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Loches France

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Situated in the Indre valley, Loches is the most impressive fortress of the Loire region, so if you only have time for one fortress then make it Loches. Begun by Foulques Nerra (Falcon the Black) during his reign 987 to 1040, the donjon (keep) is now in ruins but still an impressive sight to behold.

Loches had something of a heyday during Charles VII's reign, after Jeanne d'Arc persuaded him to go to Reims in 1429 to be crowned. He then set up court in Loches and held wild parties, as far as we can tell, in honour of his mistress, the beautiful and deadly Agnès Sorel who died pregnant (and possibly poisoned) in 1450 at only 28 years old. Even the pope fancied her and so Charles was the first king to have an official mistress!

There are paintings of her in fine garb and one by Jean Fouquet where she is dressed as a bare breasted Virgin Mary, but don't be fooled into thinking her semi nudity was the artists' wishful thinking: apparently that was her fashion. Louis XI soon put an end to all this by turning Loches into a prison in 1461, adding the prison buildings the Round Tower and the Martelet. The story goes that he would have his prisoners tortured in a 2.5 ton cage. He even locked up his advisor, Cardinal La Balve, for eleven years in a wooden cage.

You may want to stay in Loches, as it is quite an attractive medieval town as well as having the citadel as a focal point, and possibly the best hotel is the George Sand at 37 rue Quintefol (02 47 59 39 74) which has a decent (but variable) restaurant with a terrace overlooking the river and rooms from €70 85. A less expensive option is the Hotel France at 6 rue Picois (02 47 59 00 32) which has a very reasonably priced and good restaurant and rooms from €40 55.

For alternative eateries or if you just want to grab something quickly, there are several cafes and brasseries in the central place du Blé, which are quite good, or you could think ahead and buy some food from the brilliant market on Wednesday or Saturday mornings on the rue St Antoine and place du Marché.

The citadel itself is west of the River Indre and the transport links of the gare SNCF and gare routière are on the other side, across the Pont Pierre Senard, on place des Cordeliers. There are two 45 minute daily trains to Tours from Loches station.