Located between Burgundy and Pays de la Loire, the Center region is at the Southwest of Ile de France. The region has extraordinary castles and is home to the famous Loire Valley, one of the most visited places in France. The Center region was formed in 1970 and consists of the provinces of Berry, Touraine and Orleanais. During the 11th and 12th centuries only the city of Orleans was under the French crown. However in 1202, Philippe Auguste seized the French lands from John of England and the entire Loire was under French rule again. The influence of the Catholic Church diminished in the Loire Valley during the Renaissance period. The Church lashed out at the Renaissance in 1540, which caused Protestants to rise up against the Catholics. The economy of the region grew by leaps and bounds in the 17th century. During the French revolution, however, while town citizens saw the benefits of the Revolution and supported it, the rural populations were opposing it. Ultimately, the Revolution left behind deep scars and substantial ruin. Tours was the headquarters of the American Forces in World War I.
The main city of Orleans on the Loire River is best known for the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc. History has it that the girl was told by God to guide her King in the battle against the English. With her help, the siege of Orleans was thwarted and England was defeated. Today, one can find various tributes to Joan of Arc in Orleans. The 15th century house where she lived has been redone following the World War II damages and a statue was erected in her honor in the center of the Place du Martroi,. Grand townhouses dating as far as the 16th century line up the several open squares like the one at Place du Chatelet. The city has a lot to offer to the religious with the likes of the 17th century Cathedral Sainte Croix, which has elaborate stonework ornamentation. The Crypt of Saint-Aignan dating back to the early Middle Ages is also very popular.
The most famous chateaux of France are found in the Loire Valley. Among the most popular ones are: the Chateau de Blois where Joan of Arc sought blessing from the Archbishop in 1429; the largest Chateau in Loire, Chateau de Chambord; the Chateau de Villandry, considered as having the most beautiful gardens; the chateau cum fortress of Chateau du Rivau. Apart from the scenic Loire, there are several other rivers, like the Cher, Vienne and Indre, which snake through the woods, orchards and fields to the delight of those who like to keep away from the crowds.
The town of Tours is considerably large and has seen rapid development in recent years. Here, the main attraction is the Place Plumereau, ideal for people-watching. Eating and drinking in the half-timbered houses lining the square and dating back to the 12th –15th century is an unforgettable experience. The 12th to 15th century Cathedral of Saint Gatien as well as the cloisters of la Psalette, which had a room for practicing religious chanting, are both interesting pieces of architecture. The cloisters are listed among the 85 National Monuments of France. To the Southeast of the Loire Valley is the town of Bourges with its Bourges Cathedral built between 1195 and 1270 and currently included in the UNESCO list. The extraordinary doorway carvings depicting the Last Judgment and the 13th century stained glass windows reproducing biblical incidents are prominent features of the cathedral. Outside the old town there is a lovely garden. Perhaps the best time to visit Bourgese is between May and September, at dusk, when careful lighting effects cast an attractive light on many of the highlights in the town, for a two-hour guided walk of the town.
Chartres is another captivating town whose charming neighborhoods and cobbled streets can be explored by foot. The beautiful Parc des Bords de l’Eure by the Eure River is the ideal place for a relaxing stroll. The Chartres cathedral with its original crypt of the 11th century is a UNESCO listed heritage site. The labyrinths and the carefully preserved stained glass windows are also particularly notable. The museums like the Agriculture Museum and Natural Science and Prehistory museum are also worth seeing.