Loire Valley

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.

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 routes

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.

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