The Loire Valley has a history of luxury beginning in the 11th and 12th centuries. It is a place of fairytale castles, rich history, and of course, tasty wine. Numerous French kings and barons built their castles along the beautiful river Loire.
Royalty through the ages traveled here, just an hour? outside of Paris, to “get away from it all.” And now that we peasants can afford to go on holiday too, we can venture to this special place and explore any and every castle, or even experience the other exciting sights to see in the Loire Valley.
Chateaux and Mini Chateaux
Every castle has its own story, be it charming or risqué. Like at Chateau Chenonceau, where the 12-year-old King Henry II took on a 32-year-old mistress and threw transvestite parties in the gardens. There are large and lavish castles throughout the valley, but the seven must-see castles are Cheverny, Ussé, Amboise, Chenonceau, Chambord, Clos Lucé, and Villandry.
It may be hard to get to all of those castles in one trip, so that is why someone decided to create Mini Chateaux Parc. On its five acres of landscape, this park has 45 scale replicas of the finest castles throughout the Loire Valley. The park is very family oriented, where you get lost in or conquer Le Labrynthe végétal (a classical renaissance maze), watch live performances of old fables and plays, or perambulate La Roseraie de Ronsard (the poet’s rose garden). The children can even dress up as medieval knights and let their visions of royalty and gallantry run wild, at least for one day.
Witness the feeding of the hounds at Chateau Cheverny. From April 1st to September 15th, the dogs are fed every day at 5:00pm for everyone to see. However, the attraction is not famous just because you get to watch dogs ravage raw chicken. All of the hounds, about 50 in number, are trained to halt before their food and wait in restless anticipation until the trainer yells, “RELEASE THE HOUNDS!” in French. Then the animals begin their feast. Throughout the open season, however, visitors to Cheverny can view the kennels and imagine what it must have been like for the royalty to hunt with man’s best friend in medieval Loire Valley.
Leonardo Da Vinci
At Chateau Amboise, you can wander through the manor house, Chateau Clos Lucé, where Leonardo Da Vinci spent his last 3 years. King Francis I, an Italian art enthusiast, invited Leonardo to stay at Chateau Clos Lucé (attached to Amboise by an underground tunnel), where he asked the famous artist to work as the royal painter, architect, and engineer in 1516. When Leonardo died in 1519, he was buried at the nearby Chapel of Saint Hubert. You may want to go to the chapel and see Leonardo’s tomb (make sure to bring some flowers). Back at Clos Lucé, there are 40 true-to-Da Vinci-design models on display for visitors, such as a parachute, helicopter blade, and even the first car.
The Loire Valley has a very mild, enjoyable climate, which makes it a great place for outdoor adventures. There are a few nature reserves to visit. The largest in the valley is The Orléans Forest, located on the north bank of the Loire, where Booted and Short-toed Eagles, and Osprey breed. The reserve is also teeming with many other species of bird (like Woodlark and Honey Buzzard), insect (like Brilliant Emerald), and plant (like Moon Carrot and Pyramidal Bugle).
If you want to see some non-native species to the Loire, you also have the option of visiting some of the famous zoos. There is La Fléche, the oldest zoo in France, Zooparc Beauval, oriented toward breeding endangered species, and Zoo de Doué, which also conserves species and holds the largest Aviary, over 200 birds, in Europe.
After thinking about all of the various things to do in the Loire Valley, you’re probably wondering when and where to fuel yourself for them. Many of the towns have markets that sell fresh produce and foods, wine, as well as flowers and other items. Angers and Tours have daily markets, so you never have to worry about missing out.
At Angers, there is a special flea market on Saturdays, and Tours boasts a large flower market open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Loches even has a “Moonlight Market,” held on two nights every summer, where you can buy crafts, honey, cheeses, cakes, and the like. There are so many markets in the region, each with their own specialties and personalities, that you are sure to find one, five or ten, you adore.