The Pays de la Loire region is a recent creation, not one of France’s historic regions. Indeed, the regional capital, Nantes, was once the capital of Brittany – to which it no longer belongs. In historic terms, Pays de la Loire covers parts of the old provinces of Brittany, Anjou, Maine and Poitou. .
The Loire is the longest river in France and the 171st longest in the world. With a length of 1,012 kilometres (629 mi), it drains an area of 117,054 km2 (45,195 sq mi), or more than a fifth of France’s land area, while its average discharge is only half that of the Rhône.
It rises in the highlands of the southeastern quarter of the French Massif Central in the Cévennes range (in the department of Ardèche) at 1,350 m (4,430 ft) near Mont Gerbier de Jonc; it flows north through Nevers to Orléans, then west through Tours and Nantes until it reaches the Bay of Biscay (Atlantic Ocean) at Saint-Nazaire. Its main tributaries include the rivers Nièvre, Maine and the Erdre on its right bank, and the rivers Allier, Cher, Indre, Vienne, and the Sèvre Nantaise on the left bank.
The Loire gives its name to six departments: Loire, Haute-Loire, Loire-Atlantique, Indre-et-Loire, Maine-et-Loire, and Saône-et-Loire. The central part of the Loire Valley, located in the Pays de la Loire and Centre-Val de Loire regions, was added to the World Heritage Sites list of UNESCO on December 2, 2000. Vineyards and châteaux are found along the banks of the river throughout this section and are a major tourist attraction.
The human history of the Loire river valley begins with the Middle Palaeolithic period of 90–40 kya (thousand years ago), followed by modern humans (about 30 kya), succeeded by the Neolithic period (6,000 to 4,500 BC), all of the recent Stone Age in Europe. Then came the Gauls, the historical tribes in the Loire during the Iron Age period 1500 to 500 BC; they used the Loire as a major riverine trading route by 600 BC, establishing trade with the Greeks on the Mediterranean coast. Gallic rule ended in the valley in 56 BC when Julius Caesar conquered the adjacent provinces for Rome. Christianity was introduced into this valley from the 3rd century AD, as missionaries (many later recognized as saints), converted the pagans. In this period, settlers established vineyards and began producing wines.
The Loire Valley has been called the “Garden of France” and is studded with over a thousand châteaux, each with distinct architectural embellishments covering a wide range of variations, from the early medieval to the late Renaissance periods. They were originally created as feudal strongholds, over centuries past, in the strategic divide between southern and northern France; now many are privately owned.
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The Loire Valley
If it’s French splendour, style and gastronomy you seek, the Loire Valley will exceed your expectations, no matter how great. Poised on the crucial frontier between northern and southern France, and just a short train or autoroute ride from Paris, the region was once of immense strategic importance. Kings, queens, dukes and nobles came here to establish feudal castles and, later on, sumptuous pleasure palaces – that’s why this fertile river valley is sprinkled with hundreds of France’s most opulent aristocratic estates. With crenellated towers, soaring cupolas and glittering banquet halls, the region’s châteaux, and the villages and vineyards that surround them, attest to over a thousand years of rich architectural and artistic creativity. The Loire Valley is also known for its outstanding wines (red, white, rosé and sparkling) and lively, sophisticated cities, including Orléans, Blois, Tours and Angers – yet more reasons why the entire area is an enormous Unesco World Heritage Site.