Fabulously French

French Regions: Centre-Val de Loire

Categorised by its lengthy vineyards, towering châteaux, aristocratic history and famous Loire river, the Centre Val de Loire is a region of beauty, wonder and enchantment.

Region Capital: Orléans

Birthplace of Joan of Arc, and the French city from which New Orleans gets its name, Orléans is rich with history. Find homages to Joan of Arc across the city, the Place General-du-Gaulle a recreation of her house. Saint Croix Cathedral is the city’s gothic Notre Dame that differs from the beautiful neo-classical architecture elsewhere in the city. From extensive exhibitions at Musée des Beaux-Arts, to the 32 hectare Parc Floral de la Source, Orléans is the capital for good reason.

 

Photo credit: Hernán Piñera

Cities

Tours’ legacy stems as far back as the 1st century. The Gallo-Roman sites, such as the aqueduct, depict the fascinating history of the area. Narrow, labyrinthine lanes are busy with gabled and timbered medieval structures in the form of cafés, patisseries and antique stores. The impressive cathedral, as well as the museums and churches, make up much of the awesome architecture of Gothic, neoclassical and baroque design, demonstrating the endless influences in the city.

Amboise rests sleepily on the banks of the Loire River. The alabaster white buildings are broken up with bursts of vibrant meadow flowers that billow from windows. The 15th century Châteaux d’Amboise is the main attraction, and completely unmissable. Though as white as the buildings below, this UNESCO World Heritage Site towers above them. Leonardo Di Vinci is famously buried in the chapel here. You can even visit his home at the Châteaux du Clos Lucé, now a museum.

Nature

The Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional Nature Park takes up over 270 hectares of the region. It is a mass of wildlife, from birds to butterflies, bats to beavers. Much of it is comprised of farmland, cultivated fields and meadows. The forests, too, are marked with designated walkways. That is not to say that the hand of man has at all tainted the elegance of the landscape. Rather, the only human interventions you will find have made the park accessible so that we may enjoy without damaging.

Réserve Nationale de Chasse de Chambord, or Chambord National Hunting Reserve, is named such as it was used as a lodging for the King when he would spend the hunting seasons here. The 800 acres of grounds are surrounded by a 100ft wall. Inside it is still very much wild. You’ll likely come across a deer or boar on your walks, with lakes of deep turquoise, meadows and moorland, as well as woodlands.

Activity

The entire châteaux district is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, given its impeccable splendour. It became a haven for the French aristocracy and royalty who used these enchanting abodes as their retreats. The almost celestial atmosphere of this picture-perfect region plants you into a Disney-esque dreamscape of pruned gardens, sky-high turrets, deep, defensive moats and extraordinary architectural design. Offering over 70 châteaux, it seems overwhelming at first, until you see our Loire Valley Tour, of course, which compiles it all for you.

No list of the Loire region would be complete without a tribute to the exquisite wines that are produced here. Discover the history and process of the wine with a tour. Either book in advance or stop at a local winery on your travels and ask for a few samples. You can opt for tours lasting several days, to just an afternoon. Longer options often include a tour of the vineyard, grape picking and a comprehensive tasting session.

The Troglodyte Village in Rochemenier is completely captivating. It’s an entire community dug inside the cliffs. Dating bath to the 13th century, it even has its own chapel. There’s 20 rooms that can be discovered with a guided presentation, and a museum that is celebrating its 50th year.

Gastronomy

Due to its rich, fertile soil, the fruit here is spectacular: fresh; crisp; juicy. So when you’re choosing desserts make sure to go for a fruit based pastry, such as plum pie or Tarte Tatin. Try finding a local farm with a café as the fruits used in the sweet treats will be grown there.

Cheese is also a delicacy in the region. For a cow milk cheese choose Curé Nantais, a soft cheese with its roots in the French revolution. St Julien de Concelles, the town from which the cheese originates, is where you’ll find the finest Curé Nantais. For goat milk cheese look for Crottin de Chavignol. This cheese is rare in that it can be eaten at various stages of maturation and does not sour.

Sweet tooths, head to Sologne for some of the finest honey in Europe. Coming from a tradition begun in 1775, the honey is made from various plants, including hawthorn, acacia, chestnut trees and heather. It is harvested cold and the taste of each honey is notably different depending on the plant.

 

Photo credit: Daniel Jolivet

For Families

Looking for a thrill? Papéa Parc is a theme park with everything from an aviary to a log flume. With rides for all ages, the little ones can enjoy petting the animals at the mini farm, or taking a turn on the carousel. For older kids, there’s plenty of rides that will have you screaming.

Sitting beneath the valley, just outside of Tours, are the Caves of Savonnières. Sublime spikes descend, as if icicles made of stone in caves that range of pure white to deep orange. Formed from a process that began 100 million years ago, this is the coolest history lesson your kids could ask for. There’s even a prehistoric animals cave (and wine tasting for the grown-ups).

Parc Mini Châteaux boasts miniatures of 41 of the regions châteaux. Feel like giants above this tiny world, with the miniature châteaux 1/25th of their actual size. Some of the most popular châteaux are here, including Chambord, Amboise and Samur, there’s even abbeys and a pagoda. The park is finished off with miniature gardens and mini attractions including mini Bugatti and remote control boats.

For Couples

A candle-lit meal is a romantic, intimate experience that never fails, especially when set in the heart of the stunning French countryside at the Château De Pray. This Michelin-star restaurant offers dinner in the salon, orangery or vault, so you can choose the setting that most appeals to you.

Experience the aura of forbidden love that surrounds the Castle Candé. This outstanding structure, as if taken straight from a fairy-tale, was where Prince Edward of Wales and Wallis Simpson married after he had abdicated the throne to be with her.

See the region by water or air. Choose romantic aerial views of the valley, getting a birds-eye view of the stunning gardens, meandering waterways and quaint towns below. Alternatively, opt for a boat trip down the Loire, the longest river in France. The waters have seen so much of history, you’ll almost ask them to tell you all the secrets they hold. It’s also a charming way to see the forests, meadows and castles of the region, with nothing but the tranquil sound of the waters.

Getting There

Dieppe is our closest port, just 5 hours from Loire, making our Newhaven-Dieppe ferry crossing a great option for you. However, if you’re heading from eastern or central England our Dover-Dunkirk or Calais ferry is ideal. Our Dunkirk and Calais ports are approximately 6 hours from Loire.

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