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The Loire Valley, which pretty much splits France in two, has been heavily traveled through the ages—once by power-hungry armies and peaceful Santiago pilgrims, now by Bordeaux-bound TGV trains. Yet it retains a relaxing backwater feel that mirrors the river's languid, meandering flow. Tours is the main gateway to the region, not only for its central position but because the TGV links it with Paris in little more than an hour. Angers (at the west end of the valley) and Orléans (at the east end) are also well connected to the capital by train. Coming to the Loire by rail and renting a car on arrival in any one of these three cities will save you the hassle of Paris traffic, while still letting you enjoy the flexibility of a châteaux driving tour.