The Loire is one of France’s most beautiful rivers, but because of notoriously shallow depths, the river has been largely unnavigable for river cruisers – until recently. Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope developed a paddlewheeler that can propel itself along the Loire, and now for the first time ever, this beautiful river is possible to experience on a river cruise.
Hi, I’m Ralph Grizzle and this week I’m cruising France’s Loire River. Now there’s only one vessel that can navigate this shallow river, and that’s CroisiEurope’s Loire Princesse. I’ll tell you more about this engineering marvel and show you some of the beauty of France’s Loire Valley.
Flowing for more than 600 miles, the Loire is France’s longest river. It begins in a mountainous region in the south of France and dumps into the Bay of Biscay. Along its banks are storied cities and beautiful chateaux.
The problem with this river is that it’s so shallow that no riverboats can navigate it. Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope came up with a solution. The family owned company developed the Loire Princesse. She features paddle wheels on each side of the vessel to propel the Loire Princesse along the Loire River. Now, for the first time ever, it’s possible to see one of the most beautiful regions in France — on a river cruise.
Able to accommodate 90 guests, the Loire Princesse features an overall design that’s intended to evoke l’élégance à la française. The ship features rich colors and beautiful fabrics by Missoni of Milan, copper light fixtures by Tom Dixon, an award-winning English designer, and a roomy lounge with lots of seating.
One deck below the lounge is the dining room, which can seat all 90 guests at once. Here you’ll feast on culinary creations developed in partnerships with some of France’s most celebrated chefs.
As nice as the Loire Princesse as is, however, it is the Loire river itself that is the star of the show, and along its river banks are some fascinating sights, including the Loire Valley’s beautiful chateaux.
Chief among those is the Chateau de Chambord. Construction began here in the 1500s to build a mansion that would feature 285 fireplaces, 140 rooms in 84 staircases. It’s hard to believe that Chateau de Chambord was built primarily as a hunting lodge for King Frances I.
Château de Chenonceau features beautiful gardens and an interesting history. The chateau spans the river Cher, which formed the border during World War II between Free France and Occupied France. The chateau was used as an escape route for those fleeing Nazi Germany.
CroisiEurope’s Loire river cruises begin and end in Nantes. About a decade ago, Time magazine named Nantes as the most livable city in Europe. Centuries ago, the city was a major merchant hub, with rich ship owners who made the waterfront the wealthiest part of the city. The Dukes of Brittany had their castle here, and while Nantes is not within Brittany proper, the city reflects the spirit and is regarded as a cultural capital Brittany.
The Machines of the Isle of Nantes attempts to portray Nantes as a city of dreams and fantasies. The Marines World Carousel features fantastical underwater creatures. It may come as no surprise to learn that the writer Jules Verne, who wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, was born in Nantes.
Perhaps the most memorable attraction here, however, is the mechanical elephant. It’s made from 45 tons of wood and steal, and can carry passengers on a slow and fun walk.
What’s a visit to France without wine? The Loire is famous for its Muscadet. Muscadet is a white wine made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, and you’ll have a chance to learn about it and to do some tastings in beautiful wine cellars on your Loire river cruise.
Situated on what was the border of Brittany and France, Clisson is a medieval city with a centuries old fortification known as the Chateau de Clisson. Most of the castle was built during the 13th century, flanked by round towers and isolated by a moat. Both the town of Clisson and the castle were destroyed in 1792 and 1793 during the War in the Vendee. The remains to the castle are classified as a historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture.
The Chateau de Brissac was originally built in the 11th century, but it was severely damaged during the French Wars of Religion. When rebuilt in the 1600s, the chateau became the tallest chateau in all of France. The castle was ransacked during the French revolution during the 1700s, then later restored. Today the castle is still family owned and at seven stories high is the tallest chateau in the Loire Valley.
Built between 1518 and 1527, the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau is situated on a small island in the middle of the Indre river. The chateau occupies a site of a former feudal castle that was destroyed during the Hundred Years War when the future King Charles VII stopped in the town while fleeing Paris, which at that time was occupied by troops from Burgundy. Angered by insults of the occupying troops, he ordered his own army to storm the castle. More than 300 soldiers inside were executed, and the castle burned to the ground. For centuries its fate was commemorated in the town’s name of Azay- le-Brûlé (meaning Azay the Burnt), which remained in use until the 18th century.
So how did all of these beautiful chateaux come about? Well, until about the middle of the 16th century, the Loire had been the center of power for France when many of the chateaux we’re built. The Chateau de Villandry is famous for its Renaissance Gardens, which are laid out informal patterns created with low box edges, watergardens, ornamental flower gardens and vegetable gardens.
The Chateau d’Usse is said to have been the inspiration for Charles Perot’s fairytale of Sleeping Beauty. Indeed, the fortified towers of the chateau may remind you of the Disney animation based on the classic fairy tale of a beautiful princess who was the victim of an evil cursed that put her into a deep sleep for 100 years. She was awakened however, by handsome prince.
And that brings us to the end of this fairy-tale journey as shown to us by the true princess of this river, the Loire Princesse. I’m Ralph Grizzle. Thanks for spending time with me today on the beautiful, Loire river.
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com.