The famous cathedral spires rise grandly from this beautiful thirteenth century town of pilgrimage set amongst wheat plains on the banks of the River Eure.
Explore the city’s ancient steep lanes and stairways, museums, gardens and riverside. Be sure to visit the superb cathedral - a remarkable testament to medieval architecture and worth the guided tour - with amazing twelfth and thirteenth century stained glass and collection of ancient musical instruments.
Watch the magical effect of sunlight through large rose windows and climb the tower for panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Chartres also has a good selection of restaurants, and craft and cake shops to cater for more earthly needs.
The largest and possibly the most sumptuous of the Loire chateaux, this Renaissance masterpiece has a staggering 440 rooms, 85 staircases (including the famous double spiral staircase, one side for use by the royal family, the other by their servants), and a different fireplace for every day of the year. Even the River Loire was diverted to fit in with the design.
There is controversy over the designer. Francois I, who commissioned Chambord as a hunting lodge in 1519, was inspired by Italian architecture and Leonardo da Vinci, who was employed by him in 1516, is reputed to have drawn the original plans.
Almost 2,000 craftsmen were eventually used in the construction, which took 25 years to complete. The inventor of ‘son et lumiere’ - Paul Robert-Houdin - was curator of Chambord in 1952 when the chateau was home to the first ever display.
Leonardo da Vinci’s last home, the fifteenth century manor house in Amboise where he was installed by Francois I as his painter, engineer and architect, is now a museum and makes for a fascinating visit.
See models of his inventions including a flying machine. Stroll around Clos Luce’s delightful gardens, and walk the grounds where there are life-size, interactive models.
And take in the pretty town of Amboise which has good food shops and a riverside weekend market alongside a surprising teddy bear-topped turtle fountain by Max Ernst.
This young at heart city with its large student population, is at its liveliest in Place Plumereau in the old quarter, with busy outdoor cafes, restaurants and picturesque half-timbered buildings.
Find weekly markets and fairs - the huge open market on Thursdays sells fabulous flowers. In season, buy delicious local plums and melons. A great place for museums and galleries, visit Musee des Vins de Touraine giving the history of this region known for its wine-making, and Musee des Beaux-Arts in the ancient Palais des Archeveques, with works by Rembrandt and the Impressionists.
Look for a huge cedar tree planted by Napoleon in the Palais gardens and don’t miss the magnificent cathedral. Famous historically for the battle of Tours in 732, the turning point for European Christians in their fight against Islamic conquests, today, Tours is famous for another battle - the Paris-Tours cycle race.
Wherever you go in Tours you’ll have no problem understanding directions as its residents are celebrated for their standard pronunciation French.
A fortress towering over the Creuse Valley in the Middle Ages, fought over by French and English, Argenton finally became French in 1589. Now a lively market town with cobbled streets, and picturesque medieval houses overhanging the river, the town has been compared to Venice.
Visit the shirt museum - the town was a major producer of shirts in the nineteenth century - and chapel of La Bonne Dame which has superb views along the valley. You’ll find a swimming pool and plenty of cafes and restaurants. Guided tours can be booked at the Tourist Office.
Medieval market town on the River Cher, with enough Medieval and Renaissance architecture to please any historian, including a ruined fortress and Romanesque church with a royal connection.
Catholic pilgrims process to Montrichard’s sixteenth century Nanteuil Fountain, ‘the fountain of miracles’ each Whit Monday. Markets are on Mondays and Fridays and the River Cher has an artifical beach, great for swimming or launching hired kayaks and canoes.
You can find wine-tasting in town or take a 10km trip to the ‘Fraise-Or’ Distillerie Girardot on the road to Chenonceaux. Specialising in liqueurs based on fruits and spices - even rose petals - the distillery is open 3-6pm weekdays from Easter to September. Hours can vary in winter and at weekends.