Loire: The region and places of interest





Encompassing the Muscadet region on the Atlantic coast and the area of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé just southeast of Orléans in north central France, the Loire Valley situated near to Nantes in the west, remains one of the most picturesque and enchanting winemaking regions in Europe.

Meandering its way down France’s longest river the Loire, the area is vast and inclusive of the regions of Anjou, Saumur, Bourgueil, Chinon, and Vouvray, and boasts 87 appellations under the Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC), Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieure (VDQS) and Vin de pays systems.

A site of viticultural note since the Romans planted their first vineyards in the 1st century AD; ‘the garden of France’ is behind only Paris and the Cote d’Azur as the country’s most popular tourist destination.

While the Loire Valley remains a beguiling land of vineyards steeped in the region’s well-documented winemaking traditions, the sumptuous landscapes, balmy climate and surfeit of stunning chateaux makes it a hugely attractive location to those not necessarily principally interested in the nuances of terroir or the intrinsic merits of biodynamic viticulture.
Located in the historic heartland of France in a region that was perpetually coveted by the English during the Middle Ages, the Loire Valley is awash with a plethora of classical architecture from the Renaissance period.

Le Château d'Azay-le-Rideau resides in the heart of Touraine and is a strikingly elegant and immaculately preserved example of 16th century design. Belonging to the prestigious Val de Loire castles where the Kings of France lived for centuries, the Chateau is located on the Indre River and is a must for any visitor to the region. While its interior is far less ostentatious then the vast majority of chateaux in the Loire Valley, the idyllic setting make it no less memorable.
 
 Image by Michal Osmenda
 
Lying south-west of Orléans, the Château de Chambord is the largest of the Loire Chateau and like the aforementioned d'Azay-le-Rideau; it is an evocative totem of the Renaissance period. Originally built as a hunting lodge for King François I in order to supplement his ‘main’ royal palaces of Château d'Amboise and the Château de Blois, it has some 400 rooms and is instantly recognisable by its ornate roof and the lavish grounds enclosed by a 32km wall. The views throughout the grounds are resplendent both inside and out, affording tourists the perfect opportunity to take photos or just soak up the palpable ambiance. 

 
Image by Mohammed Shamma 

The Château de Chenonceau, near the town of Tours and not far from Amboise, is the most popular chateaux of the Loire Valley and lies literally on the Cher River surrounded by lush green gardens. Built at the end of the Gothic period and at the beginning of the Renaissance, the architectural styles are a mishmash of the two making it an enchanting hybrid of historical note. The cylindrical Marques tower is a legacy of the earlier castle that stood within the charming grounds and is separate from the main building. Often referred to as the Chateaux des Dames, It was built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, then beautifully modified by Diane de Poitiers, who added the romantic arched bridge which remains a centrepiece, before Henry II’s widow, Catherine de Médicis, claimed the property for herself. Almost fairy-tale-like in appearance the extensive surrounding gardens, the castle itself and the maze of yew is open to the public and remains one of the region’s premier attractions.

Image by Ted Drake

Image by Sylviane Moss

Chartres Cathedral, 100km south west of Paris and built from 1194-1260, dominates the skyline and is widely deemed one of the finest examples of gothic architecture in the world. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and made from the local white stone, the lavish stained glass window and rich ensemble of ancient musical instruments make the ‘Acropolis of France’ one of the most regularly visited attractions in the country.

While the Loire Valley is saturated with vast, sprawling chateaux and iconic architecture littered amid the seemingly perfect countryside, some of the cities, towns and villages along the region’s famous river, such as the capital [of the region] Orleans, Tours and Blois are amongst the most atmospheric in France.

Orleans was liberated by Joan of Arc in 1429 and every May the city celebrate her heroic exploits making it an intriguing time to visit, while Blois, sandwiched between the aforementioned towns, houses the renowned Chateau de Blois in addition to the Hotel de Ville and its picturesque courtyard.
 
 
The old town in Tours, Place Plumereau, is enclosed by some beautiful timbered houses, some of which date back to the 12th century and while the town itself boasts a number of beautiful Renaissance buildings like the rest of the region, its worth visiting for the expansive public parks and manicured gardens. The lake in the Jardin des Prébendes d'Oé is particularly pretty.

The Loire is a region famed the world over for its wine, but its beauty and numerous notable attractions make it a hugely desirable place to visit regardless of one’s interest in wine and winemaking.
 
To view our wines from the Loire region click here.  
To read about the food and wine of the Loire region click here.  
 
Main Image by Dan Lundberg
 

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