|Introduction to the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is also known as the Chateaux de la Loire [the Castles of the Loire]. Its’ fairytale castles are rich in the renaissance architecture that was in vogue during the period that saw the castles renovated and expanded. The renaissance also influenced the magnificent courtly gardens that abound in the area. The Loire Valley entered its renaissance period in the 16th century. As elsewhere in Europe, the period brought with it new, artistic ideas in architecture.
Because of it’s beautiful and game rich forests, the kings and nobility made this area the preferred habitat for their castles. Their fairytale castles were nestled in the forests surrounded by their splendid garden type settings that bordered the winding Loire river and her tributaries, the Cher, Indrois and Indre.
The history, the grandeur and the beauty, of these architectural wonders is beyond anything that one can imagine. A visit to a chateau or two, will leave you awe stricken, actually feeling as though you are a part of the history that occurred there.
A trip to the Loire Valley is an absolute must. It is quickly accessible, from any part of France, by train, bus or car. The trains in France are wonderfully comfortable and fast.
The Loire Valley’s primary industry is agriculture, and the city of Blois is its agricultural and commercial center. The area has long been noted for its wheat and really superior vegetables such as asparagus and strawberries.
Val-de-Loire boasts twenty-two world-class wines. Loire wines are known, near and far, for their light, fruity flavor and bouquet. Some of the more noted are: Sancerre, Valencay, Montlouis, Pouilly Fouisse and of course, one of our favorites, Vouvray.
The area is also well known for its specialty cheese which include:
The Loire Valley boasts of two of the most impressive and magnificent of gothic cathedrals: Bourges and Chartres. Chartres’ stained glass windows were created by the same artesian that crafted the windows of the Sainte-Chappelle in Paris.
The Loire Valley Chateaux
There are a thousand chateaux in France, and some of the most outstanding are in the Loire Valley. All of the chateaux de la Loire are exceptional in their own rights, and whether an historical site is owned privately or by the government, the tours through these beautiful castles are the only practical means to support them. France is fortunate to possess these many standing castles after all the ravages through the centuries of wars.
Some of the better-known, and most visited chateaux, are: Amboise, Angers, Azay-le-Rideau, Blois, Chambord, Chenonceaux, Cheverny, andVillandry. The following is a brief description of each:
Amboise [photos] is located in the region of Centre, departement of Indre-et Loire. This is a grand fortress perched on a cliff overlooking the Loire River on one side and the arched gateway and cobble stone streets of the village on its other side. Only twenty-five percent of the Chateaux remain, and of those, Amboise is quite extraordinary.
Amboise was originally known for its many festive gatherings and happenings. The festive association was changed by the Amboise Conspiracy, in 1560, and the Wars of Religion. These were sinister times for the chateau, due to the slaughter of hundreds of Protestants that took place there. Today, Amboise is a site that is used for the many FESTIVE events that act as a beacon for tourists.
Angers [photos], which is in the region of Western Loire [Pays de la Loire], departement of Maine-et-Loire, is the former capital of Anjou, sitting on the banks of the River Maine. The chateau dates back to the first century BC. It has known both Roman and Viking rule and has suffered vast physical ruin, together with the loss of much of its land holdings during those turbulent times terminating in the Religious Wars. For the duration of the later epoch, the chateau suffered even more devastation than Amboise. Continuing confrontations, between the Protestants and Catholics, were unrelenting. In an effort to abate the turmoil, Henri IV, in 1598, promised the marriage of his son to the daughter of the Duc de Mercoeur (the leader of the Catholic Party); the marriage contract was signed in April when the children were three and six years old!
The construction of the Moorish looking Angers began in 1228 and was finished about ten years later. It was originally encircled by wide moats that have been converted into today’s gardens. Initially, the towers were one to two stories taller, but were ordered demolished by the King during the Wars of Religion. Instead, the castle’s governor merely had the towers reduced in height. The King died, during the first part of the demolition, which saved the chateau from being totally destroyed.
If you are an admirer of fine tapestry, the famous ‘Apocalypse’ tapestry can be viewed here. The tapestry is housed in the 600 year old building that was designed for it. This building is the oldest and largest, of the castle’s structures, to survive in such a grand state. The surviving tapestry itself contains over 76 scenes that depict the book of John (the last book of the New Testament), and the coming of a new Jerusalem.
Azay-le-Rideau [photos] is a smaller castle of exceptional architectural beauty, robust turrets and luxurious furnished rooms. It is also considered to be one of the more beautiful chateaux in the Valley. Named after one of it’s lords, Rideau d’Azay, it sits on the Indre river, in the region of Centre, departement of Indre-et-Loire.
