The Loire Valley, also known as the ‘Garden of France” has been blessed by temperate weather and good soil. Here, France’s royalty built a thousand chateaux, some of the world’s finest, and a short distance from Paris.
In 2000, UNESCO added the central part of the Loire River valley to its list of World Heritage Sites. In choosing this area that includes the French départements of Loiret, Loir-et-Cher, Indre-et-Loire, and Maine-et-Loire, the committee said that the Loire Valley is: ‘an exceptional cultural landscape, of great beauty, comprised of historic cities and villages, great architectural monuments – the Châteaux – and lands that have been cultivated and shaped by centuries of interaction between local populations and their physical environment, in particular the Loire itself.’
A visitor to the Loire Valley will find a region of France still mostly unspoiled by over-population or current fad. Fortunately, Peter Mayle wrote ‘A Year in Provence’ not ‘A Year in the Loire.’
The mount of Chinon was first fortified as a stronghold by Theobald I, Count of Blois in the year 954. In the 12th century Chinon was then independent of the kingdom of France, and was a primary residence of Henry II Plantagenet, Angevin King and King of England. King Henry died in Chinon Castle after being defeated by his sons Richard and John in a rebellion aided by Phillip Augustus of France; he, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son King Richard the Lionheart were all buried at nearby Fontevraud Abbey. Later, the château was a residence of Charles VII, the Dauphin of France in the early 15th century, when Joan of Arc arrived at the castle, at the beginning of her quest to liberate France from the English on March 8, 1429; it was here that she recognized the disguised Dauphin from amongst his courtiers, a feat which helped to persuade him to accede to her urging to declare himself king and raise an army to liberate France. A visit here is a must for any history buff.
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Royal Abbey Of Fontevraud
The Abbey was founded in 1100 by Robert of Arbrissel, who had just created a new order, the Order of Fontevrault. The first permanent structures were built between 1110 and 1119. The abbey was a double monastery, with both monks and nuns on the same site. An international success, the order established several ‘Fontevrist’ abbeys set up in England. Robert of Arbrissel declared that the leader of the order should always be a woman and appointed Petronille de Chemillé as the first abbess. She was succeeded by Matilda of Anjou, the aunt of Henry II of England. This was the start of a position that attracted many rich and noble abbesses over the years, including members of the French Bourbon royal family. In the early years the Plantagenets were great benefactors of the abbey and while Isabella d’Anjou was abbess, Henry II’s widow Eleanor of Aquitaine became a nun there. During the French Revolution, the order was dissolved. The restoration of the abbey church was finished in 2006.
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Chateau de Villandry
The Chateau of Villandry is famous for its Renaissance gardens which include a water garden, ornamental flower gardens, and vegetable gardens. The gardens are laid out in formal patterns created with low box hedges. In 1934, Château de Villandry was designated a Monument historique. Like all the other châteaux of the Loire Valley, it is a World Heritage Site.
Chateau de Chenonceau
Wines Of The Central Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a major producer of French wines, and although not as well know as Bordeaux or Burgundy, the wines can be very good and are an excellent value. The sparkling wines of the Loire Valley, called Crémant, can be the quality of Champagne at a fraction of the cost.
Red wines from the surrounding AOC regions of Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil are all made from the Cabernet Franc grape. Further east, in Sancerre there is an excellent Pinot Noir. And near Tours one can find Gamay wines.
The white wines of the AOC regions of Chinon, Saumur and Vouvray are Chenin Blanc, while Sancerre and Quincy are Sauvignon Blanc.
Some of the better wine makers in the area are:
Bernard Baudry, Chinon
Charles Jouget, Chinon
Patrick Lambert, Chinon
Thierry Boucard, Bourgueil
Chateau de Cune, Saumur-Champigny
Lucien Crochet, Sancerre
Pascal Jolivet, Sancerre
Wine tours are available through your hosts.