Regal and untamed
The 1012-km Loire is France’s longest river. From its source on Mont Gerbier des Joncs in the Ardèche it heads northwest to Orleans, where it turns due west to flow into the Atlantic Ocean at Saint-Nazaire. The first attempts to ease navigation along this shallow and capricious river began in the Middle Ages and the Loire was France’s most important transport route until the 19th century. As trade developed, so did the “Marine de Loire”, a fleet of flat-bottomed boats, known as “gabares”, with tall masts that could be lowered for going under bridges.
In 1838, a canal was built parallel to the Loire between Briare and Digoin in order to overcome the problems posed by the river’s irregular flow rate and the frequent formation of sandbanks.
Despite the construction of a number of dams and dykes to protect its villages from floods, the Loire remains France’s only “large, untamed river” and a wide range of natural environments with extremely rich flora and fauna are found along its course. The “Royal Loire”, between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes, is listed as a World Heritage Site.