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Last updated : Nov 2009
Val de Loire
Val de Loire - TravelPuppy.com

One of France’s most famous regions is the Loire Valley, the former playground of the French monarchs, whose traces and grand palaces attract many visitors today. The ‘centre’ of France from Chartres to Châteauroux and from Tours to Bourges includes the départements of Eure-et-Loir, Loiret, Indre, Loir-et-Cher, Indre-et-Loire and Cher.

The Central Loire includes the famous Châteaux country, perhaps the region most visited by foreign tourists to France. Through it flows a part of the Loire River, the longest river in France, and considered to be its most capricious, often reducing to a mere trickle of water in a bed of sand. It has been called a ‘useless’ great river, because it drives no turbines or mill wheels and offers few navigable waterways. The Cher is a quiet, slow-moving river, flowing calmly through grassy meadows and mature forests. The château of Chenonceaux stands quite literally on the river, a working mill in the early medieval period when the Cher flowed more vigorously, it was transformed into perhaps the most graceful of all French châteaux, its court rooms running clear from one bank to the other on a row of delicate arches. Chenonceaux’s development owed much to a succession of beautiful and powerful noblewomen, and its charm is of an undeniably feminine nature. The Indre, a river of calm reflections. Lilies abound and beautiful weeping willows sway on its banks. The château at Azay-le-Rideau was designed to make full use of these qualities and stands beside several small man-made lakes, each reflecting a different aspect of the château. Water is moved to and from the river and between the lakes through a series of channels. The water gardens and its reflections of the intricately carved exterior more than compensate for the slightly dull interior. The Vienne is essentially a broad stream. It glides gracefully beneath the weathered walls of old Chinon, where several important chapters in French history were acted out.

The château of Blois, which is, architecturally speaking, one of the finest and is certainly the most interesting in terms of history and stands in the centre of the ancient town of the same name, towering over the battered stone houses clustered beneath its walls.

Chambord
, several miles south of the Loire, is the most substantial of the great châteaux. Standing in a moat in the centre of a vast lawn bordered by forests, the body of the building possesses a majestic symmetry. In contrast, the roofscape is a mixed jumble of eccentric chimneys and apartments. Some have attributed the bizarre double-helix staircase to Leonardo da Vinci. The five châteaux described above are generally ranked highest amongst the Loire châteaux and form the core of most of the organised tours. There are, of course, dozens more that can be visited and it is even possible to stay overnight in some of them. The Loire Valley is very warm and crowded with tourists during the summer.

Besides châteaux, there is much else of interest in the Loire Valley and surrounding areas. There are magnificent 13th-century cathedrals in Chartres and Tours, as well as abbeys and mansions and charming riverside towns and villages. Other places of outstanding interest include Orléans, famous for its associations with Jeanne d’Arc, with a beautiful cathedral, the Musée des Beaux Arts and 16th-century Hôtel de Ville, and Bourges, a 15th-century town complete with old houses, museums and the Cathedral of St-Étienne. The charming little town of Loches, southeast of Tours, has a fine château and an interesting walled medieval quarter. It was in the heartland of the Touraine that the true cuisine of France developed.

 
 
 
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