France: Loire Valley

Central Vineyards of the Loire

The wines of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and their neighbours
By Jim Budd

This Guide was last updated on 23 April 2011
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Main towns and villages


A visit to this charming and quintessentially small French town built on a hill top is obligatory. The town dominates the immediate area and provides memorable views of the Loire and its vineyards. Much of the centre is old with a number of buildings dating from the 16th century. A series of narrow streets lead away from the small central square. The present Château de Sancerre, perched on top of the hill, was built in 1874. However the original château was built in the 10th century and demolished in 1621. Sancerre is a popular tourist destination, busy in the peak summer season.


Pouilly marks the halfway point in the Loire’s long journey from the mountains of the Ardèche to the Atlantic Ocean. A notice on the pontoon bridge across the Loire announces that it is 496km to the source and 496km to the ocean. In its heyday it was along the celebrated ‘la route bleue’ – the road from Paris to the Mediterranean, but today there remains just a few faded and faint vestiges of the then famous gastronomic restaurants that served travelers. Unfortunately the small town is a sad place and the contrast with Sancerre is stark.


Small market town with several churches and a convent that are worth visiting – Saint Agnan (built in 1060), the 15th century Gothic styled Saint Jacques and the convent that the Augustine order occupied from 1616 to the French Revolution. Part of the convent building is now given over to the Musée de la Loire.


This wonderfully historic town is the capital of the region known as Berry, and it has a reasonable claim to be the centre of France. Like many French towns the approaches to Bourges are littered with tacky shopping warehouses but it is worth persevering to reach the centre, which is a real gem – one of the largest areas of medieval and renaissance buildings in France.  If wine is only a small part of your interest in the region, then making Bourges your base would make a lot of sense. There’s a bigger selection of hotels and restaurants and far better shopping than Sancerre, Pouilly, Cosne or La Charité can offer. Most of the vineyard areas are only a short drive away. Bourges now has three one-star Michelin restaurants: L’Abbaye Saint-Amboix (see under Grand Hotel Mercure in ‘Places to Stay’), Le Piet-à-Terre (formerly in Châteaumeillant) and D’Antan Sancerrois ( It is also one of the few places in France to have a newly opened chocolate bar at the La Tour de Beurre, 98 Rue Bourbonnoux.

La Charité-sur-Loire

Parts of the town date back to the 11th century, La Charité was an important crossing point on the Loire where the route up the Loire and then the Cher and across to Champagne and Lorraine met that from Paris heading down to the Auvergne. It was also on the one of the Saint Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage routes. The Priory and L’Eglise de Notre Dame are certainly worth visiting.

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