Responsible tourism in the Loire Valley

France is the most visited country in the world. By 2020 it may stand to receive some 100 million tourists a year – and a fair few will be seeking chateaux. At least eight million come every year. If you’re planning to be one of them, learn how to be a better tourist in the Loire Valley with our guide to Responsible Tourism.

The Loire Valley is in pretty good nick. The region is protected by UNESCO heritage, by government funding and organisations like the Loire Nature Environment. But there are still a few regional issues about which the average tourist remains blissfully unaware. The royals might be gone, but this region should still be treated with reverence.

The Loire Sauvage

The Loire is known as the last wild river in France. Protecting such an enormously long river is no mean feat. No longer essential for trade or navigation after the 19th century, the river was left to run wild. It’s not dredged, and still often bursts its banks in winter. A bit has been done to protect the river over the years. In 1994, the ‘Plan Loire grandeur nature’ was implemented by the State to protect the Loire Basin’s diversity, but to also manage flooding. The WWF blocked several plans to dam it, arguing that the dams would block the salmon run. The salmon have gone – there were only 67 recorded in the late nineties, down from 100,000. Sadly, they’re not the only wildlife in peril. According to some recent reports, 26% of the Loire Valley’s fauna is in danger of disappearing.
What you can do:
When you visit the region, operate on a ‘Leave no Trace’ basis and leave the landscape exactly as you find it.

Protecting the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley has UNESCO World Heritage Status between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes because of its ‘outstanding cultural landscape’. Its major chateaux are on France’s ‘list of historical monuments’ which means state funds can be used to preserve them. There are hundreds of buildings in the area which carry this protection. And yet there are many historic houses, often owned privately, which don’t have the funds to carry out important conservation work. According to the organisation ‘Adopte un Chateau’ there are between 30,000 and 40,000 chateaux in France, 600 of which are in peril. In 2028, some 27,000 donors ‘adopted’ a Loire Valley chateau in order to turn its fortunes around.

What you can do:
The biggest chateaux get positively mobbed in the summer months, busy to the point that they are unbearable, whilst smaller chateaux struggle. Consider visiting family-owned chateaux, which don’t get the same level of government support. If you must tick off the big chateaux, do so in the off-season.

Climate change

Climate Change is making France hotter than it’s ever been. In 2019, temperatures hit 46°C and 85 of France’s 96 departments had partial or full water restrictions. Loire Valley farmers are suffering doubly – cattle farmers are seen as the enemy by climate change protesters, but their livelihoods are affected starkly and obviously with each dwindling crop and water shortage.

The Loire Valley’s wine production is on the line. Viticulture is dependent on good climate: vines need good rainfall early in the season, and white wines prefer lower temperatures. Wine production in France was down between six and 13 percent in 2018. A 2012 paper on the subject found that the climate in the Loire had shifted from ‘cool’ to ‘temperate’ between 1960 and 2010, and this had made grapes with a higher concentration of sugar, and reduced the number of late spring frosts – which can be damaging to the new buds on the vines. Some speculate that the region could adapt to produce different wines, and still profit. However, anecdotes from the people in the valley are pessimistic: the wine isn’t as good as it was last year, they say.

What you can do:
Climate change is a huge issue, but we believe that reducing the carbon footprint of your vacation can help. Choose trains over planes to get to the Loire, and when you’re here, avoid big hotels and purchase local produce over anything flown from overseas.
Caroline from Safrantours talks about climate change:
“The global warming is worrying us. This summer we had twice a heat wave in France. Some guests had difficulties cycling in the heat.”
Harvey Downard, from specialist vacation company Cycling for Softies, witnessed the problem first hand: “Because a lot of the economy in the region is driven by wine the Loire Valley is actually really vulnerable to climate change. When I was working there for a summer they had some seriously bad flooding which was the worst flooding they’d had for 80 years. The river does often burst its banks. But in 2016 there were vineyards completely underwater. Our hoteliers always tell me that the wines this year aren’t as good – the extremes of weather are having an impact on the industry, but that’s France wide – Europe-wide, even.”

Responsible travel tips

If you’re cycling, pedal safely. In France, under-12s must wear a helmet by law, but everyone in your party should don one. Keeping to marked trails so you don’t contribute to erosion. Luckily, there are heaps of marked walking and cycling trails in the area. Consider coming to the Loire Valley by train, and ditch the plane – it’s far more carbon friendly, and once you’re here you could just cycle or E-bike to explore your local area. You don’t need to trek the length of the valley to get the most out of it. Don’t swim in the Loire. Swimming is discouraged – and outright banned on certain stretches. It’s an undredged river with hidden currents, fast flow and sometimes harmful algae. Unfortunately, people ignore warnings and there are a few tragedies every year.
Eat local. It’s very easy to eat local produce in the Loire – it’s hard to avoid, as each town seems to have fresh produce coming out of its ears. Seasonal eating is a way of life here. High summer you won’t be able to move for ripe melon and tomatoes. In spring, artichokes are everywhere.
Despite popular rumour, it’s relatively easy to be vegetarian in France – it’s certainly becoming more normal. If you’ve got a lot of dietary requirements, it still might be best to rent your own self-catering accommodation.
Some public swimming pools don’t accept board shorts in the pool, so check ahead, in case you need to pack the Speedos (luckily, they don’t take up too much space...).
It’s not illegal to pick non-endangered flower species outside of protected zones (and you might stumble upon mushroom pickers if you’re in the area on a Sunday morning in autumn). It’s best not to pick anything, no matter how pretty it is. And don’t nick anything from anyone’s garden.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Daniel Jolivet] [The Loire Sauvage: photos-chinon.cite-creative] [Climate change (vineyard): Daniel Jolivet] [Local food (tomatoes): Adam Isserlis]