Loire Valley - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Loire Valley

Loire Valley

Renowned for its fine wine, sumptuous châteaux and Renaissance intrigue, the valley of the Loire is rich in both history and architecture. Like the River Loire, this vast region runs through the heart of French life. Its sophisticated cities, luxuriant landscape and magnificent food and wine add up to a bourgeois paradise.

Historic towns and magnificent chateaux line the valley, including the striking Chateau d'Usse, which inspired the Sleeping Beauty fairytale as well as the Disneyland castle. Loire Valley was for a long period, until Henri IV moved his court to Paris, the home of Royalty and the intellectual capital of France. The towns of Tours and Angers, both on the river, act as good bases from which to explore the area and its many delights. Although there are train and bus services to most towns they are limiting for tourists and it is best to hire your own transport to fully explore the region. Consider renting a bike; this is wonderful and easy cycling country.

Information & Facts


The Loire Valley climate can be split into three regions. The western coast, from the Loire valley to the Pyrenees, is mild and during the summer months hot weather prevails, while further west near Nantes the climate is cool. In the middle Loire, the climate is mild with moderate rainfall, while in the upper Loire, a continental climate prevails with short, hot summers.

French is the official language.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in France. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some large hotels, though you will get a better exchange rate at the ATMs. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers cheques, particularly in major tourist destinations. Foreign currency is not accepted.

Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between last Sunday in March and last Sunday in October).

On the banks of the Loire, 20 miles (32km) east of Tours, is the Renaissance town of Amboise, a popular holiday destination. Both historic and beautiful, Amboise attracts tourists by the busload, but this doesn't detract from its charm. It has been the favourite residence of Leonardo de Vinci, Charles VIII and more recently Mick Jagger, who owns a nearby château.

Charles VIII's château dominates the town and is an impressive fusion of Renaissance and Gothic styles that is built on a rocky spur separating the valleys of the Loire and the Amasse. The original 15th-century entrance opens onto a terrace with a panoramic view of the river. The castle fell into decline after the revolution and less than half of the original structure still stands. However many grandly furnished rooms remain, including the Kings' apartments, which are open to holiday visitors.

Leonardo da Vinci was invited to Amboise by François I to encourage the French Renaissance. He made his home at the Clos-Lucé, which is now a museum to his work with 40 models based on his drawings on display - including flying machines and a wooden tank. To the east of Amboise are some children's museums, including the Mini-Châteaux, a two-hectare (five-acre) park with models of the great Loire château. An excellent aquarium is also situated nearby.

The holiday destination of Angers straddles the Maine River, towards the west of the Loire Valley, and is a popular base from which to explore the local sites and the surrounding châteaux country. Angers is a busy regional centre and university city with an air of sophistication. Like Tours, Angers was badly damaged during World War II. Much of it, however, has been lovingly restored and it remains a pleasant, amiable town with a lively atmosphere. Top Angers holiday attractions include the intriguing museum, Musée Jean Lurçat, which is known for its famous tapestry Le Chant du Monde,and the Cathedral with its beautiful 12th-century nave and famous stained-glass windows, also dating from the 12th century. However Angers' most prominent attraction is the Château d'Angers.

Much of the historic ambience of medieval Blois remains preserved in its white-washed houses and narrow cobbled alleys, but modernity has impacted quite severely on this, the noble former seat of the dukes of Orléans. Tourists still flock to Blois on holiday to visit the magnificent chateau, now encircled by a traffic-laden highway but none the less spectacular for this infringement. This beautiful castle witnessed the murder of the duc De Guise by Henri III, and is renowned for its awesome 13th-century hall. Those excited by chateaux can make excursions from Blois to some other gems in the nearby countryside, including the well-known Chateau de Chambord.

A kilometre-long wall, studded with 17 circular towers, surrounds this vast medieval fortress. Visitors can tour Château d'Angers, including the courtyard, prison, ramparts, windmill tower, 15th century chapel, and royal apartments. The overriding reason however for coming here is to see the 328-foot (100m) Tapestry of the Apocalypse. Woven between 1375 and 1378 for Duke Réné of Anjou, it takes as its text St John's vision of the Apocalypse, as described in the Book of Revelation. Guided tours provide insight into its architecture and fascinating history.

Eleven miles (18km) east of Blois, the vast Château de Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley. It was commissioned by François I, who wanted to outshine the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and the result is a spectacular Renaissance masterpiece with 450 rooms. It was designed by an Italian architect in 1519, but was worked on by French masons. The outside is essentially French medieval - massive round towers with conical tops, and an explosion of chimneys, pinnacles and turrets. The details inside, however, are pure Italian: the Great Staircase (attributed by some to da Vinci), panels of coloured marble, niches decorated with shell-like domes, and freestanding columns. Wandering through, you can get a good feel for the contrasting architectural styles, which have combined to create a very decadent, if at times discordant, whole. The château is surrounded by a 20-mile (32km) wall containing a 5,261-hectare (13,000-acre) deer park.

