THE LOIRE VALLEY
The drive from Paris to the Loire Valley is a very pleasant journey through countryside best deribed as spectacular. If you are headed to the city of Tours or Blois, and time permits, stop at Chateaudun to see its Chateau, a large, magnificent castle.
A bit farther to the south, the Loir River (no “e”) filters through the old town of Vendome with its bridges and canals. This Town of Art and History, with the remains of its feudal chateau, can also be visited enjoyably by boat. Visit the Abbey de Trinite with its fascinating clock tower.
The Loire Valley is located in the historic heart of France that was so fervently coveted by England in the Middle Ages. After years of conflict, Joan of Arc, inspired the French to conquer the English and expel them. In a more peaceful sense, this area is renowned for an abundance of Chateaux, classic architecture, rich history and warm hospitality.
THE RIVER LOIRE
In running westward for over 600 miles before spilling into the Atlantic Ocean, the Loire is France’s longest river. The Loire and its tributaries, the Rivers Cher, Indre, Vienne and Loir (without the “e”) are strands that link the chateaux, vineyards, farmlands, forests and ancient towns that rest on their banks.
Royalty and the Loire Valley
It is said that “The Loire is a Queen and Kings have loved her”. Indeed the Loire has been the home of Kings since the 10th century. From the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, the Kings and Queens of the Loire Valley championed intellectual and artistic creation. The result is an endowment of accomplishments for all time in the arts and literature, as well as extraordinary examples of magnificent architecture and landscaping.
This royal patronage of intellectual pursuits reached its zenith in the reign of Francis I. He invited men of science and the arts to visit court, including Leonardo da Vinci, who lived at Le Clos-Luce in Amboise from 1516 to his death in 1519. Today, Le Clos-Luce houses a museum devoted to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci where visitors may wonder at his accomplishments.
Not all of the energy devoted by royals in the Loire Valley was channeled into noble scientific endeavors. History has cataloged a considerable number of famous seductions, trysts and rendezvous of amorous nobles.
If you wonder which of the Loire’s Chateaux is the most romantic, then just travel to Chenonceau. Located in the small Village of Chenonceaux (with an “x”) this 16th century chateau was designed by one of the most famous designing women of French history, Diane de Poitiers. Favorite of Henry II, and Rival of his Queen Catherine Medici, Diane lived at Chenonceau and spent time there with the King. After the death of the King in 1559, Queen Catherine took revenge and forced Diane to leave her beloved Chenonceau and move to the Chateau de Chaumont. Diane never set foot in Chaumont choosing instead to live at Chateau d’Anet. Chenonceau passed from Catherine to Louise of Lorraine, wife of the assassinated Henri III, and then to Francoise of Lorraine, wife of Cesar de Vendome, the son of Henri IV.
AN INFLUENCE ON LITERATURE
With its verdant fields and forests, the Loire Valley has inspired poets and novelists for centuries. Some of her native sons, such as Rabelais and Balzac, were so taken with their homeland that they set their stories here. When Charles Perrault wrote the famous fairytale Sleeping Beauty, he was inspired by the Chateau de Usse with its gentle towers, spires, and dormers. In the 1800’s, George Sand wrote her first successful novel, Indiana at Chateau de Nohant (in Berry) where she was raised. Sands welcomed the likes of Balzac, Liszt, Chopin, Tourgueniev, Delacroix and countless other personalities to her charming little chateau. Today, it is open to view by the general public.
The number of beautiful gardens or impeccably maintained grounds, is probably equal to the number of chateaux in the Loire. The best example of this marvelous art form so harmonious with nature is the Chateau de Villandry, built in the 16th century. All that remains from the early fortress is the keep, which is incorporated in the Renaissance building. Villandry symbolizes the French classical style which is also referred to as Henry IV style.
The gardens at Chateau Villandry are the finest examples of formal Renaissance style gardens in France. The gardens, which are terraced on three levels, were influenced by Italian gardeners brought in by Charles VIII. The protocol for plantings on each level are:
The first level is the highest, at or above ground level with the chateau, and features fountains, lawns and the reflecting pool. The second level, includes the Decorative Flower Garden, the Garden of Love, The Garden of Music and the Garden of Simple delights. The third and lowest level, is the kitchen garden which consists of vegetable plantings, fruit trees and bushes, as well as herbs for seasoning or medicinal purposes.
FOOD & WINE
Because of its mild climate and fertile farmlands, the Loire Valley is known as the “Garden of France”. This leads to the very happy consequence that kitchens throughout the Loire Valley enjoy an abundance of highest quality fruits, vegetables, cheeses and other produce - in addition of course, to a wide selection of outstanding wines and liqueurs.
An abundance of sun and warmth produce the plums and melons for which Tours is famous. On the other hand, the shade of the forest is necessary to produce the game, linen white mushrooms and asparagus of Touraine. Ingredients for the region’s tables are as varied as marinated boar, Gatinais Pike-perch with saffron, Orleans poultry, or any number of the cheeses or goats cheese produced locally.
The Loire Valley is one of France’s more northerly wine producing regions, so its best vineyards are established on south facing slopes. Some of the best Sauvignon in the world, such as the wines of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, originate in the Loire Valley. Vouvray, Mountlouis, Chinon, Bourgueil, Saint Nicolas are all well known for superb wines. Vouvray, Mountlouis and Saumur have a reputation for producing excellent sparkling wines.
