LOIRE VALLEY (VAL DE LOIRE) MAP
The Loire, France’s longest and most celebrated river, meanders to the Atlantic through a valley overflowing with gentle vineyards and majestic chateaux. Loire vineyards produce some of France’s best wines, and the soil is among the country’s most fertile. It is hardly surprising that a string of French (and English) kings chose to station themselves in opulent chateaux by these waters rather than in the commotion of their capital cities.
Faced with such widespread grandeur, many travelers plan over-ambitious itineraries two chateaux a day is a reasonable limit. Biking is the best way to explore the region, since trains to chateaux are infrequent. The city of Tours is the region’s best rail hub, although the chateaux Chambord and Chevemy aren’t accessible by train. Many stations distribute the invaluable Chateaux pour Train et Velo booklet with train schedules and bike and car rental information.
A pleasant gateway from Paris into the Loire, Orleans (pop. 117,000) clings tightly to its historical connection to Joan of Arc. Most of Orleans’s highlights are near Place Ste-Crolx. Joan of Arc triumphantly marched down nearby Rue de Bourgogne, the city’s oldest street, in 1429. The Musee des Beaux-Arts, 1 r. Ferdinand Rabier, has a fine collection of French, Italian and Flemish works. ( 02 38 79 21 55. Open M l:30-6pm, Tu-Sa lOam-noon and l:30-6pm. 3, students 1.50.) The Eglise St-Paterne, pi. Gambetta, is a massive showcase of modem stained glass. The stunning windows of Cathedrale Sainte-Croix, pi. Ste-Croix, depict Joan’s dramatic story. (Open July-Aug. daily 9:15am-7pm; Sept.-June reduced hours.)
Trains arrive at the Gare d’Orleans on pi. Albert ler from: Blois (30min. every hr. 7am-9pm, 8.40); Paris (ll4hr. 3 per hr. 15); and Tours (lhr. 2 per hr. 14.10). To get from the station to the tourist office, 6 r. Albert ler, go left under the tunnel to pi. Jeanne d’Arc; it’s across the street. ( 02 38 24 05 05; fax 02 38 54 49 84. Open May-Sept. Tu-Sa 9:30am-lpm and 2-6pm; Oct.-Apr. reduced hours.) To reach the Auberge de Jeunesse (HI) O, 1 bd. de la Motte Sariguin, take bus RS (dir.: Rosette) or SY (dir.: ConcyrLa Boliere) from pi. Jeanne d’Arc to Pont Bourgogne; follow bd. de la Motte and it’ll be up on the right. (02 38 53 60 06. Breakfast 3.40. Sheets 3.20. Reception M-F 8am-7pm, Sa-Su 9-1 lam and 5-7pm. Dorms 8.) Les Hailes Chatelet, pi. du Chatelet, is a market attached to the Galeries Lafayette. (Open Su 7am-lpm, Tu-Sa 7am-7pm.) In the back of the mall, buy groceries in Carrefour at pi. Jeanne d’Arc. (Open M-Sa 8:30am-9pm.) Rue de Bourgogne and rue Sainte Catherine have a variety of eateries. Postal Code: 45000.