The department of Loir-et-Cher, the heart of chateaux country, has long been a favourite destination for visitors to the region drawn by its history, festivals and pageants, beautiful countryside and abundant markets and restaurants offering wonderful food and wines.
The chateaux, famous jewels of the Renaissance, stand sentinel along the banks of the majestic River Loire and its tributary, the Cher. The stunning Chateau at Blois has a colourful history and was home to 2 French kings.
The medieval town with its historic cathedral and regional style ‘tricolore’ houses - white walls, blue slate roofs and red chimneys - is compact enough to explore on foot and makes an ideal touring base.
The chateaux at Chaumont and Cheverny should be on any itinerary as should the grand Renaissance masterpiece of Chambord where ‘son et lumiere’ was first introduced and which has a different fireplace for every day of the year.
Along green and fertile valleys grow the vines, fruit and tender vegetables which give the region its title of ‘Garden of France’ and which are used in profusion in the local cuisine. North of the Loire lies a large wheat growing plain and the (little) Loir with its own troglodyte community at Troo and prestigious folk festival at Montoire in August.
The marshes and forests of the Sologne, in the south were a favourite royal hunting ground and still produce wild boar, venison, pheasant and mushrooms for the table. Walking, cycling, golf and riding are all popular pastimes today. Hire bicycles for a flat easy ride around the quiet villages and perhaps visit Lamotte-Beuvron where the famous tarte tatin - upside-down apple pie -was created by culinary accident.
Children and their families gather here from all over France for the huge pony championships held in early summer. Montrichard has enough medieval and Renaissance architecture to please any historian and a distillery specialising in fruit liqueurs, while in the nearby hills around Bourre you can find troglodyte houses carved from the local tufa limestone, mushrooms caves and an underground silkworm farm to visit.
Boating, canoeing, swimming and good fishing are possible on stretches of the rivers. Follow the history of Joan of Arc with a stroll around Orleans, the old capital of France, across the border in Loiret.