In the eyes and hearts of those who continue to fall under its spell, the Loire Valley represents the very soul of la douce France, a place of enchantment in which anything seems possible. And it’s easy to see why, for where else can you find such a dazzling selection of extraordinary places in quite such an appealing package? No wonder a large proportion of the region is now classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The signs are everywhere, from world renowned vineyards, whose origins lie in the vines planted by the Romans, to elegant Renaissance chateaux created by kings and noblemen as places of pleasure and diversion. Gardens, too, are often exquisitely landscaped, creating an earthly paradise in what has long been aptly referred to as the Garden of France. It’s also a realm of mysticism and spirituality, of holy sites dating from the dawn of Christianity, spectacular Gothic cathedrals reaching skywards and where a medieval abbey still resonates to the haunting chant of medieval plainsong. And, ever present, flowing among gentle landscapes shaped through millennia by the extraordinary people who have settled here, is the hypnotic presence of France’s longest river.