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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!