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Loire Valley Through the Ages
Marauding Huns laid siege to Orléans in AD 451, just 44 years after the death of St. Martin, fabled Bishop of Tours. The next invaders were the Vikings, who pillaged their way down to Angers in the ninth century. Then came the English: in 1154—two years after wedding Eleanor of Aquitaine—Henry Plantagenet became King of England and sovereign of almost all of western France, the Loire included. In 1189 he died (as Henry II) in Chinon. In 1199 his son, Richard the Lion-Hearted, died there, too; both are buried (alongside Eleanor) in Fontevraud Abbey, founded a century earlier.
But the French were having none of this foreign hegemony. Beefy castles (Langeais, Chinon) sprouted up along the valley. In 1429 Joan of Arc kicked the English out of Orléans.
Her triumph was short-lived but soon the Loire was back in French hands, and a period of peace and prosperity ensued that saw the region become the center of French culture and politics. The Renaissance arrived in the 1490s, when Charles VII hired Italian craftsmen to update his château at Amboise; then Renaissance prince François I lured Leonardo da Vinci to Amboise, where he died in 1519—the year François began building the world's most fanciful château, Chambord.
The next hundred years were the Loire's pleasure-palace golden age. The decline set in with Louis XIV and his obsession with Versailles. Tours served briefly as French capital in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, and the region enjoyed an unwelcome spotlight in 1940, when Petain met Hitler in Montoire-sur-Loir. When France was freed from the Nazi yoke four years later, the Loire was briefly in the frontline, as bombarded Tours and Orléans recall. But, elsewhere, its rural tranquillity emerged untouched. You'll mostly have the impression that time has stopped.
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