Centre is the French region located just northwest of the geographic center of the country, and centers around the Loire Valley, a rich, fertile area. This is the region famous for the many majestic Loire Valley châteaux, a major tourist draw.
Tours is the name of the largest city in Centre and is located near the lower parts of the Loire, between the Atlantic coast and Orléans. The region around Tours, called Touraine, is well-known for its wines. The metropolitan area in and around Tours has a population of around 300,000. In the area roughly between the cities of Tours and Blois you can see the following châteaux: Chenenceau, Amboise, Chaumont, Cheverny, Beauregard, Blois, and Chambord.
Tours is also home to the cathedral dedicated to Saint Gatien, built in the 12th century and added to in the 15th. The city is nicknamed “Le Jardin de la France” and boasts several parks. The Loire River runs north of the city, and the Cher runs to the south. The original medieval district of the city, le Vieux Tours, contains numerous half-timbered buildings and a square called la Place Plumereau, bustling with open air pubs and restaurants.
Blois, home to the Château de Blois, at one time occupied by King Louis XII, is built across two steep hills, and is full of steep and winding pathways and a few staircases. The remains of the thick woods that once flanked the city to the south, the Forêt de Russy, are still evident.
Orléans is close to the châteaux Sully sur Loire and Meung sur Loire. The city has five bridges across the Loire and is home to several museums of interest, including the Natural Sciences Museum, the Charles Peguy Centre, the Historical and Archaeological Museum, and Joan of Arc’s House.
Chartres is on the left bank of the Eure River and is famous for its cathedral with its landmark spires. The cathedral is considered to be the finest example of the Gothic cathedral in France, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It took 66 years to build, starting in 1205. The cathedral is exceptionally well-preserved, with most of the original stained glass windows intact. Other famous churches in Chartres include the abbey church of St. Pierre, St. Aignan, and St. Martin-au-Val.
Chartres is also known for its Musée des Beaux-Arts, Le Grenier de l’Histoire Musée (which specializes in military accoutrements), Le Centre International du Vitrail (devoted to stained glass art), the Muséum de Sciences Naturelles et de la Préhistoire, and the Conservatoire du Machinisme et des Pratiques Agricoles (an agricultural museum).
If you are able to reach the Loire Valley by driving from Paris, you will be rewarded with a spectacular drive through some very beautiful French countryside. It is no mystery why the Loire Valley was so coveted by England during the Middle Ages. Not only is the scenery amazing and the châteaux majestic, but the area is filled with a rich history, populated by a hospitable people, and home to the longest river in France. No tour of France would be complete without a few days in Centre.