travel guide

The region of Chateaux and fairytale castles

No visit to France is really complete without a trip through the Chateau country, the center of which is Tours. Make this city your headquarters and then take any of the standard trips to Blois, Amboise, Chaumont, Chenonceaux, Chambord, Loches, Luynes, Langeais, Villandry, Azay-le-Rideau, Chinon. During summer months Sound and Light Spectacles are given every night in most of these chateaux similar to those in Versailles. Night trips can be arranged from Paris or from Tours. The central section of the Loire Valley, from Orleans to Angers, is called the `garden of France’, because of its gentle light and rich pastures along the banks of the broad river and its tributaries, the Vienne, Indre, Cher, and Loir. It is a focal point of French history, a region traditionally royal and serene, famous today for the chateaux, castles, and abbeys built by the kings and abbots who settled here. The Capetian dynasty came from the Loire in the Ioth cent., their descendants, the Valois kings, built most of the great chateaux in the 15th and 16th cents.
Some of the chateaux are furnished in magnificent style; some are in ruins; others are visited for their architectural interest. Azay-le-Rideau contains a kitchen which is a rarity. It has, too, a Fontainebleau tapestry ordered by Charles I for the city of Rome. Villandry is famous for its Spanish Museum, its beautiful gardens. Chenonceaux is one of the most famous and is the castle given to Diane de Poitiers by Henry II. The gardens were ruined in 1944 by bombings but the chateau was unharmed.

Blois contains an ornate staircase in its inner court. Here, too, is the death chamber of Catherine de Medicis and her private chapel. Amboise is furnished with period pieces, Aubusson tapestries; there is an interesting collection of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century armors in the guardroom. Chambord is an enormous place with 365 rooms. There are innumerable turrets and spires, a wall surrounding the gardens and an estate which is the largest in France.
Visit Vouvray while in Tours. Here is where some of the finest wines in the world are made. Visit the vineyards with their acres and acres of grapes. While in Tours take a run down the Cognac country, if you are a brandy fancier. Here is the world-famous center for the Cognac which takes its name from the city and the region. A little farther on is Bordeaux, which is as famous for its wines as Cognac is for its brandy.Chambord, created by Francis I as a hunting-lodge, is the most massive, but some of the smaller ones are more pleasing, notably Azay-le-Rideau, beside the River Indre, and feminine Chenonceaux on pillars astride the Cher, marked by the personalities of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medicis. Other chateaux well worth a visit are Blois, Amboise, Chaumont, Loches, and Villandry. The Castle of Chinon, an imposing fortress on a hill, dates from the early Middle Ages and today is largely in ruins.

Orleans has associations with Joan of Arc, and there are some fine wooden choir-stalls in the cathedral. Bourges, to the S., has splendid stained glass in its cathedral, and’a flourishing new arts centre. Tours, on the Loire, is a graceful university town, with a cathedral and museum. Angers, capital of Anjou, has a castle with notable tapestries. To the N., Le Mans is famous for its motorrace in June.
The wines of the Loire are famous: rose from Anjou, full red Bourgueil or Vouvray from Touraine, fine, dry whites, ideal with shellfish. The red wines go well with classic Loire cooking, which is not very different from Burgundian, coq an vin being a great favourite.