A Traveller's Guide to the Loire Valley, France
The third most popular tourist destination in France behind Paris and the Riviera, the Vallée de la Loire is renowned for its fine wines, impressive castles (chateau) and unspoiled countryside. It has been dubbed the "Garden of France" and is also considered to be the "Cradle of the French Language". The Loire River is the lifeblood of this region, situated in the west of France. Located within the Valley are several towns popular with tourists for their history and beauty, including Amboise, Blois, Chinon, Orleans, Nantes and Tours.
Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in the year 2000, the region was the hotbed of architecture, art, literature and culture during the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment, typified by the abundance of historical architecture scattered throughout the region.
As the region served as the epicentre of French power prior to the 16th century, there are over 100 castles in the Valley, most of which subsequently served as summer residences for the aristocracy once King Francois I shifted the powerbase back to Paris at that time. Today, many of the smaller chateaus serve as private homes and holiday accommodation, but some are exclusively tourist sites. The most magnificent of the castles is the Loire Valley are Chenonceau built on the River Cher, and Chambord which is the considered to be the most recognisable and extravagant of the chateau.
Also the home of many of the world's finest wines and vineyards attributable to the consistently mild climate and fertile soil, the Loire Valley is the third largest wine region in France and also second only to the Champagne region for producing sparkling wines. The hundreds of wineries of all different sizes offer tasting tours for tourists to enjoy.
Alongside grapes, the "Garden of France" produces an abundance of high quality fresh produce, ranging from meat and poultry to fresh fruits and vegetables. Game is also plentiful during hunting season, including pheasant, quail, deer and boar. Cheeses are also produced locally, including five which are distinct to the region itself. However, Loire is best known as the birthplace of the dessert TarteTatin, an upside-down caramelized apple tart.
There are several guided tours available which can help you to discover the best attractions on offer in the Loire Valley, however the beautiful surrounds are best enjoyed from the outdoors rather than from the interior of a tour bus. Guided biking and hiking trips are available as well as bicycle hire if you prefer to explore the area solo. Take a cruise along the river or hire a kayak or canoe to take in the sights at your own pace. For those with an adventurous spirit and large budget, try a hot air balloon or helicopter flight to catch a birds-eye view of the attractions. Then, if you should happen to need a break from all the sight-seeing, have a relaxing round of golf at one of the region's 30-plus premier courses.