Dozens of châteaux dot this verdant river valley southwest of Paris, a region that UNESCO designated a World Heritage site for its numerous cultural monuments that "illustrate to an exceptional degree the ideals of the Renaissance and the Age of the Enlightenment on western European thought and design."
The ecological fecundity along France's longest river (notably its birds and tropical plants) is a draw in itself, and can be explored by horseback, hiking trail or hot air balloon. But the most famous inhabitants of this region are its castles, of which the Château de Chambord is perhaps the best known. Constructed in the 16th century as a hunting lodge for François I, Chambord is a massive display of French Renaissance architecture, with bastion towers and a double-helix staircase.
Other Loire towns, such as Blois, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur and Tours, feature equally stunning, regally appointed abodes with a seemingly inexhaustible array of gardens, turrets and portrait galleries. The region is also celebrated for its wines -- the Loire Valley is the largest white wine-growing region in France. Appellations like Anjou, Saumur and Touraine have been producing celebrated vintages for centuries.
Château de Marcay
Picturesque 15th-century turreted castle-hotel set in parkland near the medieval town of Chinon, a short drive from the Loire Valley’s fabulous Renaissance châteaux of Azay-le-Rideauand Villandry (3½ hours southwest of Paris).