The first important vineyard on the Loire is located in the eastern premises of the valley at Sancerre. In the care of Augustinian monks at Saint Satur Abbey and the Dukes of Sancerre, these vineyards blossomed forth in the 12th century and have increased in appreciation ever since. Sancerre is known for crisp, flinty whites from the Savignon Blanc grape. Its reds are fruity, light to medium bodied, and made from the Cabernet Franc grape.
One of the oldest wineries in the Loire Valley is Chateau Moncontour which overlooks the village of Vouvray. The 13th century estate surrounds the castle which dates from the 15th century.
A Chateau may be one or all of the following: stately home, mansion, castle, fortress or palace. In the following we identify some particularly interesting chateaux, along with other interesting nearby points of interest. Our selection includes many of those in proximity to Orleans, Blois or Tours. None are far from the Loire River.
Liberated by Joan of Arc in 1429, Orleans has expressed its gratitude to the “Maid of Orleans” each and every May 8th since then. As France’s intellectual capital in the 13th century, Orleans attracted artists, poets and troubadours to the royal court. Worthy of attention are: Cathedral Saint Croix, Fine Arts Museum, Maison de Jeanne d’Arc, Natural Science Museum
…at Meung-sur-Loire, the Chateau de Meung-sur-Loire and the Basilica de Clery Saint Andre
…at Sully-sur-Loire, visit Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire, the Loire Navy Museum, and the Abbey of Saint Benoit
Gien … visit Chateau de Saint Brisson-sur-Loire, the Earthen Ware Factory Museum, the International Hunting Museum.
This Town of Art and History was the veritable center of the French Renaissance. A royal town in the period of Louis XII and Francis I, Blois has a charming old town with the Chateau de Blois, Museum of Fine Arts, Archeology Museum, Basilica Notre Dame de la Trinite, Museum of Natural History, Museum of Religious Art.
… at Beauregard. the Chateau de Beauregard at Cellettes, this Renaissance style chateau is most interesting to visit. Its interior décor, wood paneling, and portrait gallery never fail to impress.
… at Cheverny, the Chateau de Cheverny, exquisitely furnished and probably the most classic example of the Chateau of the Loire.
… at Chambord, Chateau de Chambord, built by Francis I, no other Loire Chateau is more striking. It is located in the midst of a large forest, the largest Chateau of the Loire with 440 rooms and a chimney or turret for each day of the year. The grandest illustration of Renaissance art and architecture.
… at Chaumont-sur-Loire, the Chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire, given to Diane de Poitiers by Catherine de Medicis. The drawbridge of this spectacular chateau remains in working order five centuries after it was built.
… at Talcy, Chateau de Talcy has a personality that is rooted in the Middle Ages with interesting and pleasant refinements from the Renaissance.
TOURS - A Town of Art and History, Tours is situated between the Loire and its tributary the Cher. A delightful old town of 15th and 16th century buildings and homes. With its remarkable 13th century stained glass windows, the Cathedral St. Gatien is easily one of France’s most exceptional religious buildings. Also noteworthy are: the Museum of Fine Arts, Basilica of Saint Martin, Museum of Saint Martin, Touraine Wines Museum and the Museum of Natural History.
… at Rigny Usse, the Chateau d’Usse, Perrault’s inspiration and setting for his story Sleeping Beauty.
… at Langeais, the Chateau de Champchevrier, Chateau de Cinq-Mars, at Cinq-Mars-la-Pile and the Chateau de Langeais. Also, the Museum de la Cadillac at Saint- Michel-sur-Loire, Chateau and Gardens of Villandry
The centerpiece of Amboise is the Chateau that served as residence to three kings - Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francis I. Also, see the Manoir du Clos Luce, home of Leonardo da Vinci in his last years and La Maison Enchantee.
This ancient town is guarded by the remains of its medieval Chateau as it overlooks the Vienne River and the south.. It was here that one of the most important meetings in French history took place between Joan of Arc and Charles VII. Note, the clock tower and exhibits in the Royal Chambers in the ruins of Chateau de Chinon. Chinon produces some of the Loire Valley’s most notable wines.
Plus beaux villages de France ….….The Most beautiful villages in France
If your travels in the Loire Valley take you near one or more of the following villages, you are in for a special treat. Actually, the experience of visiting one of the “most beautiful villages in France” is in itself, ample reward for taking the opportunity for a very special visit. A local point of reference is given for each village to make locating it easier.
The village of Lavardin ... located west of Vendome on the Loir
The village of Candres-Saint-Martin ... located between Rigny-Usse and the joining of the Loire and the Vienne Rivers.
The village of Apremont-sur-Allier ... located east of Bourges
The village of Saint Benoit-du-Sault ... located south of Chateroux just west of the A20
The village of Gargillesse-Dampierre ... located south of Chateroux just east of the A20
The village of Montresor ... located south of the River Cher and North of the Indres River
Our last wish for our readers is, that you will have the marvelous experiences of visiting the Cathedral Cities of Chartres to the north, and Bourges to the south.
We want to thank the French Government Tourist Office in Los Angeles, California for providing information which we have adapted to create this article.
For further information on the Loire Valley, please follow this link