Azay has its horrific past as well. In 1418, while passing through Azay, Charles the VII was insulted by the Burgundy guard. The King retaliated immediately and the town was taken over and burned; all the guards were executed.
The chateau was rebuilt by financier Filles Berthelot, and his wife Phillippa, in the early 16th Century. Phillippa oversaw the reconstruction of this lovely chateau. When the monarchy’s financier fell into disfavor with the King, he fled the country and died in exile.
Francois I confiscated Azay-le-Rideau and gave it to one of his companions in arms, Antoine Raffin.
The history of Blois [photos] is interesting. It seems that the Count of Blois married the daughter of William the Conquerer, and Stephen, their son, became the King of England, in 1135, while Blois was still in its prime.
The Chateau de Blois’s exterior is one of the most beautiful of all the chateaux in the region. The Francois I staircase is a most noted architectural masterpiece. It is situated in the region of Centre, departement of Loir-et-Cher.
Chambord [photos] is located in the region of Centre, departement of Loir-et-Cher. It is, of course, the most glorious of the chateaux de la Loire. King Francois I already owned Amboise, Blois and Chenonceaux Castles, but felt the need for a more elegant hunting lodge than the one that originally occupied the setting. Thus the King acquired over 10,000 more acres to build this architectural jewel.
Chambord was constructed with 440 rooms and just about as many fireplaces (that you could walk into). It was constructed with its magnificent, Italian style double staircase that is believed to have been designed by Leonardo de Vinci. A person going up or down one staircase would not meet another going the opposite direction on the other staircase. The staircase was designed to allow the simultaneous up and down passage, of both soldiers and horses, in times of siege.
Chambord was quite an undertaking; the treasury was broke, and there was no money to pay the ransom demanded for the release of Francois’ two sons being held hostage in Spain. But, the construction continued. Only Francois’ imprisonment, after losing the battle of Pavia, halted the activity for about a year.
The King was so enthusiastic about his project that he wanted to change the course of the Loire river to run by Chambord. But, even the King agreed that the cost was prohibitive. Instead, he had the Cosson river redirected to flow past the castle.
The park, which is enclosed by a wall, has been a national hunting reserve since 1948. The barrier is reportedly the longest in France. Chambord is an absolute must to visit.
Chenonceaux [photos], in the region of Centre, departement of Indre-et-Loire, is a smaller and privately owned chateau. It is generally considered to be the most beautiful in the Loire Valley. Chenonceaux spans the Cher River in magnificent grandeur. This is the Chateau that was designed, and added to, by several women. It has come to be known as ‘The Castle Designed, Built, and Added To by the Women of Chenonceaux’. The several women, during the course of some 400 years, were: Catherine Briconnet, Diane de Potiers, and Catherine de Medici, among others.
Chenonceaux however had quite a racy history! The chateau was originally built in 1521 by Thomas Bohier. He was a tax collector underCharles VII, Louis XII and Francois I. Bohier had originally bought the Chenenceau estate that consisted of a manor and mill. Out of a property dispute, with a heiress to Chenonceaux, Bohier finally acquired all the adjoining fiefs. Bohier then raised the old buildings with the exception of the manor. Since he could not personally supervise the construction of his new chateau, due to his duties with the army near Milan, his wife Catherine Briconnet, took charge and creatively designed and oversaw the chateau’s construction.
The Bohiers only enjoyed the chateau a few years before their deaths. Their son, Antoine, ceded the chateau to Francois I in payment of his father’s large debt to the Treasury. Francois I used it as a hunting lodge.
Francois I bequeathed Chenonceaux to his successor, Henri II, who in turn gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers (his senior by some 20 years). Diane turned Chenonceaux into a profitable estate through development of its agriculture, the sale of its wine and its tax income. Diane also had the bridge constructed that spans the Cher, and enlarged the chateau. However, when Henri II was killed in a tournament, in 1599, his wife Catherine de Medici forced Diane to exhange Chenonceaux for Chaumont. She then added the two-story bridge gallery, where magnificent galas were held, and a park that she created because of her love for the arts.
The saga of the women of Chenonceaux continued on; check your history books for more details!
Cheverny [photos] is located in a clearing in the Sologne Forest in the region of Centre, departement of Loire-et-Cher. Its design is supposedly a to be a reproduction of a Luxembourg Castle in the true French style favored by both Henri IV and Louis XIII.
Cheverny’s construction, by Count Hurault de Cheverny, began in 1604 and was completed in 1634. The chateau, and its beautiful furnishings, is still owned by Count Hurault’s descendents.
