Image – Chateau Chenonceau with its illuminated gardens, Copyright Atout France/Maurice Subervie.
Indre et Loire is the old region of Touraine, rich in history and architecture. The department counts several of the Loire’s most exquisite chateaux among its treasures, from the ancient forbidding fortress of Chinon to the Renaissance luxury of Azay-le-Rideau. These pleasures are complemented by fine delicate Loire wines, such as those of Bourgeuil, Chinon and Vouvray, a perfect accompaniment to the early fruit and vegetables, including white asparagus, which are grown in these fertile soils. The river itself, the gentle hills and woods of the area make it perfect for hiking, boating and fishing, as well as visiting chateaux.
Towns in the Indre-et-Loire
Hotels in Indre et Loire
The chateau of Chinon stands imposingly above the river Vienne, best viewed from the opposite bank. It has always been a major defensive site and many of the remaining fortifications date from the 14th century and are wonderful to explore. Chinon is most famous as the castle where Jeanne d’Arc met the Dauphin on her mission to save France from the English. The old town below the castle is a delight with its cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. You can visit the caves where the local wine confraternity caroused and at nearby Devinière is the house where Rabelais, carouser extraordinaire, was born, the Musée Rabelais, restored and furnished in typical local style.
East along the river are more chateaux. Ussé, drowsing in a romantic forest, is said to be the chateau which inspired Sleeping Beauty and the fortified chateaux of Langeais and Cinq Mars. The Renaissance chateau of Villandry is as famous for its gardens as the building – they have been superbly restored to 16th century designs with geometric flower beds, water gardens, lime tree walks and a huge ornamental vegetable garden, starring spectacular decorative cabbages. Azay le Rideau to the south on the river Indre is another treat which Balzac called “a faceted diamond set in the Indre.” Its graceful balanced form in white stone with spires on each corner is reflected in the surrounding lake. It is a Renaissance masterpiece noted for its wide staircase, sumptuous furnishings and a kitchen equipped for kings. Tours is the main town of the department, a beautiful old town of half-timbered buildings and Renaissance stone surrounding the main square, Place Plumereau, now full of chic boutiques and elegant restaurants. The TGV line to Vouvray makes it an easy hop for Parisians. Further along the Loire is the chateau of Amboise, a classic sight with its white walls and grey slate turrets. It was a favourite residence of the French kings and it was here that Leonardo da Vinci came as court painter in 1516. He lived in the Manoir du Clos-Lucé where you can visit a museum devoted to his amazing inventions.
Chenonceau is another gem with its gallery spanning the river Cher in great arches and its wonderful formal gardens. It is called the women’s chateau, built by Catherine Briconnet in the 16th century, later given to Diane de Poitiers by Henri II, then jealously taken over by Catherine de Medici. You could easily spend the day here, boating on the river, looking at gardens, enjoying a meal in the restaurant and watching a son et lumière performance in the cool of the evening. In the south of the department are yet more chateaux, Montresor and Loches in particular, worth a leisurely detour following the river Indre.