Why holiday in The Loire Valley, France
Why holiday in the Loire Valley, two things hang heavy on our minds at the moment security and if you are travelling from outside Europe the value of the Euro against your currency.
We are in a region that does not hold any major cities, Tours is the largest but compared to Paris or Lyon is very small, most of the major attractions are based outside small villages so therefore they are not really the sort of targets terrorists are interested in, having said that France takes security very seriously and bag search’s are in place at many of the Chateaux’s.
France can be expensive or as cheap as you like, meals and wine ranges from a few Euros to tens of Euros depending on your taste, but having said that it is still possible to buy a good bottle of wine for €4 and at lunch a three course meal can be purchased for as little as €10 with a glass of wine. Whatever price you pay it will be better and cheaper than you would get at home.
France’s lavish royal past is everywhere in the gentle landscapes of the Loire Valley. Hundreds of majestic châteaux and palaces follow the course of the country's longest river as it makes its largely untamed way to the Atlantic. Such is the beauty of the ancient towns, limestone hills and historic castles that Unesco felt compelled to designate a 300km-long stretch of the valley as a World Heritage Site in 2000.
The valley's exceptionally fertile land drew France's rulers during the 15th century, when they created ever more elaborate royal residences as the French Renaissance was getting into full swing. Not to be outdone, the nobility soon followed, turning this so-called Valley of the Kings into a wonderfully over-the-top game of architectural one-upmanship.
They didn't stop at architecture: their gardens had to be just as ornate, notably the ones at Villandry and Chaumont-sur-Loire , home to one of France's biggest garden festivals which runs from April until October.
Come summer, the châteaux become even more magical during the evening son-et-lumière shows and spectacles that light up their grounds in July and August, with some extending the season from April to September.
If Chateau fatigue sets in the ancient university city of Tours celebrates summer with a riverside festival called Tours sur Loire. Until 22 September, music, theatre and dance acts perform on the river banks near Pont Wilson. Angers, towards the west, combines historical landmarks – namely its medieval château and 14th-century tapestry – with some of the area's most vibrant nightlife. While Amboise has one of the most popular château in the Loire Valley, it also draws visitors to the former residence of Leonardo da Vinci, Close-Lucé . The château where he spent the last three years of his life is now a fascinating museum celebrating his inventions. In August, it holds outdoor events and from 27-29 September there's an annual European Festival of Renaissance Music.
Known as the "garden of France", the Loire Valley produces succulent fruit and vegetables as well as some excellent wines. Les Frippierers is a atmospheric bases for exploring the surrounding vineyards.
Tucked in among the vineyards are strangely beautiful troglodyte caves carved into limestone cliffs. After the quarrymen of centuries past had excavated the tufa stone to make the Loire's distinctive creamy white houses, they moved into the empty caves. They now make quirky homes as well as a handy place to cultivate mushrooms or store wine.
There are more than 100 châteaux open to the public. The largest, Château de Chambord, François I's multi-turreted creation, is as royal as it comes.
Two other royal residences are also impressive: the four wings of the 15th-century Château de Blois includes France's largest Gothic hall; Château d'Amboise looms over the Loire.
Château de Chenonceau marks its 500th anniversary this year, a testament to the power of its female owners. Henri II's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, created the distinctive bridge over the river Cher, to which Catherine de' Medici added an Italian-style gallery.
For pure romance, the 16th-century Château d'Azay-le-Rideau never fails to enchant.
Some of France's most celebrated wines come from the vineyards of the Loire Valley, notably the crisp whites from Sancerre, Pouilly-sur-Loire and Vouvray. They make superb partners for the nutty goat's cheese from St Maur the capital of Goats Cheese . Similarly, it's hard not to have a glass of Muscadet without some form of seafood on the plate. Then there are the underrated red wines of Chinon and Bourgueil and the sparkling wines from Saumur (which also produces a fine red).
One of the most pleasant ways to explore the river is on the traditional flat-bottomed wooden boats called toues, left, once used to transport goods along the Loire and its tributaries.
Trips can be anything from an hour's jaunt to a two-hour picnic cruise or an overnight stay. River outings run by Millière Raboton, Homme de Loire, start at 90-minute cruises, setting off at either Chaumont-sur-Loire or Amboise.
Further west, Bateau Amarante runs a similar service from the neighbouring villages of Candes-St-Martin and Montsoreau, with 90-minute.
The Loire Valley plenty of international airports. Nantes, Poitiers, La Rochelle, and Tours a little further out is Limoges which are served by many UK cities.
Brittany Ferries has services from Portsmouth and Plymouth to St Malo in Brittany and from Portsmouth to Le Havre and Caen in Normandy. DFDS Seaways has services from Portsmouth to Le Havre, as well as Dover to Calais.
Rail Europe has services from London either direct or via Paris to Tours, Chatellerault and Poitiers.