Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Vive La Loire

I was on assignment in the Loire Valley last week (ooh, that sounds so important) for an article on hotels, and it soon became obvious to me that only a fool would live in the Paris area for three years without having visited this gorgeous area. Being that fool, I hereby confess that my previous feelings about the Loire Valley had to do with a trip I took there with my family back in the Dark Ages, when computers were house-sized and the only people who had cell phones were the characters on Star Trek. While I seem to recall that the castles were very pretty, my memories of those royal abodes are mixed with scenes of domestic angst where my younger brother, who was three at the time, rebelled against incessant castle-viewing, and my mother, who still can’t understand why a three-year-old would not be interested in French history, furiously stormed one chateau after another.

I think my primary revelation was that there’s a lot more to the Loire than castles. Without launching into a guidebook entry, I’d like to point out that this languid river valley has a lot of other things going for it, like a) hundreds of kilometers of bike paths (there’s a long-term plan to make it possible to cycle from the Loire to the Danube); b) pretty hotels that are about a third of the price of similar digs in Paris; and c) that languid river—a natural, wild river that has never been strangled by canals and dams.

Actually, there are at least three rivers here that look like they are posing for an idyllic landscape painting: the Loire, the Cher, and the Indre. None are deep enough for serious river traffic, but you can paddle down them on a canoe or a kayak, or sign up for a ride on a traditional flat-bottomed boat. The view was so green, so peaceful, so relaxing, that all I really wanted to do was sit on someone’s veranda and read a book for a week or so. Of course, the intermittent rain and occasional hailstorms served to remind me that one of the reasons that Parisians leap-frog this lovely area at vacation time and head further south is that it shares a good portion of Paris’ soggy weather. After, all, it is only an hour or two south of the city. But that’s just it! It’s only a couple of hours south of the city. And if you can’t get to Spain or the Côte d’Azur, why not go to the Loire? These days, you can even find things to do there with a three-year-old.