Peaceful, undulating hills, storybook castles, ancient limestone villages and more vineyards than you can shake a stick at - what isn't perfect about the Loire Valley?
The French Royals were first attracted to this region hundreds of years ago so they built thousands (well maybe a few less than that) picture-perfect, fantasy-fulfilling châteaux to luxuriate in while they enjoying the countryside. Luckily for us these châteaux are open to the commoners these days so we too can feel a bit of their magic.
After the Riviera and Paris, Loire Valley is one of the most visited destination visited by tourists in France, surpassing by far Disney's attempts at fairytale castles.
Peppered with over 100 châteaux set amongst rolling hills and famous vineyards, there really is something for everyone here. Chosen as World Heritage by UNESCO in 2000, Loire Valley is distinguished by its amazing landscape culturally rich depicting the Western European Renaissance ideals, thoughts and architecture.
Known as the Garden of France or The Cradle of the French Language not only is the Loire considered by many to be the most beautiful region of France, it is also full of vineyards too, which means beautiful landscapes and an abundance of some of the best wines in the world all rolled into one trip!
You don't have to try hard to find someone who can give you a tour of the Loire wineries but it is perfectly possible to do it without an expert as well.
For the active among you there is the Loire à Vélo, an itinerary which covers 600 km alongside the Loire and its tributaries.
You can hire a bike in one part of the region, spend any number of days discovering the Loire and then drop it back off in another town. Along the way there are multiple accommodation options ranging from campsites to guesthouses and hotels so there is something to suit every taste and budget.
If the hard-nosed reality of the city is making you skeptical, take a day trip to the Loire Valley and revel in the dream-like beauty of the châteaux. Overtly extravagant and unapologetically ridiculous, the châteaux all have stories to match.
From Chenonceau which was stolen from the king's mistress by his jealous wife to Villandry which was rescued and restored to its beauty by a Spanish scientist, the history behind these rocks (pretty rocks to be sure) is what brings them alive.
Most of the châteaux are conveniently located near a charming town or village which provides transport links to Paris and yummy eateries perfect for filling your boots after a day of châteaux-seeing.
If you decide that it is worth staying on a little longer, and you are not all castled-out, some of the magnificent châteaux have been turned in to hotels or B&Bs so you can sleep in style.
There are far too many châteaux to visit in a life time, let alone a day trip, so in the following pages you can find more information on the most famous and notorious.
The Loire Valley, is France's third largest wine producer. Wine making traditions and vineyards are firmly fixed at the core of its culture and centuries old heritage.
The wine culture and industry in Loire is quite demanding, and surrounded by landscape that does not offer much in favor of the local vintners. However their success is patent, proof of this is the amount of fine wines produced in the region: from Chinon to Bourgueil, from Vouvray to Saumur in Touriane, and the Loire is second in production after Champagne when it to sparkling wines.
The Pays Nantais, based around the town of Nantes, is a region that has been producing wine since the time of the Romans, 2000 years ago. A bitter frost in 1709 froze the sea and destroyed the vineyards and the region was replanted with the grape Melon de Bourgogne, also known as Muscadet, making it a predominantly white wine region.
While visiting the ancient city of Angers you can get in some good wine tasting in the region. The wine region is south of the city and famous for its variety. Why not sample some of the red wine made from grapes that are only grown in the Loire Valley (Pineau d'Aunis and Grolleau)?
Alternatively some of the most celebrated sweet wines of the Loire, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, can be found here too.
If the abundance of châteaux has got you feeling like royalty, head west of Angers to Savennieres, one of the most esteemed appellations in the Loire Valley. The dry white Chenin blanc wine produced was tasted and appreciated by Louis XIV and Napoleon - talk about being in good company!
The town of Samur nearby is a good destination for red wine lovers. For centuries the region has been quarried which has left it with extensive caves that work for cellaring the wines and can be visited by tourists.
Rabelais, the major French Renaissance writer, was born near Chinon and was an important advocate of the red wines from this area.
The vineyards of the region produce two very different types of wine, due to the distinct soil types - the lighter Chinon is perfect for summer time (or anytime really) and the older, richer Chinon has more in common with other red wines.
Just north of Chinon, the Borgeuil region produces red wine that is very popular in Parisian bistros. Relatively unknown outside France, keep your eye out for Borgeuil wine if you want to look like you know what you're talking about!
If you prefer sweeter wines, Vouvray, located east of Tours, is the place to go. Only made with Chenin Blanc, a grape variety grown in the region since the 4th century), the limestone that seeped into the soil and used to build many of the châteaux of the surrounding countryside is what makes this wine so good.
Sancerre, the most famous appellation of the Loire Valley, is in the upper Loire and has become almost synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc.
Local wines enjoyed a good reputation as far back as the 12th century and the lively, fruity white wine is the most imitated Sauvignon Blanc wine in the world.