Only a few miles outside Tours, on the River Cher, the Château de Chenonceau is probably the most celebrated of the many châteaux in the Loire valley. It was used as a mill in the Middle Ages and bridges the whole width of the river. It was owned by a succession of powerful noblewomen including Henri II's mistress Diane de Poiters, the Queen Regent Catherine de Medici and Louise de Loraine and is often referred to at the 'Château des Femmes' .Inside visitors can see a wonderful 200-foot (61m) gallery, Louis XIV's sitting room and Francois I's bedroom.

The Château d'Ussé overlooks the Indre River, built by Charles VII in the mid-15th century. The fairytale castle passed through the hands of many nobles, and was said to have inspired Charles Perrault to write the story of Sleeping Beauty. It subsequently inspired Walt Disney in the design of his iconic castles in the Disney logo and at several theme parks. Only parts of the house are open to the public, but you can also wander the gardens, stables, chapel and limestone caves.

Built in the 12th century, Fontevraud Abbey is thought to be the site of the graves of King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their son King Richard I, however it is not known exactly where their bodies are interred. The effigies are still there, and are a popular sight for tourists. The abbey has housed a monastery, nunnery, prison, and church over the centuries, and various sections have been rebuilt in Gothic, Classical and Romanesque styles.

At one time the second most important city in France after Paris, Orléans is today a modest and attractive city well worth a day visit to explore its cobbled streets. Chief attractions are the magnificent neo-Gothic Orléans Cathedral, the House of Joan of Arc, and the ornately decorated Hotel de Ville. Orléans' long history stretches to a time before the Romans but its most famous event was Joan of Arc's deliverance of the city from the English in 1429. The occasion is commemorated most fervently with Joan of Arc Day celebrated each year on the 8th of May, when Orléans makes merry with lively street parades in medieval style.

Puy du Fou is a historical themepark in western France, attracting over 1.5 million visitors a year, making it the second most popular paid attraction in the country. The experience is akin to being on a giant interactive movie set as different historical scenes are played out with considerable exuberance by a large a cast of actors against very realistic and impressive sets. There are five thrilling attractions, or perhaps more accurately, performances, including The Vikings and Richelieu's Musketeers, each lasting around 40 minutes.

In the evening during peak season, the Cinescene historical extravaganza is held on reputedly the largest stage in the world, with over 1,000 actors, hundreds of horses and great volleys of fireworks. The children especially will be spellbound. The park is set in gorgeous woodlands, and has 25 restaurants, 3 hotels and plenty of other amenities to ensure a comfortable visit. Performances are in French so English-language translation headsets should be reserved in advance if required.

Saumur is located at the confluence of the Loire and Thouet rivers in Loire Valley. The region is known for producing world-renowned wines, and also produces mushrooms in an interesting undergrounds process viewable to the public. Saumur is home to the Château de Saumur, which was built in the 10th century and passed through the hands of Henry II of England, Philip II of France, King Henri IV (of France and Navarre), and Napoleon Bonaparte. Another interesting attraction is the Museé des Blindes, with over 850 tanks on display. Saumur is located in easy distance of Paris, Nantes, Angers, Tours, and several other cities, making it an ideal day trip.

Located at the junction of the Loire and the Cher Rivers, the holiday destination of Tours is a great base for exploring the valley. The town was badly bombed during the last war and many buildings were replaced with ugly apartment blocks. Tours is, however, surrounded by magnificent châteaux and is a fun place to spend the evenings; the streets and bars are filled with locals and tourists and the huge student population adds to the vibrancy. Within the city the Cathedral is worth a visit while on holiday. Its flamboyant Gothic façade is flanked by towers dating from the 12th century, inside are some glorious 13th-century stained-glass windows and the handsome 16th-century tomb of Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne's two children. There is also a fine provincial museum in Tours, in the Palais des Archevêques, with a number of Old Masters works' including those by Degas, Delacroix, Rembrandt, and Boucher.

Five miles (8km) outside Tours is the tiny village of Villandry and its wonderful château. The château is best known for its gardens that are open between February and November. It is not your standard ornamental garden; between the vine-shaded paths and ornamental box hedges are carrots, cabbages and aubergines carefully arranged in patterns; roses climb gracefully above small herb gardens. Villandry is an easy cycle from Tours and, for those that have worked up an appetite, there are some excellent local restaurants.

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