Loire stops

France’s long­est wa­ter­way flows 629 miles, from the Mas­sif Cen­tral through the Loire Val­ley and into the At­lantic’s Bay of Bis­cay. Laura Gelder goes with the flow

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Nantes

usu­ally the start and end point of a loire cruise, Brit­tany’s cap­i­tal was the site of the world’s first pub­lic trans­port ser­vice, the om­nibus, in 1826 and the birth­place of science fic­tion writer Jules verne. at the heart of the town is the chateau des Ducs de Bre­tagne, but other at­trac­tions in­clude the gothic cathe­dral and the botan­i­cal gar­dens. Quirky spots num­ber the old bis­cuit fac­tory, now con­verted into a trendy arts cen­tre, and Machines of the isle of nantes, an ar­tisitic project in an old ship­yard.

Ance­nis

Dubbed the key or door of Brit­tany, ance­nis is a jumpin­goff point for the Mus­cadet wine re­gion and its pretty vil­lages and vine­yards are dot­ted with cel­lars open for tours and tast­ings. al­ter­na­tively, visi­tors can dis­cover the many dif­fer­ent types of wine the re­gion pro­duces at the Mai­son des vins in ance­nis it­self. the town’s mod­ern theatre and li­brary blend in with the old château, saint-Pierre church, manor houses and more hum­ble homes with cast-iron bal­conies.

Bouchemain

this is the gate­way to the fairy­tale chateaux of the loire val­ley. there are more than 1,000 within reach for a day trip but the clos­est is per­haps the most iconic – the cream tur­rets of chateau d’ussé are said to be the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind sleep­ing

Beauty. other high­lights in­clude chateau azay-lerideau, which sits on an is­land in the mid­dle of the river in­dre, cre­at­ing a mirror im­age of it­self in the still wa­ter, and chateau de vil­landry, known for its amaz­ing gar­dens.

Angers

Me­dieval cob­bled streets and busy cafes for quaffing the lo­cal wine, as well as coin­treau liqueur, set the scene in angers. the old town is full of half-tim­bered houses and the 13th cen­tury chateau d’angers houses the world’s largest me­dieval ta­pes­try – the 328-foot apoc­a­lypse ta­pes­try which was com­mis­sioned by the Duke of an­jou in 1370 took seven years to com­plete. this lively univer­sity city is home to over 39,000 stu­dents and has some ex­cel­lent places to eat.

Clis­son

from an­cen­cis, head up the trib­u­tary river sèvre nan­taise and tour the dis­tinctly ital­ian-in­flu­enced town of clis­son, which was fash­ioned by three french artists who in the 18th cen­tury helped re­shape the war-torn town on their re­turn from italy. sights in­clude a me­dieval cas­tle and 15th-cen­tury cov­ered mar­ket hall. Just out of town, ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude hik­ing in the val­ley clis­son’s 21 bu­colic trails of­fer­ing views of rivers and vine­yards.

Saint-Nazaire

Down­stream from nantes, on the at­lantic coast, this at­mo­spheric port is a cen­tre for mar­itime his­tory. Must-sees are es­cal’at­lantic, a mu­seum that ex­plores the his­toric ocean liner ex­pe­ri­ence, and the saint-nazaire ship­yard. the yard is one of the largest in europe and the birth­place of some of the great­est transat­lantic lin­ers as well as mod­ern ves­sels like royal caribbean’s 5,479-pas­sen­ger har­mony­ofthe­seas - so surely a great ex­cur­sion for any cruise lover!

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