One’s first experience of the Loire Valley is spellbinding. This is the France of storybooks, the France of movies. Here you see the famous chateaux and vineyards that make the region so picturesque, and its history so rich.
You’ve heard of these chateaux, even if you haven’t yet seen them. We’re talking about the Chateau de Chenonceau, for example, also called the “Chateau des Dames,” for the great female personages who have lived there, including Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici. But also the Chateau of Cheverny, the first to embody the classical style of the Loire Valley, the Chateau of Blois, which combines the four architectural styles of the region (Gothic, Flamboyant, Renaissance and Classic), and the Royal Castle of Amboise, whose chapel includes the grave of Leonardo da Vinci.
But the Loire Valley isn’t just about chateaux. Its gastronomy is second to none. You can visit the local cheese producers here, visit the actual goat farms where the milk is produced and the cheese is made! The most famous is the Sainte Maure cheese, a goat cheese log with a piece of straw running lengthwise through its center. The straw keeps the log together, but it is also marked with the number of the actual producer, marking it as an official AOC cheese (Appellation de origine contrôlée). Fascinating! The cheese is rolled in wood ash to finish it. (It also makes a great cheese soufflé!).
Of course, the wines of the region are also particularly well-known. One of my favorites is Vouvray, which, by the way, goes amazingly well with the Sainte Maure goat cheese! That with a crusty loaf of bread, all enjoyed on a picnic during a biking tour of the Loire Valley, are pretty much our idea of perfection!
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By Peg Kern
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Originally published September 20, 2012.