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Wine lover's country: a toast to France's Loire Valley.

Once known as the Playground of Kings, with more than 300 chateaus situated along the 600-mile Loire River, the Loire Valley spans the central region of France and produces some of the country's finest wines.

Loire Valley wines, such as the appellations of Sancerre (dry whites), Pouilly Fume (dry whites) Vouvray (dry, sweet, and sparkling whites), Mountlouis (sweet whites), Chinon (reds), Samur-Champigny (reds), and Muscadet (dry whites), are the wines most Consumed by the French in restaurants. The region offers every style of wine: whites, reds, roses, sparkling, still, dry, and sweet. And the Loire Valley is France's second largest sparkling wine region.

Your journey to this enchanted valley, also know as the Garden of France, can begin in Paris at the elegant Hotel Meurice--the oldest of the city's palace hotels. Across the street from the Jardin des Tuileries and the famous Louvre, the Meurice's Belle Etoile Suite is one of the city's grandest. Since its opening in 1817, the hotel has received royalty, artists, and other esteemed guests.

To get to the Loire Valley, travel by train or rent a car. Numerous trains, including the TGV (Train a Grand Vitesse, in translation "high speed train"), depart daily and connect with local trains.

For an ideal introduction to the wines, chateaus, and food of the region, have lunch at Restaurant La Tour, whose upper dining room overlooks the vineyards. The Loire Valley offers refreshingly tart and tangy varieties made with the Sauvignon Blanc grape--try Richard Bourgeois (2003). It also produces the famously tart, artisan goat cheese Crottin de Chauviguol.

On the outskirts, in the town of Luynes, is Domaine de Beauvols. This castle, built during the Renaissance, provides elegant accommodations, superb regional cuisine, and wine. It's the perfect base from which to explore the region. Next day, strike out for the chateaus (such as Chenonceau, Chambord, and Cheverny), wineries (some require reservations), even a troglodyte cave. The mineral content of these subterranean limestone caverns brings out the distinctive character of Loire Valley wines.

Finish your holiday in the Muscadet region near the Atlantic coast, lodged at the Palladian-styled Chateau du Breil in the midst of the Muscadet vineyards, where peacocks charmingly roam the estate. Elisabeth and Dominique Delasnerie, your amiable hosts, offer a selection of romantic private suites and elegant candlelit meals. And, if you desire, they will join you in a round of golf.

Your return journey to Paris via the TGV will be a pleasure. Selected trains take you directly to Charles de Gaulle International Airport, but it will be hard to say au revoir.

For more information, visit:

* For Loire Valley wines, www.loirevalleywine.com

* For The Hotel Meurice, www.meuricehotel.com

* For rail tickets, www.raileurope.com

* For car rentals, www.alamo.com and www.autoeurope.com

* For Loire Valley chateaus and tours, www.toursloirevalley.com

* For Domaine de Beauvois, call +33-0-2-47-55-50-11 or e-mail beauvois@slh.com

* For Chateau du Breil, http://lebreil.monsite.wanadoo.fr

* For information about France, www.usfranceguide.com
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Title Annotation:FIRST-CLASS TICKET
Author:Dumas, Joseph
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:497
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