it was accompanied by a stifling humid heat which made sleeping near impossible. I set the GPS to avoid all motorways and we wound our way through villages and towns, stopping at brocantes to rummage through musty bottles and old canoe paddles. In another village, whose name I forgot to note, we stopped to buy the most incredible goat's cheese which we scoffed down later with lashings of red wine and crusty bread. Autumn was in evidence everywhere. In the afternoon the rain returned and we peered through the windscreen, tense as the van is not built for roads awash and the thunder of lorries as they rush past us and we shake in their slipstream. Finally we arrived at La Rochelle for our first glimpse of the sea since Calais.