Things to see and do - Châteaux of the Loire
The Region today
The Region today
Population and lifestyle
The population of the Pays de la Loire is in excess of 3.2 million, with the greatest concentrations being in
- Nantes (406 000)
- Angers (208 000)
- Le Mans (190 000)
The population density is in the region of 100 persons per sq km.
The Loire region is a prime tourist destination and wine-producing area, and as a result its inhabitants enjoy a comfortable and prosperous lifestyle based on these principal activities. Some branches of the region‘s economy (such as industry, property building and tourism) have had problems with providing new jobs in recent years, or even with keeping pre-existing employment. But on the whole, the general economic trend of the Pays de la Loire region is quite similar to the economic situation of the rest of France.
Unemployment issues have persisted since the 1970s, and the Pays de la Loire has an unemployment rate of 6%, although a number of attempts have been made since to curb the unemployment rate. As France is the most-visited country in the world, with over 75 million visitors a year, tourism is a significant contributor to the French economy.
In matters of religion, the region is not dissimilar to the rest of France: Catholicism is the primary religion. During the Ancien Régime, France had traditionally been considered the Church’s eldest daughter, and the King of France always maintained close links to the Pope. Roman Catholicism, however, is no longer considered a state religion as it was before the 1789 Revolution.
Economy and government
France is the fifth largest economy in the world in USD exchange-rate terms. With a GDP of $US2.09 trillion (2008 data), the seventh largest by purchasing power parity, it shows the lowest poverty rate among the large economies (6.2%), the lowest income inequality rate and has some of the world’s strongest social services (such as health care, education, retirement systems) and public service sectors (such as public transport and public security). According to World Bank and IMF figures, it is the second largest in Europe after Germany.
France is the European Union’s leading agricultural producer, accounting for about one third of all agricultural land within the EU: Northern France is characterised by large wheat farms; dairy products, pork, poultry and apple production are concentrated in the western region; beef production is located in central France; while the production of fruits, vegetables and wine ranges from central to southern France.
France is a large producer of many agricultural products and is currently expanding its forestry and fishery industries. The implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has resulted in reforms in the agricultural sector of the economy.
Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President of the French Republic on 6 May 2007 after defeating Socialist Party contender Ségolène Royal. Before his presidency, Sarkozy was leader of the UMP right wing party.
Sarkozy is known for his conservative stance on law and order issues and his admiration for a new economic model for France. In foreign affairs, he has promised higher profile involvement internationally.
According to its constitution, France has three levels of local government: 22 régions and four régions d’outre-mer or overseas regions (Réunion, Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana); 96 départements and four départements d’outre-mer (Réunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana). There are 36 679 communes (municipalities).
Food and drink
The following menu lists a few local specialities and the wines best suited to accompany them.
Hors-d’œuvre: various types of potted pork; sausage stuffed with chicken meat (boudin blanc) .
Fish: pike, salmon, carp or shad with the famous beurre blanc (white butter) sauce; small fried fish from the Loire, rather like whitebait (friture) ; stuffed bream and casserole of eels simmered in wine with mushrooms, onions and prunes (in Anjou).
Main course: game from Sologne; pork with prunes; veal in a cream sauce made with white wine and brandy; casserole of chicken in a red wine sauce or in a white wine and cream sauce with onions and mushrooms; spit-roasted capon or pullet.
Rillauds, rillons and rillettes: all three words derive from the French 16C term rille , meaning small dice of pork. Rillons , sometimes referred to as grillons , are made with pork meat, both lean and fat, which is cut into small morsels. These are then sautéed in fat until they are golden brown and served cold. To make rillettes , take some rillons , slice them finely and put them back to cook on a low heat. They are kept in a pot where the fat rises to the surface, ensuring perfect conservation. Rillettes can also be made with goose meat. Anjou rillauds are chunks of belly of pork cooked in a vegetable stock enhanced with aromatic herbs for several hours. When the sauce has been reduced, some lard can be added for the final stages of cooking. The dish is best served with a glass of Vouvray.
Vegetables: green cabbage with butter; Vineuil asparagus; mushrooms – stuffed or in a cream sauce; lettuce salad with walnut oil dressing.
Cheese: St-Benoît, Vendôme and St-Paulin are made from cows’ milk. Chavignol, Valençay, Selles-sur-Cher, Ste-Maure and Crémets d’Anjou are made from goats’ milk (the latter are small fresh cream cheeses); Olivet is factory made with a coating of charcoal.
Fruit: plums, prunes and melons from Tours; strawberries from Saumur; apricots and pears from Angers; Reinette apples from Le Mans.
Dessert: macaroons from Cormery; apple pastries; quince and apple jelly (cotignac) ; preserves from Orléans and pastries from Tours; caramelised upside-down apple tart.
Liqueurs: there are excellent marcs and fruit liqueurs, including the famous Cointreau.
Marcs: pure white spirit obtained from pressed grape skins and pips.
The vestiges of an early stone winepress were discovered at Cheille, near Azay-le-Rideau, testifying to the existence of winemaking in the Loire valley under Roman rule, around AD 100. It is believed that the great St Martin himself ordered vines to be planted on the slopes of Vouvray in the 4C. From then onwards, this activity became firmly established in the area. Over the centuries, Anjou, Touraine and the Orléanais have adopted a number of grape varieties coming from different natural regions, which accounts for the great diversity of the cépages (grape varieties).
The best-known white wines are Vouvray, a dry, mellow wine tasting of ripe grapes, and Montlouis, known for its delicate, fruity flavour. Both are made from the Chenin Blanc grape, referred to locally as Pineau de la Loire.
The best-known red wine, known as Breton, is made from the Cabernet Franc grape, which originally came from Bordeaux and produces the fine, light wines of Bourgueil and those from Chinon, which have a stronger bouquet; the same grape is used to make a dry rosé, which has charm and nobility. Among the wines of Anjou are the Rouge de Cabernet and the Saumur-Champigny, which have a fine ruby glow and the subtle taste of raspberries. The Cabernet de Saumur is an elegant dry rosé with a good flavour. Another red wine comes from the Breton vines grown on the Loudun slopes. The wines of Sancerre, on the eastern fringe of the châteaux country, are made from the Sauvignon grape and are known for their gunflint flavour. Less famous wines are the gris meuniers from the Orléanais and the gascon , which are pale and have a low alcohol content.
The slopes of the Loire produce a dry white and an acid-tasting red which improve with ageing. A light and pleasant white wine is made from the Romorantin grape, which is grown only in the Sologne. The slopes of the Loire produce 15% of the entire Muscadet crop. The Ancenis-Gamay wine, made from Burgundy Gamay vines, is less well known than the Gros Plant from Nantes as it is produced in smaller quantities. This light, dry, fruity wine, a perfect accompaniment to pork and other cold cuts, is produced in a 350ha/865-acre area around Ancenis.
The character of the region is most apparent in the wine cellars, which are often old quarries hollowed out of the limestone slopes at road level. They are therefore easily accessible so that the owner can drive his vehicles straight in. The galleries often extend for several hundred metres. Some open out into chambers where local societies hold their meetings and festivities.
The wine cellars also host meetings of the confréries vineuses , which preserve the tradition of good wine in the Loire Valley and initiate new members (chevaliers) to their brotherhoods joyously: Les Sacavins in Angers, Les Bons Entonneurs Rabelaisiens in Chinon, La Chantepleure in Vouvray and La Côterie des Closiers in Montlouis.