Along the curved hillside and the noble valleys, castles are scattered as altars of repose. And in the majesty of the mornings and of the evenings, the Loire and its tributaries go away by these paths..
The poet Charles Péguy glorified, at the beginning of the Castles of the Loire, this river which made kings of France dream about it, and through them a whole people connected to a river, the longest of the country. More than 1000 km separate its source, in the southeast of Massif Central, in Ardèche, from the estuary of Saint-Nazaire, where it gives the name of Loire-Atlantique by offering itself to the ocean. Later, godspeed!
Nevertheless, at first, it is only a small net of water, with the already well dipped character. In 1938, to a pupil who took the test of her basic school-leaving qualification, we asked:
"Where does the Loire rise?" she answered: "in the cowshed of my grandfather." As surprising as it can appear, she was not wrong, this little inhabitant of Ardèches! The Loire indeed has several sources, of which one of them flows into the stone tub of a farm, at the foot of the mount Gerbier-de-Jonc, at 1417m of height.
At first torrential and excavated, it pours northward, then softens its course between Châteauneuf and Orléans, cross Blois then comes down in the direction of Touraine, being lazy between Chinon and Saumur, to go away beyond Angers. Its running seems lascivious, but do not trust it. We called it savage and it was, but it is a little less since it is curbed from Nevers up to the estuary of Saint-Nazaire. Its basin overturning of 117 000 km ² occupies the fifth of France. It marks a meteorological border (do not we speak about the "North" and about the "South" of the Loire?).
The floods of the Loire
The Loire, a wild river? Certainly, but the people always tried to contain it, since turcies (stone and dirt dikes, in the Middle Ages) until the levyings, built under Colbert in the XVIIth century, then strengthened after three big floods of 1846-1856-1866. These floods and overflowing are dreaded, the Loire can rise from 1 to 3m in less than 24 hours, if three factors match: rains of the Mediterranean Basin (Cévennes), then in the basin of Allier and Morvan, and oceanic depressions come from the Atlantic Ocean in a flow of the West.
The risk prevention of floods is one of the three themes presented by the scenography of the Observatory center of the Loire, in the parc des Mées in La Chaussée-Saint-Victor, near Blois. " It is necessary to explain why the flow of this river can rise until 7000 m3 / second, as during the big floods of the XIXth century. But also why it can flow at 40 m3 / seconds, its lowest low-water mark ", explain with passion Jean-Pierre Bessonie and Alain Amiot, respectively president and communications manager of this association which mixes pedagogy and formation about the Loire. " Blois is a mid-sized city but had many problems with its river, we find all the stories of the Loire here: marks of floods on the walls, vestiges of dams, dikes, overflows, activity of the bargemen, etc. "
We find all the stories of the Loire here: marks of floods on the walls, vestiges of dams, dikes, overflows, activity of the bargemen, etc.
… but navigable
The Loire, the navigable river, at least to Orléans. Since summer, 2017, the theme of the canal transport is presented to the public in this new Observatory center of the Loire. " Canal transport, sailors of the Loire, the life of the bargemen, all of this in an atmosphere of an old inn. There is many interactivity, games, etc. The public is family people and schools: each has to participate, and to understand well the Loire, the life of its sailors, it is necessary to participate actively: to redo the gestures of the bargemen, to put the public in dumping ", adds Alain Amiot. The patrimonial history of this navigation of the Loire will come along with an educational notebook allowing to deepen the questioning, to ally the sensitive and the technique.
The migrations on the Loire
The Loire, it is also an ecological continuity: fauna, flora (invasive or other), fishes, animals, migratory or permanent birds (the third theme of the scenography). "The Loire, it is a real corridor of migration, explains Jean-Pierre Bessonie. The goods went back up from Nantes, but they were not alone. Other migrations occurred, and still occur. Salmons, shads: archetypal migrants. But also silurid." Under the water but also in the air: terns, egrets, ospreys, little ringed plovers. And inescapable beavers, you can see at the dawn of the day or in the twilight …
The new museographic space of the Observatory center of the Loire opened its doors in June, 2016. And the major trail round on by traditionnal boat, called fûtreau or toue cabanée, are of course always in the program, complementary to the themes developed in the Observatory center of the Loire, by embarking since the port of Creusille in Blois, left bank. An additional reason for not missing this real history book and open-air geography, before the current takes you up to the estuary, who knows?
Farther, westward: the estuary of Saint-Nazaire
Last journey between banks for the river, before the biggest, that of the ocean, the estuary of the Loire in Saint-Nazaire is wide about 1 km. Place of the meeting between the fresh and salty water, it is constituted by channels, lined with swamp, with wet meadows and strewed with islands.
It is a major wet zone on the Atlantic facade. Its ecosystem includes in particular the lake of Grand-Lieu, the swamps of Brière and Guérande (known for the extraction of its salt).
The Loire, classified in the UNESCO world heritage
Classified in the world heritage of the UNESCO in November, 2000: 280 km, about 800 km², from Sully-sur-Loire (45) to Chalonnes-sur-Loire (49) are protected, as well as the accesses of the site.
Four departments (45, 41, 37 and 49) and six urban areas (Orléans, Blois, Tours, Chinon, Angers and Saumur) are so crossed by this patrimonial jewel. A million inhabitants are concerned.
It is an international recognition for the efforts led in the basin of the Loire, as much from an environmental point of view as for the tourist development of the sites.