If you believe the dictum “An Englishman’s home is his castle”, then you ought to feel 100% at home in this lovely part of France!
Often called the "Garden of France", The Loire Valley is best known indeed as the home to over a thousand castles. Many of these date from the 15th to 17th centuries when the region was much loved by many of the French Kings and noblemen, who competed to build ever more elaborate and luxurious chateaux.
However, there is more to the Loire Valley than castles, and no visit would be complete without enjoying visits to some of the fascinating historical towns and villages and a cathedral or two - the cathedrals at Bourges and Chartres are both world famous and should certainly feature on your schedule.
Meanwhile if you are looking for something a bit less “monumental” than great castles and cathedrals, the region also includes several villages that have been awarded the prestigious “one of the most beautiful villages of France” classification, and each has a great deal to enjoy as you amble around enjoying the local architecture and style: Lavardin, Montresor (east of Loches), and Saint-Benoit-du-Sault (south-west of Argenton-sur-Creuse).
An interesting and sporty way is to hire a bicycle and take the route between Blois / Cheverny / Chambord in the east and Amboise or Tours to the west, with Chenonceau and Chaumont among the highlights in between. This route passes the greatest number of castles in the shortest possible distance, and the terrain has the additional advantage of being relatively flat In fact it is possible to cycle all the way to Nantes and still have some puff left!
The Famous Castles
The largest of all the Loire Valley castles, this magnificent Renaissance edifice, built by François I, is surrounded by an immense park and hunting land which can be visited by horse drawn carriage, but only after having visited the interior and contemplated its 426 rooms, 77 staircases and 282 fireplaces ! Read more about Chambord.
Amboise / Chenonceau Huddled under the shadow of its impressive royal castle, Amboise is a pretty town with white stone houses dating from the 15th century. A few miles away, is the Château of Chenonceau, also called the Ladies Castle with an impressive view of the Cher River.
Chartres: The world-famous Cathedral of Chartres which Rodin called the Acropolis of France, is a remarkable testament to medieval architecture in a high gothic style. Must sees include the 12th and 13th century stained glass and the amazing collection of ancient musical instruments.
The Old Town of medieval cobbled streets, gabled houses and charming footbridges lies at the foot of the cathedral, where you can also find “La Maison Picassiette”, a house decorated inside and out with mosaics of chards of broken china and pottery.
With its five bridges spanning the river Loire, Orleans is of course famous for having been liberated from the British by Joan of Arc in 1429. Each year in May a celebration commemorating her exploits is held; the house in which she stayed during the ten-day siege of Orleans can also be visited.
Nohant, et l’Abbaye de Noirlac
Located at the geographical heart of France, Bourges is a rich historical town of paved stone streets, medieval and Renaissance architecture, ancient ramparts and the remarkable Gothic Cathedral of St-Etienne which dominates the hilltop. Places of interest to visit in the surrounding area, George Sand's House in Nohant, and the Cistercian Noirlac Abbey. And of course, Sancerre and its famous white wines. In the summer be sure to stay in Bourges for the Illuminated Nights, when certain monuments and buildings in the town are brought to life with music and light.
Blois: Don’t forget your trainers, as Blois is built on a pair of steep hills. Winding and steep pathways run through the city, culminating in long staircases at various points.
Its famous castle has been linked throughout the centuries to the history of the Kings of France. Every Wednesday at the castel, there is night spectacle for English speaking visitors.
Tours: At the junction of the Loire and Cher Rivers, Tours is a busy university town and the traditional point of departure for exploring the Loire Valley.
During the Middle Ages, it was one of the great pilgrimage sites of Europe. Today, the city boasts wonderful Renaissance and neo-classical mansions, which are clustered around the famous Plumereau square, fine museums including a collection of craftsmen's masterpieces and the Cathedral of St-Gatien.
The most interesting sites in the surrounding area are the château of Azay-Ie-Rideau, which reflects on the river, Villandry, surrounded by Renaissance gardens, Ussé, said to be the original Sleeping Beauty's castle, Langeais and Loches, as well as the splendid medieval city of Chinon.
Loire Valley Gastronomy
Chateaux are not the only thing that the Loire Valley takes very seriously.
The gastronomy of this region is also very important for maintaining its own uniqueness, with an abundance of farm-fresh products: poultry, game and fish, vegetables and fresh fruit.
Rich and varied charcuterie include terrines, potted minced pork from Tours, the local Poulet en barbouille which is delicious, and Carpe au vin rouge. Follow up with one of the dozen of varieties of the famous Chèvre cheeses. Among others to try are Sainte Maure du Touraine, Pouligny St. Pierre, and Crottin de Chavignol which is perhaps the region's most popular goat cheese. This goat cheese is shaped like a small cylinder and comes from the small town of Chevignol. Whether you spread it on a roll or bake it as a topping for your salad, this goat cheese still has a lovely nutty and mild taste.
Finish your meal with the renowned "Tarte Tatin", a caramelized apple tart, cooked upside down, or a “Gateau Pithiviers” (almond cream in a buttered puff pastry.)
You may have difficulty in choosing a suitable wine to accompany your meal, in a region bordered by many so many vineyards, the fruity reds of Chinon, Bourgueil, Touraine, and Valencay, the dry white Cheverny, the flinty Sancerre, the sparkling Vouvray…...
Sports and Leisure in the Loire Valley
There are lots more sporting activities to be enjoyed in the region: canoeing and kayaking on the Loire, France's longest river. Fishing throughout the Loire basin. Various ballades and excursions including the waterways of the region surrounding Chenonceau, in the Cher Valley.
Golf: The Royal Château Country proposes more than 30 golf courses. The quality and variety of these courses designed by well-known architects attract and satisfy the most discerning golfers.
Ballooning and helicopter trips: numerous companies (Aerocom and France Balloon are two of the most important) offer trips over the beautiful countryside of the Loire Valley via hot air balloon, giving a bird's-eye view of the famous castles and gardens.
For more information on the Loire Valley, click through to visit their official tourist pages, or scroll down for options of places to stay. See our Google Plus profile for up to date information on all France.
Loire holiday chateau near Blois - Chateau des Perdrix sits within a 240 hectare estate. Dating back to the 15th century, extensive renovations were made during the 19th and 20th centuries and the chateau now boasts a private pool and private tennis court.
Built in the 18th/19th centuries around an enclosed stone courtyard, this restored Loire farmhouse with private pool was the original home farm of the neighbouring chateau, set in the heart of the Brenne regional park in deepest rural France.