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Big France: Visiting the Loire River Valley

September 27th, 2018 · No Comments · France, Languedoc

France is the biggest country in western Europe, in terms of area, which is nothing to sneeze at, considering it is nearly as big as Texas.

A person can visit here many times, or live here for a year or two, without getting around to setting foot in even half the country’s wide array of climates, accents, regional cuisines, housing styles …

So it is interesting to be in the Loire, because it bears little resemblance to our home in the Herault/Languedoc … and even less of a resemblance to the megalopolis that is greater Paris.

Some key factors:

–The Loire is mostly flat. Some hills but no mountains.

–The Loire River is the longest in France, at 629 miles, most of it navigable, and drains about 20 percent of the country.

–The river valley remains forested, in more than a few areas, and this is a country that pretty much chopped down most of its trees centuries ago.

–It has unique architecture that seems a bit like Normandy and its half-timbered homes … but not really.

–It is a tourist magnet, perhaps because it is a fairly easy drive from the south of England, as well as from Paris.

–And perhaps most distinctive of all … it has upward of 100 major chateaux — buildings constructed mostly in the 15th and 16th centuries at the pleasure of wealthy local royals.

This area, about a 1.5-hour drive west of Paris, is best known to the outside world for those grand and sprawling chateaux.

We already have visited Chambord, perhaps the No. 1 example of chateau-building, and also have seen Blois’s chateau, perched on a cliff above the wide Loire River. We visit Chenonceau today (see photo, above) and may add one or two of Villandry, Amboise and Cheverny before Saturday evening.

After a few days, you get a sense of a region filled with mighty buildings, some of which are well-maintained but others that are slowly crumbling. Some of which are furnished, and some less so, and some that are nothing but the walls and towers — though those are mighty enough, in some cases, to evoke awe.

We are confronting the issue of chateau fatigue. Our sense is that the more ambitious tourists are doing two chateaux a day, one before lunch, one after. We are settling for one.

We visited Chenonceau, in part because a Cher River cruise departs from near there, and we want to get a sense of being on the river.

(Curious stat: In one of the Horatio Hornblower books, “Flying Colours”, by C.S. Forrester, Hornblower makes a long escape from captivity in France by floating down the Loire, evading re-capture, and going from near the source on the Massif Central … to the port city of Nantes.)

The thing about France is that we have so many more regions to see, if we want to be able to speak with the slightest authority on the collective. From the flat of Picardy in the northwest to the lofty Alps in the east, from the coastal areas of La Rochelle down to Bordeaux to the mountainous areas around Lorraine in the northwest. From the tip of Brittany to the resort areas of Provence in the southeast of the country.

We hope five days in the Loire will be enough to give us a sense of the area. It probably will not be; too much of it to get your arms around, like most of France. Remember, it has more than 300 different kinds of cheese.


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