‘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.