The longest river in France, the 630-mile-long Loire, drains 21% of Metropolitan France's land area. It arises from the mountainous area around Ardeche, close to Mont Gerbier de Jonc. The Loire River has eight river tributaries. It starts its flow from the Massif Central area of France, and continues on down through the north of the country, and then traveling 620 miles further. In so doing, it is seen winding its way past Nevers and Orleans, then flows out west past Tours, Nantes, and St. Nazaire before finally emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, dikes have been set up due to the seasonal flooding that occurs along its banks. The river also flows past the Loire Valley, to which it gave its name, and through six French departments. The valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is dotted with countless chateaus, and many wineries and vineyards as well.
The Loire River and its surrounding regions were first inhabited by Neanderthal man around the Middle Paleolithic period. Then, from 5000-4000 BC, modern man took over and started cultivating the land and raising livestock there. Starting around 1500 BC and continuing on into around 500 BC, the Carnutes people arrived in the area of Orleans. The Celts built a trading route with the Greeks here in 600 BC that lasted for 2,000 years. In 52 BC, the Romans built a city in Tours. The 5th Century brought the Alemanni and the Franks to the Loire area. Then, the Iranian tribe of Alans came to settle in Gaul. The 9th Century saw the Vikings plunder the west of France, and on numerous occasions in the Middle Ages and beyond the English also came, and once left with the French heroine Joan of Arc at their heels.
Tourism plays a major role in the Loire River, including benefiting the economies of the towns and cities that the river flows past on its way into the Atlantic. Tours, Orleans, Angers, and Amboise are among the ancient settlements that the Romans established that today have remained viable modern centers while not losing sight of their respective historical significance. The hundreds of palaces and castles in the Loire Valley, including many excellent wineries and vineyards, welcome visitors during tour hours. The architecture and gardens of the many splendid and opulent residences of royalty and their courts are represented here, dating from the 10th Century and onward. Loire's wineries and their own histories date back to the First Century AD as well. Boating trips also make a trip to the Loire River a perfect destination.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The Loire River flows past many types of habitats and forests, including mountain forests and meadows. Pine, oak, and beech trees grow in the Loire Valley. There are many fruit trees near the Atlantic Coast of the river. These are apples, cherries, quinces, and pears there, as well as melons growing along the ground. There are 164 bird species to be found here, such as gulls, ducks, swans, geese, and other forest-dwelling avian species as well. Atlantic salmon, Sea trout, eels, catfish, Rock bass, and bullheads are just some of the 57 fish species found in the Loire River. The topography in the middle stretch of the river features limestone caves that served as the homes for many prehistoric people.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
The Loire River has been the subject of several controversies since the French government set forth plans to build dams on it for water storage and flood prevention since 1986. The plans also always involved of loss of wildlife habitat, and for that reason the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has always opposed such projects in the region. Eventually, the French government relented, and the dam project was shelved in 1990. The WWF and the European Union's “LIFE” program gave about $9 million USD to the Loire Nature Project so that it could work to restore the habitats and ecosystem of the Loire River. In 1998, the last of the three dams that were decommissioned, an effort which would allow around 100,000 Loire salmon to swim upriver once again, was finally shut down.