Loire Valley – Chateaux and Wine Region
The breathtaking Loire Valley follows France’s longest river through an area famous for its grand chateaux, world-class wineries, cultural landscape and great natural beauty. Now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Loire Valley slices through several departments on its 600-mile journey, ending at the Bay of Biscay near Nantes. On its way, the river passes more than 100 fairytale chateaux, along with follies, terraces, gardens, bridges and quays. It waters vineyards, meadows and woods as it glides gently through this fertile green valley, which is perfect for exploring by boat, on foot, bicycle or by car.
The opulent chateaux of the Loire Valley were originally mediaeval fortresses built for royalty, hence the defensive moats, crenellated parapets and turrets. These beautiful buildings have since been repurposed as grand private residences, bed and breakfasts and tourist attractions. The largest and most impressive chateaux are Chenonceau and Chambord, now government owned and open for touring.
Although the main attractions in the Loire Valley are the chateaux, you should not overlook the vineyards, villages and countryside in this enchanted region, which is known as the “Garden of France”. Favoured by poets and writers, it offers some of the most famous cathedrals and abbeys in France and several remarkable gardens.
Background Info about the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley extends through several departments of central France, but the main areas for tourism are the Indre-et-Loire and the Loir-et-Cher departments which lie south and west of Orleans and east of Tours.
It is no accident that the Loire Valley is lined with some of France’s most beautiful chateaux and landmarks. Long ago, this region came to the attention of French kings. When they built their mediaeval castles, their courtiers and nobles followed suit, determined to be close to the seat of power. In the 16th century, King Francois I shifted his government back to Paris, leaving the Loire Valley to become one of the world’s most delightful areas of grand summer residences.
Loire Valley Wines
The Loire Valley includes over 185,000 acres of vineyards, mostly family-owned and operated. Some of the most esteemed French wines comes from the chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc and pinot noir grapes grown in this region. Sancerre, near Bourges, is the centre for many famous white wines while Tours is the centre of the famous Touraine AOC wines which include Vouvray, Chinon and Bourgueil. The area produces chateau wines that are known for their acidity, due to the area’s cooler climate and sheltered location and you will find many opportunities for private luxury wine tours and tastings.
Highlights of the Loire Valley
Chartres Cathedral is one of France’s most important religious monuments, nicknamed the “Acropolis of France” by Rodin. The remarkable Gothic architecture has stained glass windows dating back over 700 years and the cathedral contains an unusual exhibition of mediaeval musical instruments. The Old Town is a medley of quaint houses and cobbled streets, while the nearby castles of Maintenon and Anet are well worth visiting.
Famously liberated by Joan of Arc in 1429, Orleans’ attractions celebrate their heroine. The Gothic Cathedral and Renaissance Town Hall are major attractions, along with the moated 14th century Chateau of Sully-sur-Loire and the Renaissance Chateau of Chamerolles with its conical towers and formal gardens.
This rich historic town has ancient ramparts protecting the Mediaeval and Renaissance architecture within. The son-et-lumière shows in summer light up Bourges’s monuments in a magical display of music and illumination. The Gothic cathedral of St-Etienne is an exceptional building that dominates the high ground and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bourges highlights include the Chateau O’Meillant, Noirlac Abbey, and the home of writer Aurore Dupin, better known by her pen name of George Sand. Nearby is the renowned Abbey of St-Benoit-sur-Loire, one of the most impressive examples of Romanesque architecture, contrasting with the imposing Gothic abbey at Vendome.
The largest Loire Valley castle is the magnificent Chambord Chateau, glorifying Renaissance architecture. Surrounded by the hunting grounds of Francois I, you can tour the chateau grounds in a horsedrawn carriage. The best way to see the nearby Cheverny Chateau is by hot-air balloon!
Once a great pilgrimage site, Tours is crammed with wonderful mansions, museums, and the cathedral of St-Gatien. Highlights include the Renaissance gardens surrounding Azay-le-Rideau Chateau and the romantic “Sleeping Beauty” castle, Ussé, on the edge of the Chinon forest.
Amboise is a pretty town and former home of Leonardo da Vinci. The nearby Chenonceaux Chateau is one of the most well-known in the Loire Valley with a famous viewing gallery overlooking serene views of the Cher River.
Beyond its magnificent chateaux, the Loire Valley has many more scenic attractions which should be on every visitor’s bucket list. Take a guided wine tour, enjoy cultural sites, try some outdoor recreational activities and sample the rich game dishes, tasty goat’s cheese and local cherry liqueur as part of your unforgettable Loire Valley experience.