CENTRE


‘Centre’ is the name used administratively, although the region – unaffected by the 2015 changes to the regions of France – is commonly called Centre-Val de Loire or the Loire valley. The Loire valley and its châteaux are classed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Centre region encompasses the central départements of Cher, Indre, Indre-et-Loire, Loir-et-Cher, Loiret, and Eure-et-Loir, and is bounded by the regions of Normandy and Île-de-France to the north, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté to the east, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes to the south-east, Nouvelle-Aquitaine to the south, and Pays de la Loire to the west. The capital is Orléans, although Tours is the largest city, and undoubtedly the region’s cultural capital.


France’s longest river (1,020km/634 miles), the Loire bisects the region, flowing from its source in the mountains in the southern Massif Central to the Atlantic south of Brittany, and defines the region. It has always been wealthy thanks to the fertility of the land. The river is the dividing line between the cold north and warmer south, although it may not always feel that way.

Historically, the ‘Centre’ Region included the three provinces: Orleans (now Loiret, Eure-et-Loir, Loir-et-Cher); Berry (Cher and Indre) and Touraine (Indre-et-Loire). These identities and their traditions remain in the hearts and minds of the local people, despite government reorganisation.



The Loire valley is a land of chateaux, hunting lodges and cathedrals, and is often visited by those with an interest in Medieval and Renaissance architecture. It is also a perfect place to walk and to cycle; the flat countryside by the river proving ideal for those on bikes or on foot. There are plenty of lakes and smaller rivers and the fertile landscape is covered with lush woodland, orchards, and fields of maize and sunflowers.

The region is also a primary wine-producing region, known especially for white wines such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.



In the north of the region lies the area known as la Beauce, one of the two historic breadbaskets of France. This is a gently undulating plateau where vast wheat fields stretch as far as they eye can see. The area’s main city, Chartres, is famous for its magnificent cathedral, one of the earliest and finest gothic cathedrals in France.  

The middle of this region is characterised by the low-lying valleys of the river Loire and its tributaries. This area was popular with the kings of France and their dukes during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and is rich with magnificent châteaux, notably Chambord, Azay-le-Rideau, Blois, Villandry, Langeais or Chenonceaux.

Between Orleans, Blois and Vierzon lies a vast area of forest and heathland known as La Sologne, popular with hunters, nature-lovers and hikers.

In the south and south-east, covering the departments of the Cher and the Indre, the Centre region rises gently towards the hills of the Limousin and the Auvergne; this area, known as le Berry, is a deeply agricultural area, with mixed farming. Its capital is the city of Bourges, with a fine historic centre. Finally, to the south-west of the town of Chateauroux lies an area known as La Brenne, the "Land of a Thousand Lakes", and one of the most important wetlands in France.  


PLACES TO EXPLORE

Cher
·         Ainé le Vieil: Enchanting small chateau built inside the defensive walls of a medieval fortress which is surrounded by a moat.
·         Bourges: Attractive historic centre, with great gothic cathedral, later than that of Chartres: fine medieval sculptures and stained glass; also the famous Renaissance town residence of Jacques Coeur.
·         Gargilesse: Picturesque village, with the home of 19th century novelist George Sand.
·         Noirlac  Abbaye de Noirlac: one of the Best preserved Cistercian monasteries in Europe, founded on the banks of the river Cher in the year 1136.

Indre
·         La Brenne: Area of 1000 lakes, major wetland renowned for its birds.
·         Valençay: A fine Loire château, further from the Loire than most others.
·         Tours: largest city in the region, with an attractive historic centre of old half-timbered houses, St Gatien's cathedral, and a castle.
·         Chinon: Attractive small town, dominated by its large medieval castle, built by King Henry II of England, who was also Duke of Anjou. Henry is buried in nearby Fontevraud abbey, in the Pays de la Loire region
·         Loches: Small town built around a medieval fortress and Renaissance castle. Old city gates, and narrow cobbled streets.

Eure et Loir
·         Chartres: Arguably the most famous Gothic cathedral in France, famous in particular for its medieval stained-glass windows.
·         Illiers-Combray: A village near Chartres Marcel Proust depicted life in Illiers in his novel, arguably the greatest French novel of the 20th century. Illiers was the model for Proust"s Combray, and today has a Proust museum in "La Maison de Tante Léonie". Illiers changed its name to Illiers-Combray in 1971, on the centenary of Proust's birth.

Loiret
·         Briare:  the Canal bridge. Located at the northern end of the Loire valley canal, and opened in 1896, it was until 2003 the longest navigable aqueduct in the world. It connects the Loire canal to the Briare canal, one of the oldest canals in the world, completed in 1642.
·         Orleans: Regional capital, an historic city on the banks of the Loire. The centre has many historic buildings, and a cathedral that was rebuilt in the 17th century.

Loir et Cher
·         Blois: Historic town on the northern bank of the Loire, with a Renaissance castle.
·         Bourré, near Montrichard: Unique subterranean village, sculpted into the soft local stone.
·         Zoo Parc de Beauval, in the Loire valley area. Over 4000 animals, with one of  the largest wildlife collections in France.


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