At more than 1000 kilometres long the Loire River is the longest river in France.
It flows from the eastern side of the Massif central (to the west of Valence), then flowing broadly north to reach Orleans, then towards the west through Tours, Angers and Nantes until it reaches the Atlantic at Saint-Nazaire on the western coast of France.
Between Sully-sur-Loire in Loiret and Chalonnes-sur-Loire in Maine-et-Loire, the Loire Valley, under the name of the Val de Loire, is listed as a French world heritage site by UNESCO. This is also the region that most people would generally consider as being the 'Loire Valley'
Loire Valley heritage site
This region is best known for its fine castles, typically grand renaissance period renovations and reconstructions of medieval castles carried out by the wealthy from Paris during the 16th to 18th centuries - see Loire Valley Chateaux for details.
But there is much more to the Loire valley than castles. There are some extraordinary and fascinating historic towns in the Loire valley - for example Amboise, Blois, Orléans, Chinon, Saumur, Tours (many of these also associated with castles), and also many interesting smaller towns and villages, several among them listed among the 'most beautiful villages in France.
The landscape along the river itself is also very attractive. For the large part very well maintained, planned and controlled since hundreds of years ago, it now forms a beautiful, managed landscape, in which the chateau and the river seem to fit perfectly in the natural environment.
To learn more about the highlights of the region see the Loire Valley travel guide.
To summarise the region, UNESCO described the reason for listing the Val de Loire as a protected site:
"an exceptional cultural landscape, of great beauty, comprised of historic cities and villages, great architectural monuments - the Châteaux - and lands that have been cultivated and shaped by centuries of interaction between local populations and their physical environment, in particular the Loire itself."