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Regions of France - Le Centre

So, le Centre would be the region right in the middle of France? Well, actually no. It's more the centre of northern France, although the geometric "centre" of the country does squeeze in by a whisker. This is proudly marked in the town of Saulzais-le-Poitier just on the edge of the region, although nearby Bruère-Allichamps and Vesdun also think the honour belongs to them.

While this may be confusing, it's very clear is why it attracts so many tourists! The jewel in the crown of le Centre is the Loire Valley and visitors are attracted to the region's many famous chateaux including the Chambord, Chenonceau, Blois, Villandry, Chaumont-sur-Loire and Talcy châteaux, as well as the Château de Beauregard and Château de Chamerolles, Azay le Rideau, Langeais, Rigny-Ussé and Amboise.

From the Middle Ages to the 17th century, le Centre was used as a playground by royalty who spent their fortunes to create extravagant châteaux as a show of power and wealth. The earliest châteaux were 9th century defensive fortresses built to withstand the Vikings and later provided the foundation for French royalty to build their castle-like masterpieces.

After the victory for the French troops led by Jean d'Arc, Charles VII regained his crown and made the Loire Valley the new centre for French court life starting in Loches. At the end of the 15th century, architectural innovations were brought from Italy providing for Renaissance-style decorations and embellishments characteristic of today's châteaux.

Apart from its impressive buildings, le Centre is also renowned for the fine wines it creates from Cabernet, Pinot and Sauvignon grapes, and is a leading producer of barley, corn and wheat. It also produces rapeseed, sugar beets and sunflowers. The area is so fertile thanks to the many rivers crossing it, such as the Indre, Cher, Beuvron, Sauldre, and Allier Rivers.

The region's manufacturing has grown since 1945, in part because of the region's three nuclear powerplants, located at Avoine-Chinon, Dampierre-en-Burly and Saint-Laurent-des Eaux. Automotive parts, ball bearings, tires and plastics are among its production.

Main tourist attractions in the Centre of France

• Orleans - Regional capital, a historic city on the banks of the Loire.

• Blois - Historic town on the northern bank of the Loire, with a magnificent Renaissance castle.

• Tours - Largest city in the region, Tours boasts an attractive historic centre with old half-timbered houses, St Gatien's cathedral and also a castle.

• Bourges - Another great gothic cathedral, later than that of Chartres; also the famous Renaissance town residence of Jacques Coeur.

• Chartres - One of the most famous gothic cathedrals in France, famous in particular for its magnificent mediaeval stained-glass windows.

• The river Loire - The wide slow-moving Loire is one of Europe's great rivers. The river, excellent for fishing, is bordered by many attractive small towns, and the flat land is good for cycling. There are also many vineyards in the area of Tours.

• Les Châteaux de la Loire - The castles of the Loire. Many of these are actually on tributaries of the Loire.

• La Brenne - Area of 1000 lakes, major wetland renowned for its birds.

• La Sologne - Great wooded area, formerly favoured as hunting grounds by kings and nobles.

• Les Borde - In the Sologne, reputed to be the finest golf course in France.

• Zoo Parc de Beauval - Over 4000 animals, including koalas and orang-utangs: The largest wildlife collection in France.

• Gargilesse - Picturesque village with the home of 19th century novelist George Sand.