There are actually 2 Loire valleys: the grand Loire, with its procession of magnificent olde-worlde châteaux, and the smaller, prettier Loir (sans e) which has a handful of really lovely (and not remotely stuffy) castles-turned-chambres d’hôtes in which to base yourselves. Be hosted by Comte & Comtesse de Vanssay at the elegant Chateau de La Barre, or go for true romance at Chateau de Saint Paterne. In the Loir’s verdant 30km vale are some important historical sites. These include the 11th century ruins of the Château de Lavardin and the village’s Romanesque church frescoes, the Gothic Trinity Abbey in Vendôme, with some of Europe’s oldest stained glass windows, and the Renaissance Manoir de la Possonnière, birthplace of Pierre de Ronsard, France’s ‘prince of poets’.
Less cavernous and more cave-like dwellings can be found in the troglodyte village of Trôo; claustrophobic types may prefer the outdoor delights of the beautifully landscaped Jardin du Plessis Sasnières. Modern and ancient combine in the medieval town of Le Mans, host of the famous 24-hour race car circuit, and in Clos Lucé, the last resting place of Leonardo da Vinci, now a park with interactive displays of his genius inventions. And naturellement, there's wine tasting at the excellent Loir wineries - a timeless pleasure.