Stretching for 1,000 kilometres from its source in the central Ardèche to its mouth where it empties into the Atlantic near Saint Nazaire, the Loire river has helped shape French culture and identity. But it’s the surrounding valley – known as “the garden of France” – with its soft green fertile land, limestone hills, châteaux and vineyards that attracts people from far and wide. It’s this beauty that persuaded UNESCO to designate a 300km stretch of the valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes as a World Heritage Site in 2000.
Whether you’re looking for ancient villages, medieval towns or sophisticated cities the Loire valley offers history, style and splendour in abundance. Here’s a selection of destinations that typify the lure of the Loire.
Located in Upper Brittany, primarily on the rivers northern bank, Nantes serves as gateway to the Loire valley thanks to its international airport. Well thought-out contemporary structures that sit comfortably alongside their historic neighbours, combined with its status as the best city in France to work, ensure Nantes is rated as one of the best places to live in this diverse country. Tourists make the pilgrimage here to take in classic sights like the 15th-century château of the Dukes of Brittany, before heading east to discover the valley’s stunning natural beauty.
If the region’s iconic châteaux, with their crenelated towers and soaring cupolas, stoke the romantic flames within, then Amboise is a must on your viewing trip list. Purchase a home around here and you could be neighbours with the likes of Mick Jagger, who owns his very own castle in the area. It’s not just Sir Mick who fell for the town’s charms, Leonardo da Vinci drew inspiration from Amboise over 500 years ago and is laid to rest here. Impressively, the town has changed very little in the meantime.
Nestled in the heart of the Pays de la Loire on the regions western fringes, Angers perfectly combines a student inspired contemporary edge with its proud history – its home to the famous 14th-century Tenture de l’Apocalypse and 20th-century Chant du Monde tapestries. The transient student population, which numbers up to 38,000, has inspired a thriving café culture within the city’s attractive old town. This is great news for anyone considering dipping their toes into the local rental market.
Tours historic pedigree is extremely impressive – back in the 14th-century it was the seat of regal French power. But there is much more to this town than its attractive medieval core. Gastronomy, with excellent rustic local cuisine – including the covered food market Les Halles in Rue des Halles – and plenty of fine dining, is another of its main draws. After all, the Touraine region is renowned as the land of good food and good living.
Known as the Maid of Orléans for here heroism, Joan of Arc liberated this city that serves as the capital of the Centre-Val de Loire region from the English back in 1429. Tributes to France’s famous daughter can be found throughout the pretty old town, in the shape of statues, stained-glass windows and museums. This part of the city has been sympathetically renovated in recent times, including a paved pedestrian district and creative lighting which showcases the area’s charms. An enticing combination of affordable property prices and high rental appeal courtesy of its relatively close proximity to Paris – it’s a 90 minute drive to the capital – make purchasing a property around here extremely appealing.
Villages of the Loire
If a rural retreat that’s reminiscent of the bucolic best of England’s Home Counties is more your thing, the Loire Valley is awash with ancient villages. Eight of which have been awarded Plus Beaux Villages de France (France’s most beautiful villages) status. These include Montresor, home to the delightful Chateau de Montresor; Candes-St-Martin, where you’ll find an impressive fortified collegiate church; and Le Grand-Pressigny with its chateau ruins and prehistoric history.
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