Loire Valley

Loire Valley cities and towns reflect the history, art, and architecture from the Renaissance into the Age Enlightenment that was so important in France during the eighteenth century. During these periods, some of the most magnificent structures were erected in this region that was a retreat for royalty and wealthy aristocrats, combining to create a cultural landscape of great beauty that today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 300 magnificent Loire Valley castles and chateaux dot the Loire River (France's longest river) basin in the central and northwestern part of the country.

Loire Valley tours reveal a rich history in the region that is known as the cradle of the French language. It will also reveal a lush countryside with wonderful vineyards and French wineries producing some of the country's best Muscadet and Pouilly-Fume wines. For great wine tours, you might want to be based in the city of Nantes, which will also place you only about 30 miles from the Atlantic Ocean beaches.

The Loire Valley castles and chateaux found in the lovely countryside and the churches and cathedrals in cities include some of the most gracious and beautiful buildings in all of Europe. This incredible architecture is exemplified by the Chartres Cathedral with its magnificent stained glass windows. This is considered the finest Gothic church in the country, surpassing even the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame in the capital city of Paris. Some of the more stunning Loire Valley castles and chateaux include Chenonceau, the beloved sixteenth-century home of Catherine de Medici with its graceful arched extension over the River Cher. Massive Chateau de Chambord is a classic example of French Renaissance architecture, and is one of the most recognizable of the chateaux.

A number of the smaller Loire Valley castles and chateaux are hotels and elegant bed and breakfast inns. These offer gracious accommodations in which you are treated like the owners of the manor. It is often possible to accompany the chef on market excursions into town and to assist in preparing your own gourmet meal. In addition to vineyards and wineries, this region is known for its fruits orchards and the cultivation of asparagus and artichokes, important ingredients in French cuisine.

Even though the Loire River is navigable for a good portion of its length, most Loire Valley tours are done by land. The river, although canalized, is too narrow for the modern river cruises ships that ply the Seine River in the north of France and the Rhone in the south. You can book river cruises on this river, but they are primarily done by small, intimate river barges. Many of these Loire Valley barges are quite deluxe, and are like floating luxury hotels providing accommodation for only two to six passengers.

It is possible to fill a week or more exploring the course of the river in this region. If you don't have time for this kind of vacation, it is possible to book Loire Valley tours as day excursions from Paris. You might travel to the region by motorcoach or train, departing after an early breakfast. You will usually visit from two to four chateaux and enjoy lunch during the day, before returning in the evening.

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