Featured Location: The Wonderful Loire Valley
The Loire Valley in France is the type of place you might think of if you were asked to conjure up the most spellbinding fairytale landscape you could imagine. Collect your hire car from Nantes Airport or Tours, and you’re right in the heart of the Loire Valley, a magical land of spectacular castles, rolling landscapes, and enchanting wines. Fortunately, car hire in France from Nova means you can explore the entire region with ease.
6 Places to See in the Loire Valley
You can’t throw a stone in the Loire Valley without hitting a castle, but Chambord is one of the more spectacular. Built as a hunting lodge for Francois I, Chambord is a splendid examples of French Renaissance architecture. Leonardo da Vinci is said to have designed its famous double-helix staircase as a means of avoiding any awkward encounters between Francois’s wife and his mistress.
For something more tranquil and restrained, try the Chateau de Chenonceau, a 40-minute drive from Tours with car hire. The Gothic/Renaissance chateau is set literally on the River Cher, so its stunning architecture can be doubly appreciated, reflected on the calm waters. The castle and its extensive gardens are open to the public, including gardens created by Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers, as well as a maze of yew.
Once you arrive in Amboise, a half-hour drive from Tours with car hire, you certainly won’t need to ask for directions to the castle. The Chateau d’Amboise poses on a promontory overlooking the Loire River, dominating the entire landscape. Originally constructed in the 11th century, it has been rebuilt in a variety of styles over the years. King Charles VIII suffered a fatal head injury here when he collided with a door lintel in 1498.
Even if you’re not vaguely religious, Chartres Cathedral will impress. The only cathedral in the world to be virtually frozen in time in terms of architecture and design details, it stands today almost exactly as it did on completion in 1260. Its extensive portal sculptures are completely preserved, and its jewel-like stained-glass windows are perfectly intact. An important pilgrimage destination since the Middle Ages, Chartres evokes an air of awe and reverence even among the nonreligious.
Take a break from all those chateaus with a visit to the East. The Parc Oriental de Maulevrier is the biggest Japanese garden in Europe. A 66km journey from Nantes with car hire, the park is worth visiting to appreciate the slow art of Bonsai taken to extremes. Surround yourself with extraordinary tree sculptures and glorious blossoms, particularly in early summer. Complete the Oriental experience at the charming Japanese tea rooms.
You would be forgiven for thinking that most Loire Valley inhabitants used to live in chateaus, but once you begin to notice the rather more humble dwellings dug into the hillsides and rock faces, you’ll change your mind. Called troglodytes, these were the homes of locals who cut into the region’s soft stone to create living spaces that remain at a tolerable 12 degrees centigrade winter and summer. One of the best examples of a troglodyte village is at Rochemenier, about 94km from Nantes with car hire.