As the Loire Valley is located only around two hours from Paris, it's a destination that many travelers may wish to add to their France itineraries. For some, a visit to the Loire means a visit to one of France's most notable wine countries, as the region is home to many award-winning vintages. While the wines are certainly one of the most popular reasons for visiting the Loire Valley, there is much more to see and do especially for non-wine lovers. In fact, almost the entire Loire Valley, from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural landscape and great beauty.
France's Loire Valley is home to over 75 castles, or chateaux, including some of the most beautiful castles in Europe. Elements from some of these castles served as inspiration for Walt Disney's fairytale castles enjoyed at Disney Theme Parks today. Almost all of these castles are situated along the Loire River or one of its tributaries, such as the Maine, Cher, Indre, Vienne, Loir, and Argenton/Thouet rivers.
Some of the more famous castles in the Loire Valley include Chateau de Chambord, Chateau de Cheverny, Chateau de Chaumont, Chateau de Saumur, Chateau de Chenonceau, Chateau de Chinon, and Chateau d'Usse.
A visit to one of these castles will allow you to not only view the castle from the outside, but also explore the gardens, and in many cases, you also tour the inside of the castle.
There is an 800-km long cycling route, the Loire a Velo, that follows the Loire river system from the Atlantic coast inland along the Loire and its tributaries. You can try to tackle the entire route, or follow smaller sections nearby to where you are planning to explore. Cycling equipment is available for rent, and there are hotels and cafes that cater to cyclists. Cycling along the Loire is a great way to visit the many chateaux of the region while taking in more of the surrounding scenery and activity.
Aside from wine grapes, the Loire Valley is home to a multitude of other agricultural products. Almost every town and village will have its own weekly market, and you can plan your Loire Valley visit to coincide with the markets along the river. Visiting a Loire Valley market is a great way to gain insight into the daily life in the French countryside, and experience the local culture. Several villages have evening markets throughout the summer, including live music and entertainment, so your experience can extend beyond the daylight hours as well.
On many of the cliffs leading up from the banks of the Loire River, you may notice houses built into the face of the cliff itself. These cave dwellings are the Troglodyte cave dwellings of the Loire River valley. The local people used these cave dwellings in order to make full use of their environment, using the stone dug from the rock faces to build structures on the land, such as the Chateaux of the Loire Valley, while utilizing the cleared space for other purposes. These troglodyte dwellings remains a consistent 12-degrees centigrade throughout the year, making them very efficient in the winter and summer months. There is an entire troglodyte village you can explore at Rochemenier, and some of the caves have even been converted into hotel accommodation you can book for a night, or your entire stay.
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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