Royal Chateaux Country
Your suggested itinerary in the Loire Valley
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The TGV from Paris's Gare Montparnasse reaches Vendôme and Tours in
less than an hour. Via the autoroute, follow the A10 from Paris
direction Bordeaux-Tours, then follow signs to Orléans.
Mild most of the year. The Loire is often the line of demarcation in
France's weather, between the Northern climate and the Southern.
SPORTS & LEISURE:
The Loire is the best biking territory in the country, flat and
scenic. Bikes can be rented from local bike shops, from most railroad
stations, and from some hotels. Local and regional tourist boards provide
information and often maps for the multitude of excellent cycling
Hiking is very popular in Sologne and Berry, further south, with
their forests populated by deer, boar and other wildlife. With their many
rivers and streams, they are particularly good for fishing and
canoeing. There are many golf courses in the region, for all levels of
players, and there is ballooning for the adventurous.
This is nature's territory; remember insect repellent for the deep
woods and riverbanks.
FOOD & WINE:
Regional specialties include crottin de Chavignol, a flat disc of
goat cheese made just outside Sancerre, and other notable goat cheeses
including Ste-Maure de Touraine, Valençay and Selles-sur-Cher. There is
Loire salmon or sandre a delicate white freshwater fish, and a variety
of other fish from the ponds of Sologne. Fall hunting puts game on
regional tables: deer, baby boar, duck. Two classic French desserts come
from the Loire: sablés cookies and tarte tatin, thick, caramelized
upside-down apple pie.
Loire Valley wines are legendary. Earthy, flinty Sancerre, both the
outstanding white and the lesser-known red; the light red Chinon; and
the lightly-sparkling white Vouvray are all good choices. Vouvray is
also noted for its sweet wines, which age remarkably well. Most Loire
wines, even the reds, should be served chilled.
Not only are there the famous great châteaux-Chenonceau, Chambord,
Blois, Azay-le-Rideau-but also dozens of smaller, lesser-known châteaux,
many of them owned and occupied by the same families for centuries:
among them Beauregard, Cheverny, Meillant, Ainay-le-Vieil, Bouges,
Valençay, Maintenon, Anet. Many of them are occupied but offer guided
tours, some have a few rooms available for bed & breakfast (chambres
d'hôte), some are full-fledged hotels.
In Berry there are also the Châteaux of the Route Jacques Coeur.
Nearly all the smaller châteaux offering tours close between noon and
2:00 p.m. If you do take a guided tour, don't forget to tip the guide
at least five francs, or better ten.
The Cathedrals at Chartres and Bourges; in Orléans, Joan of Arc's
house, Beaux-Arts Museum, Parc Floral de la Source; in Tours, the old
town, Cathedral of St-Gatien, Compagnonnage Museum; Gothic Abbey in
Vendôme; Gardens of the Château de Villandry; Romanesque Basilica of St-Benoît-sur-Loire.
Lelia, or the Life of George Sand, André Maurois.
Le Grand Meaulnes, Henri-Alain Fournier
The Human Comedy, Honoré de Balzac