If it’s French splendour, style and gastronomy you seek, the Loire Valley will exceed your expectations, no matter how great. Poised on the crucial frontier between northern and southern France, and just a short train or autoroute ride from Paris, the region was once of immense strategic importance. Kings, queens, dukes and nobles came here to establish feudal castles and, later on, sumptuous pleasure palaces – that’s why this fertile river valley is sprinkled with hundreds of France’s most opulent aristocratic estates. With crenellated towers, soaring cupolas and glittering banquet halls, the region’s châteaux, and the villages and vineyards that surround them, attest to over a thousand years of rich architectural and artistic creativity. The Loire Valley is also known for its outstanding wines (red, white, rosé and sparkling) and lively, sophisticated cities, including Orléans, Blois, Tours and Angers – yet more reasons why the entire area is an enormous Unesco World Heritage Site.
Tour the Château de Chenonceau
Perhaps the most famous of the many castles in the region, Chenonceau is a sight to behold. Spanning— literally— the River Cher, this attractive mix of late Gothic and early Renaissance architectural styles is best known for being the residence of Queen Catherine de Medici. The endless rooms and halls are decorated sumptuously, and feature historical info to boot.
Partake in some wine tasting at Bouvet-Ladubay
Take in the art at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours
The Loire cuisine is rich in flavours and textures, drawing on the fresh ingredients that are grown in the region. A wide array of fruit and vegetables grown here include: white and green asparagus, Nantes lamb’s lettuce, leeks, radishes, artichokes, button mushrooms, cherries, strawberries (a star on the summer market stands is the Mara des Bois, small and juicy variety), apples and many more.
Born and “bread” – fouace or fouée
The Loire is the birthplace of writer François Rabelais and his most famous character, Gargantua – a giant with an enormous appetite and a craving for the local fouaces – little pockets or turnovers stuffed with many different fillings such as rillettes (a pork paté-style dish), melted butter or goat’s cheese. A staple of the local cuisine, this traditional bread can be found in regional restaurants and markets – one is plain and baked in a wood-fired oven, the other looks and tastes more like a brioche. It makes a perfect side dish or appetiser.
Freshwater fish is a popular part of the Loire Valley diet and has been caught by locals since pre-Roman times. Sandre (pikeperch) and brème (bream) are especially popular. These have a delicate flavour, which is complemented by a sauce that really brings this flavour out, such as beurre blanc. This sauce is made with butter, shallots and vinegar. You can expect mouth-watering food and wine, with meals included everywhere except Amboise where there’s a wonderful selection of restaurants for you to choose from.
A haven for cheese lovers, the most popular type of cheese in the Loire is goat’s cheese, which comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures. Each one has its own distinct taste and can be paired perfectly with one of the local wines of the region. You might like to try Sainte Maure, a long log-shaped cheese, which goes well with a red Chinon wine, or Selles-sur-Cher from the neighbouring Blesois region, which requires a fresh, crisp wine such as a white Muscadet.
Researcher and Writer