The heathland and mysterious marshes, ponds and forests of the Sologne in the south stretch over 500,000 hectares between the Rivers Loire and Cher.
These favourite royal hunting grounds where traditionally French aristocracy built their chateaux, still produce wild boar, venison, pheasant and mushrooms for the table.
Whole tracts are privately owned but the area is so vast there is still plenty of leisure space for visiting fishermen and wildfowlers and those wishing to explore the wealth of well signposted walking and riding trails.
The quiet riverside and woodland roads are ideal for cycling between little villages of red brick and half-timbered houses and rural chateaux like brick-built Chateau du Moulin near Lassay-sur-Roisne.
The Sologne is a naturalists delight, home to 220 types of bird and 56 species of dragonfly plus a variety of mammals, fish and reptiles. See rare bog plants like the Pentecost orchid along the wooden walkway trail in Neuvy sur Barangeon. Visit the nature reserve at Chambord to see buzzards and wildfowl and watch migratory birds from the hide at Beaumont (open all year).
Find out more about Sologne traditions, fauna and flora at Musee de Sologne in its ‘capital’ Romorantin-Lanthenay. Saint-Viatre has a museum devoted to lakes and ponds (the Sologne has over 3,000) and organises tours of both wild and maintained lakes
The River Loir in north west Loir et Cher flows into the larger, well-known River Loire. Officially recognised as an area of art and history, the (little) Loir contains many echoes of the more famous landscape but the river itself is quieter than the wildly unpredictable Loire.
Fishing is popular and walking and cycling are great ways to explore this lesser known valley of woods and vineyards. Old mills dot the river banks which rise to cliffs of troglodyte caves at Troo and Montoire-sur-le-Loir. The Loir winds through pretty white stone villages like Villiers-sur-le-Loir, la Chartre-sur-le-Loir, and Lavardin with its ruined medieval castle.
Stop for refreshment in Vendome and Couture-sur-Loir where flowers trail from balconies towards the water and you can visit twice weekly markets and hire canoes. Sixteenth century romantic poet Pierre de Ronsard wrote lovingly of the valley.
La Possonniere, the manor house in Couture where he was born, is open to the public. Worth a visit for its beautiful rose garden. The chateaux of the (little) Loir are often older than those of the Loire Valley and many are still privately owned and lived in. Villages have attractive churches.
Look for the beautiful frescoes in Lavardin’s Roman church and interesting murals at Saint-Gilles in Montoire. Find flowers and gardens in abundance along the Loir valley, including the remarkable arboretum of Le Parc Botanique de la Fosse near Troo - a collection of thousands of tree species from all over the world.
The River Cher flows gently through Mennetou-sur-Cher and Montrichard in the extreme south of the department below the woodland, marsh and heathland of the Sologne. Away from the more popular tourist routes of the Loire, the valley offers holidaymakers great possibilities to enjoy many water-based leisure activities including sailing and the region’s fine wines and cuisine.
There are opportunities for canoeing and kayaking on the Cher at places like ‘Les Couflons’ Seigy and Saint-Aignan and you can rent a houseboat at Noyers-sur-Cher or take a sight-seeing cruise from Saint-Aignan.
Touraine vineyards along the river centred around Pouille produce fine red and white wines. Taste Coteaux du Cher wines at the Maison du Vin in Saint-Aignan.