Villandry [photos], in the region of Centre, departement of Indre-et-Loire, was known as a beautiful Renaissance Chateau (only the keep remains). It is renowned for its marvelous gardens, one of the most highly acclaimed in France. Be sure to make Villandry one of your stops! Region of Western Loire, Town Information
The Information on the Towns of Western Loire
Nants is located in the northwest corner of the region of Pays de la Loire [Western Loire], just to the south of Brittany. It is situated in western France on the Loire River, some 35 miles [56 km] from the Atlantic [Bay of Biscay] where the Erdre River [from the north] and the Sèvre River [which originates in the Deux-Sèvres] mix with the Loire.
By road, Nantes is 66 miles [110 km] south of Rennes, 221 miles [368 km] west southwest of Paris, 118 miles [196 km] west of Tours and 578 miles [964 km] northwest of Marseille.
Nantes City Information
The city of Nantes is the capital of two French administrative areas: the département of Loire-Atlantique and the region of Pays de la Loire [Western Loire]. In 1999 there were some 270,000 inhabitants of the city and a total of 492,000 people living within the metropolitan area. The autonomous port of Nantes-Donges-Saint-Nazaire is the fourth largest seaport in France.
The city’s name is derived from the name of the Gallic tribe, known as the Namnètes, who had made the site of Nantes their capital long before the coming of the Romans around 50BC. The Romans had made the site a commercial and administrative center. In 834, the Normans pillaged the town and occupied it until 936.
Nantes was bitterly fought over, during the Middle Ages, by the counts of Rennes and the counts of Nantes. In the 10th-century, the duke of Brittany took the town. In 1532, along with Brittany, it passed to the French crown. In 1560, king François II of France, granted the town a communal constitution. From 1562 to 1598, during the Wars of Religion, the town was a member of the Catholic League. In 1598, the people of Nantes finally welcomed the French king, Henry IV. That same year, he signed the Edict of Nantes, granting religious and civil liberties to the Protestants.
During the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, in 1793, the revolutionary Committee of Public Safety’s ruthless envoy Jean-Baptiste Carrier, executed large numbers of its inhabitants. To enhance efficiency, he replaced executions by guillotining [which he considered too slow] by mass drowning.
Nantes is considered to be one of the French towns most changed during the 20th –century. In 1920, a far-reaching urban renewal plan was adopted that greatly modified the city. During World War II, the city was occupied by the Germans and was partly destroyed during the war. Following the war, the city was widely replanned and rebuilt. Roads were built on river fill, the railroad [which used to cut across town] is now underground and the port was extended and rebuilt.
Under the French Government’s national urban plan, Nantes has been designated as a major economic development center. Many large projects are either underway or have been finished. These include the extension of air [Nantes-Atlantique Airport], rail and road communications, the building of vast industrial zones and the modification of the port to accommodate larger sea-going vessels.
Nantes Points of Interest
The 15th-century Gothic cathedral of Saint-Pierre was constructed over a 500 year period, into the 20th-century. There are three impressive, finely sculptured doorways set in its façade between two high towers. Although the structure had been bombed, during WWII, it had been virtually rebuilt when, in 1972, a fire largely destroyed the roof, leaving King François II’s Renaissance tomb undisturbed.
François II’s 10th-century medieval chateau, which the king had rebuilt in 1466, looks like a fortification from the outside. But inside, behind the crenellated towers, is a typical Renaissance inner courtyard and palace.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts is a noted art museum that is worth the visit to view one of the most varied and important collection of paintings in all of France.
Nantes’ shipbuilding yards have long been a key pin in the area’s economic development. During the 1970’s, the city’s chemical, aerospace equipment, clothing and mechanical industries expanded rapidly. Processed food, including baked goods and fruit preserves, are also produced.
University of Nantes
The University of Nantes was originally founded in 1460, but was abolished during the French Revolution. It was reestablished in 1961. In 1970, under the 1968 law reforming French education, the autonomous Université de Nantes was founded replacing the former university that was founded in 1961. The university offers, among other fields, law, economics, business administration, medicine, the sciences, pharmacy and liberal arts. Two-year courses are offered at the Institute of Technology.
|Region of Western Loire, Département of Loire-Atlantique
|Region of Western Loire, Département of Maine-et-Loire
|Region of Western Loire, Département of Mayenne
|Region of Western Loire, Département of Sarthe
|Region of Western Loire, Département of Vendee
The Location of Western LoireThe History of Western Loire
The Geography of Western Loire
The Culture of Western Loire
The Gastronomy of Western Loire
The Economic Activity of Western Loire