The Loire: The Royal River
The beauty of the Loire landscape is legendary. This large valley — boarded by hills overlooking cities and villages faithfully following the river’s course — has been immortalized by painters throughout its extensive past. A gaze across the banks gives a clear, resplendent view for miles. Here and there, we see a château, a fortress or a monastery. And further down, there is a forest that frames the entire scene.
The Loire was the particular inspiration for the famous watercolorist William Turner, known as "The Painter of Light". Joachim du Bellay, a French poet from this region, composed poems recounting his nostalgia for the banks of the Loire. Jean de la Fontaine, Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, and many other famous authors have drawn inspiration from the misty atmosphere of the Loire Valley — once the residence to the French kings during the Renaissance. These royal châteaux, veritable jewels incrusted in the remarkable landscape, are famous throughout the world. The “Royal River” hosts a multitude of these noble chateaux, including Chambord, Villandry, Azay-le-Rideau and Amboise.
Among these wonders is the Château d’Ussé, thought to have inspired Charles Perrault when writing "Sleeping Beauty".
Sail the Loire and discover the Delicacies of "France’s Garden"
The Loire Valley comprises the saga of one-of-a-kind river. It is the only river in Western Europe that has never been canalized, and so it is commonly known as the “last wild river in Europe”. The water follows a majestic, natural path over 625 miles long — prone to floods and at the mercy of its sand banks making its draft highly erratic — from Mont Gerbier de Jonc in the Ardeche region all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Although it was over 434 miles long until the 18th century, today the Loire can only be navigated between its mouth in Saint-Nazaire and the quaint commune of Bouchemaine, near Angers. The river has a beaconed channel over 85 miles long. Nonetheless, in order to navigate these waters, one must have a well-motorized boat, respect the beacons in place and take into consideration the tides that continually rise up until the commune of Ancenis.
This freewheeling river has carved the décor of the Loire Valley and lived in perfect harmony with the civilizations thriving on its fertile banks since ancient times. The people learned to adjust to its overflows and built up their communities around it. What remains today are the flooding that protects the agricultural valley and the cave dwellings carved out of the limestone hills — with many having been transformed into wine cellars, mushroom houses or even into exclusive bed and breakfast sites.
The Loire of the famous wines and gardens of all sizes
The Loire Valley was exquisitely named "France’s Garden" by the 15th and 16th century nobles who appreciated its overflowing gardens of all sizes, orchards, and vineyards that produce some of the most famous and diverse wines. Sancerre, Touraine, Anjou and Samur, to name a few: they are elegant and aromatic and complement the refined, varied cuisine and cheeses produced in the region. Famous French writers, haughty aristocrats, unassuming sailors, modest farmers and the everyday citizen have all savored the wonders this land and river can provide.
And together, they all contributed to the growth and thriving prosperity of this region. An economic and cultural explosion The Roman Road on the ridges of the right bank, sheltered from the floods, was the first "regional planning" development before the Benedictine monasteries began to structure the valley into a cultural and spiritual core.
The Loire: once the most important waterway bringing merchandise
In the 11th century, the House of Plantagenet built levees and dykes to protect the banks from the river swells, assuring the economic vitality of the river and the stability of the agricultural activities. Up until the 19th century, the Loire was the most important waterway bringing merchandise from the middle of the country to the port in Nantes. The openings of the Canal de Briare in 1642 and the Canal d'Orléans in 1692 created a direct link between the Loire and the Seine and opened up even further trading. Only 50 miles of land near the commune of Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert separates the Loire from the Rhône, the route to the Mediterranean Sea.
The humanist cultural explosion and the French Renaissance
The Loire Valley was also the site of a veritable cultural explosion that began in the 16th century. The longstanding university in Orleans appealed to the humanists of the times. Printing experienced a direct boom linked to intellectual intensification. In 1477, René of Anjou commissioned the first printer in the Loire region in Angers, where he also resided in his colossal fortress. And lastly, it was here that Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francis I — who had discovered the Italian reawakening — launched the French Renaissance and became the ambassadors for a new esthetic movement. When Charles VII was forced to flee from Paris, he resided in the Château de Chinon in the Touraine. It was here that the dark and gloomy castles were converted to Renaissance châteaux and became the fine examples of "the French Art of Living".
The Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. "The Loire Valley is noteworthy for the quality of its architectural heritage…(it) is an outstanding cultural landscape along a major river which bears witness to an interchange of human values and to a harmonious development of interactions between human beings and their environment over two millennia."
The prestigious naval industry in the Loire
The Loire was the birthplace of river travel and holds an important place in history with the Saint-Nazaire naval shipyard as its symbol. At the "terminus" of the Loire, just beyond Nantes (which houses the castle that was the residence of the Dukes of Brittany between the 13th and 16th centuries), is one of the largest naval shipyards in Europe known for its globally-recognized expertise.
For centuries, it has been the symbol of pride for a long line of men with the sea in their blood.
Up until the 19th century, thousands upon thousands of ships ensured the safe transport of passengers and merchandise. Once the naval industry began to develop, steam ships began to see the light of day. This technique would revolutionize traditional navigation, but the entire economy in the Loire region unfortunately saw setbacks: several ships would explode. The "nonexplosive" ships then moved to the forefront in 1834. Elegant, reliable, with luxurious interior decoration, they stimulated the rise of steam transportation in the Loire. They carried merchandise and up to 250 passengers on a speedy two-day trip between Orleans and Nantes.
But with the extension of the railways between Orleans and Tours in 1846, and then all the way to Nantes six years later, the 6,000 person strong naval industry in the Loire was crushed by the arrival of modernity and speed. The last, unique steamships disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century.
What remains on the waters today is just the timeless pageant of sailors on traditional boats: flat-bottomed vessels that are an integral part of the river’s history.
And yet, 100 years after the disappearance of steamships, a new, never-seen-before river cruising vessel will arrive on these capricious and well-known waters and glide through this exceptional setting: a new generation paddle riverboat—the height of modern technology and unique in this world—paying tribute to the naval industry etched into the history of the Loire region. A revival of an ancient high-class boating tradition for tourists enamored with beauty and the art of French living. Only from CroisiEurope.