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Introduction to the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley
The Loire Valley traverses two French regions: Centre [Region 6] and Pays-de-la Loire [Western Loire, Region 18].  The Region of Centre [Centre-Val-de-Loire] is so named for its central location in France.  It is comprised of the departements of Cher, Eure-et-Loir Indre, Indre-et-Loire, Loir-et-Cher and Loiret.  To Centre's west is the Region of Pays-de-la-Loire, consisting of the departements of  Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Mayenne, Sarthe and Vendee.  

The Loire Valley is also known as the Chateaux de la Loire [the Castles of the Loire].  Its' fairytale castles are rich in the renaissance architecture that was in vogue during the period that saw the castles renovated and expanded.   The renaissance also influenced the magnificent courtly gardens that abound in the area.  The Loire Valley entered its renaissance period in the 16th century.  As elsewhere in Europe, the period brought with it new, artistic ideas in architecture.

Because of it’s beautiful and game rich forests, the kings and nobility made this area the preferred habitat for their castles.  Their fairytale castles were nestled in the forests surrounded by their splendid garden type settings that bordered the winding Loire river and her tributaries, the Cher, Indrois and Indre.

The history, the grandeur and the beauty, of these architectural wonders is beyond anything that one can imagine.  A visit to a chateau or two, will leave you awe stricken, actually feeling as though you are a part of the history that occurred there.

A trip to the Loire Valley is an absolute must.  It is quickly accessible, from any part of France, by train, bus or car.  The trains in France are wonderfully comfortable and fast. 

The Agriculture
The Loire Valley’s primary industry is agriculture, and the city of Blois is its agricultural and commercial center.  The area has long been noted for its wheat and really superior vegetables such as asparagus and strawberries.   

  • The Wine
    Val-de-Loire boasts twenty-two world-class wines.  Loire wines are known, near and far, for their light, fruity flavor and bouquet.  Some of the more noted are: Sancerre, Valencay, Montlouis, Pouilly Fouisse and of course, one of our favorites, Vouvray.

  • The Cheese
    The area is also well known for its specialty cheese which include:

    • Crottin de Chavignol
      The real Crottin de Chavignal comes from the raw milk of a breed of mountain goats with brown coats.  Freshly made Crottin de Chavignal is usually served coated in fine herbs.  As the cheese matures and hardens the flavor becomes more intense.  It goes well with Sancerre de Chavignal.

    • Sainte-Maure de Touraine
      This is considered to be the masterpiece of Touraine goat cheese.  The stark white cheese is rolled in a black wood ash that has a misty, citrusy flavor that ages well and has a walnut aroma and a light salty taste that goes towards a nutty flavor.  It goes well with Chinon Vouvray.

The Cathedrals
The Loire Valley boasts of two of the most impressive and magnificent of gothic cathedrals: Bourges and Chartres.  Chartres’ stained glass windows were created by the same artesian that crafted the windows of the Sainte-Chappelle in Paris.

The Chateaux
There are a thousand chateaux in France, and some of the most outstanding are in the Loire Valley.  All of the chateaux de la Loire are exceptional in their own rights, and whether an historical site is owned privately or by the government, the tours through these beautiful castles are the only practical means to support them.  France is fortunate to possess these many standing castles after all the ravages through the centuries of wars.

Some of the better-known, and most visited chateaux, are:  Amboise, Angers, Azay-le-Rideau, Blois, Chambord, Chenonceaux, Cheverny, and Villandry.  The following is a brief description of each:

  • Amboise
    Amboise [photos] is located in the region of Centre, departement of Indre-et Loire.  This is a grand fortress perched on a cliff overlooking the Loire River on one side and the arched gateway and cobble stone streets of the village on its other side.  Only twenty-five percent of the Chateaux remain, and of those, Amboise is quite extraordinary.

    Amboise was originally known for its many festive gatherings and happenings.  The festive association was changed by the Amboise Conspiracy, in 1560, and the Wars of Religion.  These were sinister times for the chateau, due to the slaughter of hundreds of Protestants that took place there.  Today, Amboise is a site that is used for the many FESTIVE events that act as a beacon for tourists.

  • Angers
    Angers [photos], which is in the region of Western Loire [Pays de la Loire], departement of Maine-et-Loire, is the former capital of Anjou, sitting on the banks of the River Maine.  The chateau dates back to the first century BC.  It has known both Roman and Viking rule and has suffered vast physical ruin, together with the loss of much of its land holdings during those turbulent times terminating in the Religious Wars.  For the duration of the later epoch, the chateau suffered even more devastation than Amboise.  Continuing confrontations, between the Protestants and Catholics, were unrelenting.  In an effort to abate the turmoil, Henri IV, in 1598, promised the marriage of his son to the daughter of the Duc de Mercoeur (the leader of the Catholic Party); the marriage contract was signed in April when the children were three and six years old!

    The construction of the Moorish looking Angers began in 1228 and was finished about ten years later.  It was originally encircled by wide moats that have been converted into today’s gardens.  Initially, the towers were one to two stories taller, but were ordered demolished by the King during the Wars of Religion.  Instead, the castle’s governor merely had the towers reduced in height.  The King died, during the first part of the demolition, which saved the chateau from being totally destroyed. 

    If you are an admirer of fine tapestry, the famous ‘Apocalypse’ tapestry can be viewed here.  The tapestry is housed in the 600 year old building that was designed for it.  This building is the oldest and largest, of the castle’s structures, to survive in such a grand state.  The surviving tapestry itself contains over 76 scenes that depict the book of John (the last book of the New Testament), and the coming of a new Jerusalem.

                           Continued  >>>

  Chateau Owners - do you have or a château that you would like to rent, lease or sell?  Or, perhaps you have a business housed in a château [such as a B&B, an art school, cooking school, language school, etc.] you would like to advertise.  Or, your château may have a web site for which you would like to attract more visitors.  If so, we have the perfect way for you to advertise.  If you would like to add your chateau,  just email us at: castle info@french-at-a-touch.com.  Get your castle information out to the world - now!
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