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Four Scenic Cities in the Loire Valley of France

The Loire Valley region of France spans 280km and famed for its stunning chateaus but also home to a handful of historic cities full of charm and character. 
-- Angers, Blois, Saumur and Tours.

The Loire Valley region of France spans 280km and famed for its stunning chateaus but also home to a handful of historic cities full of charm and character. In this travel article we look closer at four cities in this beautiful Valley -- Angers, Blois, Saumur and Tours, and the cultural highlights for each.

Travelling to the Loire Valley is very easy from the UK via plane, train, car or the cross channel ferry being a popular choice. Brittany Ferries offer holidays in the Loire that include ferry travel and accommodation.

Angers

Known as the Black City for the slate quarried from nearby hills and used in building material, Angers is famous for its medieval and modern tapestries, an eclectic gallery in a photogenic half-timbered building, and Cointreau.

Tourists flock to the Chateau d'Angers enjoying the beautiful gardens in the former moat and the view of the city from the ramparts of the fortress. The Apocalypse Tapestry is also found here, the largest medieval tapestry in the world. Woven between 1377 and 1382, the images are based on a 1st century A.D. manuscript and depict the Apocalypse of St. John, interpreted through the upheavals of 14th century France.

A more modern take on tapestry can be found in Hospital Saint-Jean. Inspired in part by the Apocalypse weaving, Jean-Lurcat (1892-1966) created the Chant du Monde (Song of the World) offering a contemporary counterpoint. As befitting its origins, it's the largest contemporary tapestry cycle in the world at 14 feet high and up to 43 feet long.

One of the more photogenic buildings in Angers is also home to an eclectic gallery of local artisans. The House of Adam (Maison d'Adam) is a half-timbered building constructed around the year 1500 and is a home of artisans of Angers. La Maison des Artisans has been on this site since 1990.

The area is also home to the most famous brand of the orange-flavored liqueur triple sec. Cointreau is produced in Saint-Barthelemy-d'Anjou and the distillery is open for tours and a tasting. Visitors to the distillery learn about the history of Cointreau and (perhaps the best part) end with a free Cointreau cocktail recipe created by Edouard Cointreau in 1875

Blois

Blois is a hillside city located on the banks of the lower river Loire between Orleans and Tours. La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin (The House of Magician Robert-Houdin) is the only public museum in Europe that is both a museum to magic and a place for its performance. Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin (1805-1871) is often credited as being the father of modern magic. Before him, magicians performed in marketplaces and fairs, but Robert-Houdin performed magic in theaters.

Opened in 2015, the Maison de la BD is a museum of the art of bande dessinee; a form of comic book popular in France and Belgium. It hosts original artists' drawings, workshops and an artist-in-residence program.

For another kind of art, the Museum of Contemporary Art offers the works from 50 artists and 300 artworks. The entrance is through a grand courtyard as the canvas for Mur des Mots (Wall of Words), a 1995 artwork by Ben, the French artist Benjamin Vautier, commissioned by the city.

The old town of Blois offers beautiful fanciful buildings, but few can match the Maison des Acrobates. As the name suggests, the facade of this 15th century building is filled with carved acrobats. Another architectural must-see is the Staircase Tower of the Chateau de Blois. Added in 1515, the staircase tower mimics an ornately carved interior spiral staircase.

Saumur

When you think Saumur, think horses. Saumur has a long history with horses which continues today as it's home to the French National Horse-Riding School. It's open for tours and shows of equestrian skill.

The former royal apartments of the Chateau de Saumur, originally constructed in the 10th century now house several museums. The Musee des Arts Decoratifs contains European china and tapestries. But for the equestrian-themed collection go up to the attic and into the world of saddlery from across the world. Finally, Musee de la Figurine Jouet is a collection of historic toys and figurines of soldiers, kings of France.

Saumur is also home to a tank museum. The Musee des Blindes is said to have the largest display of tanks, cannons, and other historic vehicles in Europe.

The final unusual museum to make its home in Saumur is the Engine Museum (Musee du Moteur). A repurposed industrial building houses a collection of almost 400 pieces, 300 of which are on exhibit.

Tours

Although much of the city is modern, Tours boasts the carefully restored historic Place Plumereau. The 1970's extensive renovation project recreated the medieval city with timbered houses, shops, markets, and Renaissance houses. It's popular with tourists and locals for its cafes and pedestrian-friendly streets.

Not far, the Place St-Pierre-le-Puellier is worth a visit for its gardens, medieval cemeteries and the remains of an old church.

The only museum of its kind in the world, Tours hosts the Journeyman museum (Le Musee du Compagnonnage) dedicated to the trade guild journeymen showcasing the most beautiful works for each group. Dozens of professions -- from carpentry to saddle-making to locksmithery are celebrated.

Famous Cathedral Saint-Gatien de Tours, dedicated to the first bishop of the city, is on the same site as a number of previous churches all of which were damaged or destroyed. The current Cathedral was started in the 13th century but took over two hundred years to complete. The result is a fascinating pastiche of styles including Gothic and Renaissance touches. The stained glass dates from the 13th century.

More modern, the Basilique St-Martin was built over a mere 40 years, completed in 1925. It was built to replace an earlier basilica, built in the Middle Ages and totally destroyed during the French Revolution.


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March 20, 2017



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