French region of Loire Valley The Garden of France
Capital: Orleans Population: 2,449,000 (4,1% of French population) Specialities: Tarte Tatin (caramelised apple), AOC goat cheeses, (Crottin-de-Chavignol, Valençay...), fish of the Loire river and famous wines such as Sancerre and Chinon.
Background on the region
The Loire Valley lies to the South West of Paris and makes up the "Centre" region of France. The Loire, France's longest river (1,020 km) runs from the Massif Central to the Atlantic coast, and provides what many regard as a north-south climatic divide. The region was once France's royal and intellectual capital, and is extremely rich in both history and architecture. Picturesque villages alternate with towns rich in art and history, while Romanesque and Gothic styles dominate in the façades and decoration of the religious monuments. The Loire is lined with magnificent Châteaux which combine with the luxuriant landscape and fine food and wine to make the region one of the most attractive destinations in France.
As France's intellectual capital in the 13th century, Orléans attracted artists, poets and troubadours to the Royal Court. Kings planned the political and cultural renaissance of the country from here, so that the Loire Valley became the setting for many important events in France's history. The medieval court never stayed in the same place for long, this led to the building of superb Châteaux and religious sites all along the Loire River. The Loire Valley has seven sites listed on Unesco World Heritage: Saint-Etienne Cathedral (Bourges), Chartres cathedral and the Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes.
The Royal Residence of Chambord is a Château that defies superlatives. It symbolizes the success of Renaissance architecture and the political power of King François I. With its keep, corner towers, double-helix staircase, some 440 rooms and 356 fireplaces, it remains an absolute masterpiece. Other famous Châteaux include Chenonceaux and Villandry, both known for their splendid gardens, and Azay-le-Rideau, recognized by its fairytale turrets.
Photo: P. Duriez
Historically, the Centre region is made up of the three provinces of ”l'Orléanais”, Berry and Touraine which in turn compose six departments. Tours and Orleans have become the Loire visitor's capitals because of their central location, their culture and their superb cuisine. Amboise and Blois are other attractive towns and popular stops. The small town of Beaugency is well worth a detour. If you go to Amboise, you can visit the tomb of Leonardo Da Vinci who spent his last days here and is buried in a chapel in the grounds of the Clos Lucé manor (in the city of Amboise). To the North you may visit Chartres, with its gothic cathedral and medieval centre bordered by Gallo-Roman walls. Troglodyte caves, sleepy hamlets, and small Romanesque churches decorated with frescoes add to the numerous sites and highlights of this rich and delightful region.
The Loire Valley has a temperate climate with short but sometimes cold winters and long summers. It is primarily an agricultural region, with rolling farmlands of grain mixed with woods, lakes and river valleys such as the Loir (not to be confused with the Loire!), the Indre, the Creuse and the Cher. The Loire Valley is also home to no less than 19 AOC: sparkling Vouvray, Red Chinon, Bourgeuil, Sancerre are the most famous wines. There is abundance of local food specialties; goats cheese from Sancerre, green lentils from Berry, fouaces from Touraine and the famous Tarte Tatin (caramelised apple pudding).
The Loire Valley is home to 3 regional natural parks; Loire-Anjou-Touraine, la Brenne and Perche, which gives an indication of the region's luscious and varied countryside. Indeed with its wealth of lakes, rivers, woods and valleys, the region provides a perfect setting for all kinds of sports and leisure activities. Hiking or biking are two easy ways to discover the region's natural beauty and visit its many sites. You can follow cycling itineraries covering 300 km around the Chateaux of Blois and the Loire River. Fishing, boating and other water sports are widely available on the many lakes. Golfers can practice their swing on the idyllic greens and fairways of the Loire Valley's 30 golf courses. New downhill snow sports are also available including trekking and snow shoeing. Alternatively, you can take the kids to Tintin's castle (at the Chateau de Cheverny) or you could visit one of the region's 100 museums and monuments.
The region is very popular due to the excellent access from Paris (TGV train in less than an hour), over 600 hotels and 550 restaurants. It already has favour with some well-known personalities: Mick Jagger owns a castle near Amboise, Gérard Depardieu was born and lived in the region, Patrick Viera, the footballer, is from Dreux, and Jude Law's parents own a property here too. So it comes as no surprise that property prices are not the cheapest, especially in the more scenic and popular areas.
The region is easily accessible and is well served by major roads and motorways. If you're traveling from the UK, you can fly into Tours, alternatively you can drive from the coast in around 4 hours by motorway. You can also take the Eurostar to Paris where there are good connections to the TGV trains.
Facts and figures
Capital: Orleans Population: 2,449,000 (4,1% of French population) Density: 62,7 per sq. km (France = 108,2 per sq. km) Area: 39,536 sq. km (15,264 sq. miles) representing 7,2% of France Economy: Services (66,7%), industry (28,3%), agriculture (4,9%) Unemployment rate: 7,5% (rate for France = 9%)
Specialities: Tarte Tatin (caramelised apple), AOC goat cheeses, (Crottin-de-Chavignol, Valençay...), fish of the Loire river and famous wines such as Sancerre and Chinon.
Over 700 hotels and 550 restaurants across the region
3 Regional nature Parks - Brenne, Le Perche and Loire-Anjou-Touraine
550km of cycling tracks
800 listed Historic monuments, of which 110 châteaux et over 100 museums
Over 30 annual festivals, including the famous 'Printemps de Bourges' rock festival