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
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
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
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 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.
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
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
As the cheese matures and hardens the flavor
becomes more intense.
It goes well with Sancerre de Chavignal.
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 Loire Valley boasts of two
of the most impressive and magnificent of gothic
Chartres’ stained glass windows were created by the same
artesian that crafted the windows of the Sainte-Chappelle
Loire Valley 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
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,
Villandry. The following is a brief description of each:
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 [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
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.
Azay-le-Rideau [photos] is a
smaller castle of exceptional architectural beauty, robust
turrets and luxurious furnished rooms.
It is also considered to be one of the more beautiful
chateaux in the Valley. Named after one of it’s lords, Rideau
d’Azay, it sits on the Indre river, in the region of
Azay has its horrific past as well.
In 1418, while passing through Azay,
Charles the VII was insulted by
the Burgundy guard.
The King retaliated immediately and the town was taken over and
burned; all the guards were executed.
The chateau was rebuilt by financier Filles
Berthelot, and his wife Phillippa, in the early 16th Century. Phillippa oversaw the reconstruction of this lovely chateau.
When the monarchy’s financier fell into disfavor with the
King, he fled the country and died in exile.
Francois I confiscated Azay-le-Rideau
and gave it to one of his companions in arms, Antoine Raffin.
The history of
is interesting. It
seems that the Count of Blois married the daughter of William
the Conquerer, and Stephen, their son, became the King of
England, in 1135, while Blois was still in its prime.
The Chateau de Blois’s exterior is one of the
most beautiful of all the chateaux in the region. The
Francois I staircase is a most
noted architectural masterpiece. It is situated in the region of
Chambord [photos] is located in
the region of
Centre, departement of
Loir-et-Cher. It is, of
course, the most glorious of the chateaux de la Loire.
King Francois I already owned
Castles, but felt the need for a more elegant hunting lodge than
the one that originally occupied the setting.
Thus the King acquired over 10,000 more acres to build
this architectural jewel.
Chambord was constructed with
440 rooms and just about as many fireplaces (that you could walk
into). It was
constructed with its magnificent, Italian style double staircase
that is believed to have been designed by Leonardo de Vinci.
A person going up or down one staircase would not meet
another going the opposite direction on the other staircase.
The staircase was designed to allow the simultaneous up
and down passage, of both soldiers and horses, in times of
Chambord was quite an undertaking; the treasury
was broke, and there was no money to pay the ransom demanded for
the release of Francois’ two sons being held hostage in Spain.
But, the construction continued.
Only Francois’ imprisonment, after losing the battle of
Pavia, halted the activity for about a year.
was so enthusiastic about his project that he wanted to change
the course of the Loire river to run by Chambord. But, even the King agreed that the cost was prohibitive.
Instead, he had the Cosson river redirected to flow past
The park, which is enclosed by a wall, has
been a national hunting
reserve since 1948. The barrier is reportedly the longest in France. Chambord is
an absolute must to visit.
Chenonceaux [photos], in the
Centre, departement of
Indre-et-Loire, is a smaller
and privately owned chateau.
It is generally considered to be the most beautiful in
the Loire Valley.
Chenonceaux spans the Cher River in magnificent grandeur.
This is the Chateau that was designed, and added to, by
several women. It
has come to be known as ‘The Castle Designed, Built, and Added
To by the Women of Chenonceaux’.
The several women, during the course of some 400 years,
Briconnet, Diane de Potiers, and
Catherine de Medici, among
Chenonceaux however had quite a racy history! The chateau was originally built in 1521 by Thomas Bohier.
He was a tax collector under
Louis XII and
Bohier had originally bought the Chenenceau estate that
consisted of a manor and mill.
Out of a property dispute, with a heiress to Chenonceaux,
Bohier finally acquired all the adjoining fiefs.
Bohier then raised the old buildings with the exception
of the manor. Since
he could not personally supervise the construction of his new
chateau, due to his duties with the army near Milan, his wife
Catherine Briconnet, took charge and creatively designed and
oversaw the chateau’s construction.
The Bohiers only
enjoyed the chateau a few years before their deaths.
Their son, Antoine, ceded the chateau to Francois I in
payment of his father’s large debt to the Treasury.
Francois I used it as a hunting lodge.
bequeathed Chenonceaux to his successor,
Henri II, who in turn gave it
to his mistress Diane de Poitiers (his senior by some 20 years).
Diane turned Chenonceaux into a profitable estate through
development of its agriculture, the sale of its wine and its tax
income. Diane also
had the bridge constructed that spans the Cher, and enlarged the
Henri II was killed in a
tournament, in 1599, his wife
Catherine de Medici forced
Diane to exhange Chenonceaux for Chaumont.
She then added the two-story bridge gallery, where
magnificent galas were held, and a park that she created because
of her love for the arts.
The saga of the women of
Chenonceaux continued on; check your history books for more
Cheverny [photos] is located in
a clearing in the Sologne Forest in the region of
Its design is supposedly a to be a reproduction of a
Luxembourg Castle in the true French style favored by both
Henri IV and
construction, by Count Hurault de Cheverny, began in 1604 and
was completed in 1634.
The chateau, and its beautiful furnishings, is still
owned by Count Hurault’s descendents.
Villandry [photos], in the
Centre, departement of
Indre-et-Loire, was known as a
beautiful Renaissance Chateau (only the keep remains).
It is renowned for its marvelous gardens, one of the most
highly acclaimed in France.
Be sure to make Villandry one of your stops!