Loire Valley, France
The Loire Valley in France
The Loire Valley in France is renowned for its picturesque natural beauty, and the region also combines all the ingredients of what the French consider to be the good life. The Valley is the home of gorgeous architecture, historic monuments, and fabulous French cuisine and wine from the Loire Valley vineyards. The various chateaux, including the famous Chenonceau Castle, are must-visit locations for serious travellers, and there are treasures and delights waiting for all kinds of travellers to discover. Some will relish seeing the iconic landmarks: magnificent castles and remnants of medieval life in quaint villages. Others will be drawn to the charming towns and cities, and the history featuring Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years’ War. Gourmands will find endless delicacies to relish. Others still will be taken with the lush scenery, traditional gardens, and breathtaking vistas. There is something for every kind of traveller in this postcard-perfect area of France.
There’s a certain fairy-tale quality to the Loire Valley. The earth seems particularly fertile here, giving forth an abundance of produce each year, and the village have a pastoral quaintness to them. The farmland is ideal for fruit-growing and grazing cattle. And the temperature is well-suited to cheese-making and wine production. The gentle, quiet pace of life gives the entire region a languid mood. There’s an air of calm that permeates the Loire. And despite welcoming many tourists each year, the locals have succeeded in preserving its majestic beauty. In fact, in 2000, UNESCO declared the area a World Heritage site. The classification recognises the remarkable preservation efforts that have taken place across the centuries.
The Loire is often referred to as both the Cradle of the French and the Garden of France. These titles refer to the abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards, as well as artichoke and asparagus fields that line the banks of the river.
The Loire River
The Loire is the largest river in France, and has been nicknamed “the Royal River.” Spanning more than 1,000 kilometres, the Loire is to France what the Mississippi is to the United States. It stretches from Orleans to Angers, and has been central to French identity for centuries.
The Loire is the longest river in France and the 171st longest in the world. It drains an astonishing one fifth of France’s total land area.
The river also has a level of biodiversity that is higher than all other French rivers. It contains the highest numbers of phytoplankton, for instance, as well as a variety of algae forms.
With more than 100 alga species, the Loire has the highest phytoplankton diversity among French rivers. The most abundant are diatoms and green algae (about 15% by mass) which mostly occur in the lower reaches. The Loire Basin also contains nearly every French freshwater species of fish. More than 57 varieties can be found in the river, with many species migrating north to spawn. Common fish in the Loire include sea trout, sea lamprey, shads, and Atlantic Salmon. These fish have also been put to culinary use over the centuries, and are featured in many local dishes to this day.
The river also sustains diverse bird life, and conservation efforts in recent years have seen numbers of certain species increase. Around 164 species of nesting birds live in the Loire region.
The History of the Loire Valley France
Steeped in rich history, the Loire Valley has been hotly contested since the first humans arrived. Numerous powers have fought for control of its fertile soil and natural resources over the ages.
Notable for its historic towns, architecture, and wines, the valley has been inhabited since the Middle Palaeolithic period. Modern human arrival began in the Neolitich period (6,000 to 4,500 BC), and extended through the Stone Age. The Gauls, arrived next, inhabiting the Loire for the duration of the Iron Age, 1500 to 500 BC. Gauls were using the river as a major trading route by 600 BC, an established a thriving trade with various Mediterranean nations, including Greece. When Julius Caesar invaded in 56 BC, the valley become a province of Rome.
It was not until the arrival of Emperor Augustus, however, that the region begun to enjoy peace and stability. Under Augustus, towns and communities began to flourish. This growth allowed for local cultures and regional variations to develop. And since Augustus was the first to introduce grape vines to the region, we have him to think for the long history of fine Loire wines. Augustus’s influence can still be seen in towns like Orleans, Le Mans, Angers, Tours, and Chartres.
History of the Valley Continued…
The enormous number of Chateaux that line the banks of the River date from the early medieval period to the late Renaissance. They are part of an ancient feudal system of land management, and were used to divide up the land for private use. They were also used to assert dominance in the political divide between the North and South. Today, some chateaux are own and run by the State, while the majority are privately owned.
In more recent history, the region played an important part in World War I, since Tours served as a based for the American Expeditionary Force. The city was also temporarily the seat of the French Government, before moving to Bordeaux by the time of the outbreak of WWII. The small town of Montoire is famous as the location where Hitler negotiated an armistice with Marshal Petain. These negotiations led to the country being split into two: an occupied and a free zone. Hitler’s forces took more than two thirds of France, with only one third (Vichy France) remaining free. Led by Petain, this region held out from Nazi occupation until 1944, when Allied Forces recaptured the nation. In terms of the Loire, almost all of the region was held in the occupied zone, with the exception of Southern Touraine.
Geography of The Loire
Due to major tectonic deformations, the Loire changed its course over millennia to flow from the original outfall into the English Channel to a new outfall into the Atlantic Ocean. This process created what is now a narrow series of gorges. It also resulted in the rich alluvium soil that is so prized by wine-growers and horticulturists to this day.
