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The Loire Valley or Centre region of France is noted for its Chateaux, widely considered to be the most beautiful in the world but it also has much natural beauty with pleasent undulating woodlands, lakes, rivers, orchards and fields of sunflowers. The area is unspoilt by industry or mass tourism.
The Loire river sweeps gracefully through the Loire Valley and it is in this region that you can see some of the most beautiful neo classical and Renaissance châteaux in France.
Along with its architectural treasures and history, the Loire valley is rich and fertile farming country, crissed crossed with tributaries from the river, forested and famous also for its food and wine.
Amboise is worth a visit for its château, lovely old buildings and very good food shops. Leonardo da Vinci was brought here to work on the château and spent the last years of his life and died, in the 15th century manor house of Le Clos-Lucé, just outside the town. It is now a museum dedicated to him and has delightful gardens.
Blois is a busy market centre for the thriving agricultural area surrounding it, but is known mainly for the massively magnificent château of Chambord nearby. Further south is Valençay, where you should taste the wine and visit the château with its spectacular formal gardens.
Orléans and its association with Joan of Arc lies at the most northerly point of the Loire river and there is more than enough here to keep you busy for several days. It is also the centre of its own wine producing area, and you can visit some of the surrounding villages to taste.
The larder of the Loire is one of the richest in France. Fish from the Atlantic, shellfish from the estuary and freshwater fish from the rivers. Fresh and simple dishes like gravette, a sweet flat oyster, near the coast and in the western part of the Loire; lamproie, an eel like fish caught in the estuaries and cooked in walnut oil; grilled chard, tench, or carp, with a sorrel sauce; friture de la Loire, small fish caught in the Loire and deep fried, served with lemon.
There are good stews such as chaudr¾e, conger eel and white fish cooked in garlic and white wine with potatoes and matelote, different freshwater fish with onions, mushrooms and wine. As you travel through the region, fish dishes give way to meat and game, pork with plums and cream, stuffed cabbage with hare, partridge with wild mushrooms.
Vegetables are used in abundance, a variety of salads and charcuterie, potato cake, duckling with tiny fresh peas and baby turnips, pumpkin pie, asparagus.
The people of the Loire have a very sweet tooth and tarts and pies, using local fruits, figure prominently. Clafoutis is a batter cake stuffed with cherries, which used to be served to the pickers during the grape harvest. There are baked apples and jam, pancakes and fritters and excellent cheesecakes.
There are many cheeses worth trying, made from goats, sheep's and cows milk. Bondaroy au Foin, a soft cows milk cheese with a tangy flavour, cured in hay, Frinot, from Orléanais, is a soft lightly cured cheese with a strong flavour, sometimes coated with ashes, or Valençay, a pyramid-shaped goat's cheese with a mild nutty flavour, Olivet Bleu, is a rich blue cheese, wrapped in plane tree leaves, and there are numerous others.
As always, it is worth hunting out small village restaurants, or making friends, and with luck, being invited to someone's house to dine.
This is great riding country and cycling and a wonderful way to explore the countryside. You can hire horses for an hour or a day to suit all levels of expertise and there are golf courses, and good fishing in the rivers. Village fetes, festivals, concerts and theatre are held throughout the year.
Generally warm and showery in spring, with temperatures often reaching 30 plus degrees through the summer and often, a warm late autumn.