Writers have described the Loire Valley as the ‘Garden of France’ with the ancient province of Touraine, now the department of Indre et Loire, at its centre.
The gentle climate nourishes and protects Indre et Loire’s famous vineyards and high quality fruit and vegetables, such as delicious plums and melons from Tours, white mushrooms and early asparagus - all used in mouth-watering local dishes together with game from the forests.
In a land of gardens the one ‘must see’ is at Villandry where modern designers have recreated the perfect Renaissance castle garden. At the heart of this lush and fertile landscape so loved by French kings and nobility, the magnificent River Loire and its tributaries weave their magic, watched over by ancient castles and chateaux built originally for defence and later for private pleasure.
Many chateaux, such as picture perfect Azay-le-Rideau, put on summer son et lumiere spectacles. Chateau d’Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci created masked balls for the king, and fairytale Chateau de Chenonceau, are particularly worth a visit.
Many chateaux were built of local white limestone rock or ‘tufa’ and the quarries are now used as wine caves or for mushroom farming. Whole troglodyte cave villages carved out of ‘tufa’ were used by poor farmers until the last century. Take a fascinating trip around the troglodytic valley of Goupillieres or view the cliff-side dwellings by boat on the Loire from Rochecorbon.
Opportunities for fishing and water sports are widespread and Loches has an aquatic activity park. Indre et Loire’s picturesque, flat landscape makes for some of the best cycling in France and there are hiking and horse riding trails.
Towns have historic architecture, wine and folk and food festivals, lively markets and good restaurants. Tours is a great place for museums and galleries and you’ll have no problem understanding directions as its residents are celebrated for their perfectly spoken French.
Nearby Vouvray produces sparkling white wines with a high reputation and there are opportunities for sampling Cabernet-Franc reds from the area around Chinon - the town where Richard the Lionheart reputedly died.