The Loire’s river flow is particularly high in the river area near Roanne and Vichy up to the confluence with the Allier. In the middle section of the river, in the Loire Valley, numerous dikes built between the 12th and 19th century exist, providing mitigation against flooding. In this section the river is relatively straight, except for the area near Orléans and numerous sand banks and islands exist. The lower course of the river is characterized by wetlands and fens, which are of major importance to conservationists given that they form unique habitats for migratory birds.
The region has fair weather for most of the year, and the river is often thought to be a dividing line between France’s cooler northern climate and its warmer southern region. In fact, the river has a significant effect on vineyard temperatures. It is often substantially warmer (by a few degrees) in the immediate vicinity of the river, which means that grapes can be cultivated for more of the year than regions to the immediate north or south of the Loire.
Tourism in the Loire Valley France
Every year, tourists from across the world flock to the Loire valley to experience the many riches it has to offer. As mentioned, the region is rich in gastronomic delights: trying the exceptional local cheeses and wines is a must. It also contains various troglodytic caves, and other traces of prehistoric inhabitation.
Another formidable attraction is the Château de Chambord, the largest chateaux in the region. Also worth visiting is the sumptuous Château de Cheverny, which inspired the cartoonist Hergé to create Tintin’s fictional Château de Moulinsart. Overhanging the Loire, the Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire and its domain offer one of the most beautiful panorama over the royal river. Every year, the Gardens Festival propose amazing gardens around a different theme to its visitors. The Park of the Château de Valençay is home to the largest maze in France! It also hosts a spectacular light show that draws many tourists each year.
The region is also home to many music festivals, including the always popular Printemps de Bourges. Musically, the region is renowned for its jazz musicians and innovations. The annual Jazz en Touraine and Jazz en Val de Cher festivals showcase the best French musicians in this genre. Cities such as Chartres, Orléans, and Tours all feature classical musical festivals and events in their elegant cathedrals and châteaux. SThe Renaissance Music Festival at Clos Lucé is a particular highlight of the cultural calender, as are the Festival de Sully and Loiret and the Chartres International Organ Festival.
Loire Valley Specialties
The cuisine and wine of the Loire has been celebrated the world over. The region contains countless specialties and local delicacies, which can be procured in markets and village restaurants. Beloved Loire specialities include andouillettes (sausage) from Jargeau, Orléans poultry, game from Sologne, freshwater fish from the Loire River, and green lentils from Berry. Cheese-lovers have particular admiration for the crottin de Chavignol, chèvre from Selles-sur-Cher, and the Valençay pyramide. The region offers numerous delectable desserts, including pithiviers (almond pastry), chocolates, and tarte tatin.
Loire vineyards are among the finest in the world, and are characterised by their depth and variety. Across the entire length of the river, the adjacent soil brings forth spectacular grapes each year. Travellers will soon develop a sense for the different varieties and hallmarks of Loire wine. Cellar Doors are a must, as is the chance to talk with winemakers. These talented producers are always keen to share their knowledge and passion, which have often been passed down through the generations. Wine Houses at Tours, Cheverny, and Sancerre all offer extensive tours, which introduce visitors to a range of different flavours and bouquets.
Odyssey Tours to the Loire Valley France
Odyssey is offering a memorable travel experience of this region through our popular Loire Valley Walking Tour for Retirees. This eighteen-day tour has been specially designed to cater to the active senior, both couples and solo travellers. The tour offers a guided walking tour that reveals religious buildings and castles, cultivated land and wild landscapes. The landscape we explore on foot has witnessed thousands of years of interactions between man and nature. It is a cultural landscape of exception. The Loire River is central to this walk. As the largest river in France, it is nicknamed “the Royal River.” Our tour includes a multi-day walk exploring the cultural heritage of several villages situated on the river. On this walk we take several days in several locations explore the cultural heritage and hidden gems of these landscapes.
Keen walkers with an interest in France will find countless spectacular paths in the Loire Valley. Not only will we journey through amazing landscapes and beautiful scenery, we also spend time visiting some of the country’s most famous chateaux. The tour is designed so that participants can do all of the proposed walks or opt out on days when they’d rather simply explore the more immediate environs of their accommodation.
For more details, and a full itinerary, please visit this link. You may also be interested in our popular small group tour, “La Belle France Small Group Escorted History Tour for Seniors.” You can find more details on this tour here.
For some tips on how to prepare for Odyssey Walking Tours, please take a look at this blog post.
Discover more in the Loire Valley France!
If you’re curious to learn more about the Loire Valley France, and what you can find there, here are some resources: The Guardian: French road trip: Châteaux and wine in the Loire valley
New York Times: A French Castle, Now Open to All
Originally published on November 27, 2017.
Updated on November 8, 2019.