5 Things You Didn’t Know About Loire Valley
France’s Loire Valley is known for its beautiful landscapes, ancient architecture and historical towns. In fact, so lovely is the countryside there that it’s sometimes referred to as the Garden of France. And while you may already know about the picturesque scenery and peaceful atmosphere, there is so much more to be seen and experienced there. Here are five things you probably don’t know about Loire Valley.
You may have heard of some of the famous castles, or châteaux, found in Loire Valley. But what you probably don’t realize is just how many of these incredible structures are located there. While some areas in Europe are home to several such well-known and ancient palaces, the Loire Valley boasts an astonishing 300 of them! The most popular include Château de Chambord, Château d’Ussé, Châteaux d’Amboise, Château de Villandry and Chenonceau. The Château de Chambord is particularly noteworthy as it’s the largest and most recognizable and unlike some of its nearby companions, it is not considered to be an architectural masterpiece but rather a hodge-podge of different styles and designs. Château de Cheverny, on the other hand, is beautifully constructed and considered one of the greatest examples of classical Renaissance architecture.
When people think of Loire Valley the image of the rolling green countryside often comes to mind. What people don’t tend to think about are the beautiful bodies of water that also flow through the region and add to its fairytale-like environment. The most prominent is the Loire River, which is the longest river in all of France. It has over 20 main tributaries, including Cher and Indre, and it joins the Atlantic Ocean in Saint Nazaire. The quality of the river, with its silting and shallowness and significant fluctuations in volume make it difficult to use as a means of transportation, however it is absolutely lovely to bike along.
Joan of Arc Influence
Surely you’ve heard of the infamous Joan of Arc, who led the French army to a number of victories during the Hundred Years’ War and was later named a Catholic saint. What you may not realize, however, is what a tremendous influence this heroine has had on the Loire Valley. She is often referred to as “The Maid of Orleans” because of her first major victory at the siege of Orleans which ultimately caused the collapse of the English control. At age 19, Joan was captured and burned at the stake. Her legacy lives on, however, in the Loire Valley where her image adorns countless monuments and works of art meant to pay tribute to her courageous contributions to French history.
Of all the places in the world where wine is produced, France arguably contributes some of the absolute finest. This is certainly no secret. What many people don’t realize, however, is that Loire Valley happens to be home to some of the world’s most sought after wine grapes, the majority of which produce white wine varieties. Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are all produced in the Loire Valley region, along with the rarer Melon de Bourgogne and Pineau d’Aunis grapes, which are grown there exclusively. Altogether the region has an incredible 87 appellations. If it’s fine wine you seek, Loire Valley is the place to go.
Underground City – Troglodyte Caves
With the multitude of towering castles scattering the landscape, it’s probably hard to imagine that there is as much going on underground as above ground in Loire Valley. But it’s true – the region has its very own underground villages complete with homes, wine cellars and even a chapel. Carved out of cliff faces and tunneled underground as far back as the turn of the century, these dwellings are inexpensive, provide safety and shelter from both hot and cold weather and are still inhabited to this day. They can be found all over the region, with the sight of smoke emerging from underground chimneys sometimes the only evidence of actual homes below the surface. Visitors even have the unique opportunity to view some of these fascinating cave dwellings, an experience that’s truly unforgettable.
The Loire Valley without a doubt has plenty to offer visitors, whether its history, culture or natural beauty they seek. And the landscapes and architecture are certainly reason enough to travel there. It’s the lesser-known hidden gems, however, like those listed above that truly give Loire Valley its charm and character and make it not just a place to consider visiting, but a must-see, must-experience adventure not to be missed.