Loir et Cher lies at the heart of the Val de Loire, a land full of history, with several of the most important Loire chateaux, including Chambord, the most splendid of all. It is crossed by both the Loire itself and the smaller Loir, and encompasses a variety of landscapes, not just the river banks but also the misty forests of the Sologne and the Perche, famous for its horses. As well as historic sites to visit, there are river and forest paths for walking and cycling, and both rivers can be navigated by canoe. Gourmets will appreciate the many local delicacies such as asparagus and strawberries, game from the Sologne and the famous upside down apple tart created here, Tarte Tatin.
Towns in the Loir et Cher
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Blois is the capital of the department, a royal city dreaming beside the river. Its architectural heritage is rich, and a route royal will take you around its splendours, the fine houses and charming courtyards of the old town. The chateau itself was built in four successive stages, each more magnificent than the last, culminating in the famous octagonal staircase built for Francois I in 1524. East of Blois is Chambord, the largest chateau of the Loire, a truly amazing sight with its roof-line of cupolas, chimneys, spires and domes, which you can see close up from the roof terrace. There are over 400 rooms, and a Grand Staircase, apparently designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself. Other chateaux not to be missed include Cheverny, a classical building from the 17th century, where you can watch the hunting dogs fed each day at 5pm, and Chaumont, now famous for its annual garden festival.
To the northwest is Vendome, its TGV stop making it a gateway to the area, and within an hour of Paris, so it is popular with Parisian commuters. It remains a charming town with stone and half-timbered buildings, lovely gardens including the Parc Ronsard on the banks of the Loir river, and excellent restaurants. To the north is the valley of the little Loir river, never to be confused with its bigger sister, which offers walking, fishing, boat trips and visits to the intriguing troglodyte caves dug out of the soft tufa stone of the riverside cliff face. Several troglodyte villages can be visited, among them Les Roches-l’Eveque, La Chartre-sur-le-Loir and Troo, which has a Romanesque church and a whole section of subterranean troglodyte houses.
Most of the Sologne is in Loir et Cher, a flat marshy land of heaths and forests, quiet country lanes, and low farmhouses traditionally built of wood and clay, “the land without a name” as Alain Fournier called it in his novel, Les Grand Meaulnes. In the past the forests were impenetrably dense and only recently have attempts been made to plant the land, and drain the marshes. It provides a truly rural experience and though there are small museums, chateaux and villages to see, it is the countryside which is the main attraction. Around Romaranthin-Lanthenay, capital of the Sologne, is an area of small pools, often covered in water lilies, which are a paradise for birdwatchers. Every autumn a Journée Gastronomique is held in Romaranthin when you can sample all the delicious products the Sologne has to offer from pates, and sausages to game and, of course, Tarte Tatin.